I've bought homebrew supplies from about 6 different brick and mortar stores, and some are definitely better than others.
None of them are what I would consider “bad.” They're homebrew stores after all, so you have to do something really horrendous for me not to like you.
But there are certainly areas where some could improve, and it got me thinking about what I qualities I look for in a homebrew store.
1. Helpful Staff
This is a big one. The staff should be friendly and helpful, especially with noobies. It can be intimidating going into a homebrew store for the first time so the staff should do everything to put you at ease. They should take the time to walk you through the brewing steps and show you exactly what you need.
I've seen some workers talk down to new brewers and it really pisses me off.
2. Knowledgeable Staff
It's good that you're outgoing and helpful but you should also know what you're talking about. Every employee should at least homebrew themselves and hopefully do so at an advanced level (or have someone working who can tackle advanced questions).
When I'm buying snowboarding equipment, electronics, or any other hobby items I always get input from the workers, and homebrewing is no different. You look to them as the experts.
Some employees, especially older ones, are very set in their ways and haven't updated their brewing knowledge since the 80's. New things are always being discovered, and the employees should stay on top of the latest info.
3. Wide Selection
A wide selection of ingredients is important. Today's homebrewers experiment more than ever and homebrew stores should accomodate them.
Carry malt from the U.S., Germany, and Belgium. Stock tons of hop varieties. Offer oddball yeast packs like Brett.
Variety is what makes a good homebrew store great.
4. Community Engagement
Some hombrew stores open their doors in the morning, close them at night, and that's it. The great ones take part in their community. They hold events like competitions, classes, and brew-offs. They use social media to connect with their customers to let them know about events, deals, and handy resources.
Brewing brings people together and homebrew stores should embrace that.
5. Fresh Ingredients
Ever gone into a homebrew store and found dusty cans of extract? That's a warning sign. Homebrew stores should treat their ingredients like supermarkets treat their produce. If it's past its time, get it out of there.
Like the old saying goes, “Crap in, crap out.” If you want your customers to succeed (you should) and keep coming back (you do), then only stock fresh ingredients. Expired yeast, hops, grains, and malt extract have no place in a homebrew store.
What about price?
I thought about price but honestly it's not much of a factor for me. Most of us don't have the luxury of being able to compare prices in our town between homebrew stores. I actually do have a few stores to choose from, but the prices are close enough that it's never a deciding factor.
Rather than compare between local stores I do more comparison with online shopping. Homebrew stores still get most of my business but if there is a deal on a specialty item like a Perlick faucet, then I'll turn to online.
What do you look for in a homebrew store?
Which of these factors are most important to you? Are there any I didn't mention?
Photo Credit: Another Pint Please