Tree House Brewing Company: Key Ingredients for Scaling a Manufacturing Business in the Bay State

Tree House

As you walk inside the 55,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art Charlton facility which opened up in July of 2017, an outline of the red barn from where it all started in Brimfield, Massachusetts is etched into the ground at the center of the building.  

The etching serves as a reminder of their humble beginnings – and that the genesis of Tree House was always about crafting the freshest and best-tasting beer.  Co-founders Nate Lanier, Damien Goudreau, Dean Rohan, and a group of friends would get together to play music and taste-test small batches of brewmaster Nate’s creations – which today have become international beer fan favorites.  
 

What were the key ingredients that helped Tree House grow operations and scale their manufacturing successfully?
 

Back in 2011, they started with just a 20-gallon brewing system and later increased to a 5 barrel (31 gallons = 1 barrel) a year later.  As demand kept picking up, they continued expanding operations to an 11,000 sq. ft. facility in Monson, Massachusetts – with the approval of their first SBA 504 loan with Country Bank and Granite State Economic Development.   The strategy used in this first growth spurt, paved the way to keep growing the business without outside investors, without selling any equity in the business.

High-growth, high-potential businesses such as Tree House – will often be presented with several options (angel investment, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions) to scale their business to the next level.  But often overlooked, is a wealth of resources from public and private economic development entities that preserve future value of the business.  Tree House took advantage of key resources accessible by any business – but it started by working with a team of local resource providers, including the SBA network.      

 

Bob Nelson at Tree House

 

COUNTRY BANK
Choosing a great banker with the experience and connections to explore a variety of financing solutions is an important decision that every business will need to make.  The Charlton facility expansion required a creative financing strategy – in that, they needed funding to not only buy more real estate, but also to acquire larger capacity brewing equipment to keep up with growing demand.

Darlene Mark, Vice President of Commercial Lending at Country Bank said, “I think the biggest challenge with this project was figuring out how to put together the best structure for financing for the borrower, as well as the bank – to make sure we achieved the best benefit and a comprehensive package for the borrower.”

As a Preferred SBA Lender, the designation supports that Country Bank has a proven track record and allows the ability for the bank to streamline processes and underwrite its own SBA loans.    Loans with backing from the SBA also allow the borrower added benefits such as: longer repayment terms, lower monthly payments, and no prepayment penalties (except on loans with maturities of 15 years or greater).   

“We work together as a team and the Tree House project was a very collaborative effort,” said Darlene, “I had experience with Matt Collins from Granite State Economic Development previously on a 504 project… and through our team network – we also thought that Mass Development would be a good fit.”  

The Charlton project was funded by a mix of SBA 504 for equipment and Mass Development for the real estate.  

 

Group Tree House

 

MASS DEVELOPMENT
As a public-private state economic development agency, part of Mass Development’s mission is to help stimulate businesses across the Commonwealth through targeted initiatives that boost specific sectors, including: manufacturing, defense and surplus real estate. 

The real estate for the Charlton project was funded by Mass Development’s Tax-Exempt Bonds program – which are issued to help provide a manufacturer like Tree House with low-cost and creative financing options that allow a small business the flexibility and stability for long-term growth.

A $7.7 million tax-exempt bond was issued to Tree House’s real estate entity to build the new Charlton facility.   Mass Development helped issue the bond and Country Bank purchased the bond with a mortgage guarantee – increasing the amount of financing that Country Bank could have been able to offer Tree House.

“When we were discussing the project, the maximum amount of tax exempt financing we can provide to a manufacturing company was $10 million,” said Robert Seega, VP of Investment Banking at Mass Development, “so clearly they needed more than that – so it was decided that we would finance the real estate and SBA would finance the equipment.”

In addition to Tree House, MassDevelopment has also helped finance a number of other local craft breweries, including: Cape Ann Brewing, Idle Hands, Lord Hobo, Newburyport Brewing Company, Night Shift Brewing, and Notch Brewing.
 

 

 

SBA 504 PROGRAM – GRANITE STATE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION   

Matt Collins, Vice President for Commercial Lending at Granite State Development Corporation has been working with Tree House since the expansion to Monson, MA. 

In 2013, Matt helped Tree House get approved for its first SBA 504 loan– which included a Country Bank first mortgage and a second mortgage backed by SBA.  These loans were used to construct the first expansion – to an 11,000 sq. ft. brewery located in Monson, MA and to purchase a 30 barrel brewing system.  Soon after, it didn’t take very long for Tree House to outgrow the Monson facility which opened in June of 2015 with plans for the Charlton expansion.  
 

“In my 35 years of providing” financing for small businesses, I am amazed at how the passion of the small business owners is so infectious. The small business has not even scratched the surface of their potential,” said Matt.  “This is a perfect case study of how a bank and various government agencies can work together in harmony for the benefit of the small business.”

 

As an SBA Certified Development Corporation – Granite State is a private, nonprofit corporation that stimulates growth and expansion of small businesses with financing tools such as the SBA 504 program.  CDCs work with SBA and private sector lenders to provide long-term, fixed-rate financing to small businesses in order to acquire real estate and major assets for expansion or modernization.

Generally, a business must create or retain one job for every $65,000 provided by the SBA except for "Small Manufacturers" which have a $100,000 job creation or retention goal.  If a project does not meet the jobs requirement, it may also qualify by meeting a public policy goal, including:
 

  • Business district revitalization
  • Expansion of exports
  • Expansion of minority business development
  • Rural development
  • Increasing productivity and competitiveness
  • Restructuring because of federally mandated standards or policies
  • Changes necessitated by federal budget cutbacks
  • Expansion of small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans (especially service-disabled veterans)
  • Expansion of small business concerns owned and controlled by women
  • Energy Projects

 

Tree House Brewing

 

Growth Strategy

Today, Tree House has created an international cult following – hundreds of loyal beer connoisseurs from all over the world will wait in line at the new Charlton brewery on any given day to buy a limited daily allotment of 20-30 cans per person.  Empty beer cans even sell on eBay along with other limited release products and collected by dedicated beer fans.  

The Tree House business model, distributing directly from the brewery has helped set expectations for their growth strategy and set up the business to manage future global demand at a pace they can handle.  As their brand gains traction and distribution strategy begins its’ next phase, Tree House may be up for yet another SBA 504 loan!