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Tiffany Adamowski of 99 Bottles – Spotlight on a Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Member


Tiffany Adamowski

The Mutineer Team has known the husband and wife duo behind Washington State’s 99 Bottles since we first wrote about them when they opened their specialty beer store in 2007. Several years later, they are one of Washington’s most prominent beer stores and one of Mutineer’s favorites. Here is our interview with Tiffany Adamowski, co-owner of 99 Bottles.

How did you get your start in the beverage industry?

My husband, Craig, had been working for a beer and wine beverage wholesaler for five years. As a delivery driver, he was in and out of mom-n-pop owned wine stores and got to know a lot of the husband-wife owners. He knew I was interested in getting out of consulting-type of business and opening a retail shop. He thought, “There are a lot of beers out there. We both love the beverage. Why not open a beer store?” At that time we weren’t familiar with any beer stores in the region.

Craig ran his idea for a specialty beer store by several of the wine store owners, friends and family. Everyone thought it sounded like an interesting concept.

We came up with the name, 99 Bottles, which wasn’t yet in use for a bottle shop. In 2006, we started exploring our options, taking evening and weekend business courses, researched and authored a comprehensive business plan, sourced funding, found our ideal location, and started build-out.

We opened 99 Bottles specialty beer store on January 20, 2007.

What were you doing before you opened 99 Bottles?

Prior to 99 Bottles, I worked as lead writer on the Olympic Cool-Cap, a device that provides hypothermia treatment for newborns suffering hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, plus more than twenty additional medical product lines. I’ve also managed information architecture, writing and editing teams at an international marketing-Web design firm, managed multi-language translation projects, authored hundreds of technical manuals for everything from software to cockpit equipment to medical devices, created templates for software giants, and created brochure-ware websites for small companies. I guess you could call me a jack-of-all trades in the writing field, which has prepared me for the “jack-of-all trades” aspect of running a retail shop. I have owned and operated a freelance writing business, Styles & Scribbles, since 1993, and still maintain two clients for whom I do template creation and marketing.

I once believed that my background working with the FDA and FAA were well-suited to working with another regulated product: beer, which is controlled by the ATF and State Liquor Control Boards. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that laws and guidelines are much more “black and white” in the regulation of food and drugs and airplanes as opposed to the many “gray” areas of liquor. Liquor laws vary from state to state, and within your state there are “laws” and there are “recommendations to be treated as laws.” Sometimes this makes my head spin.

Was owning a specialty bottle shop always a dream of yours?

Owning a retail store was always a dream.

I grew up in a family that owned and operated a couple of local grocery stores for multi-generations. I always enjoyed working at the store. Even as a child you could find me assisting grandma with price changes — this was back in the day before barcode scanners, when each can had a price stamped on the top so the cashier would know what to ring in. (Am I aging myself?) As times changed, I realized there was no place for me at the family business, and ultimately, both locations were closed.

After two years at university focused on agricultural studies, I dropped out and found a job in biotechnology as office support. Next I moved to a medical company, where I was fortunate enough to receive a medical writing mentorship.

The desire to work in retail grocery never left me. When Craig told me about his “beer store” idea, my response was, “This sounds great! We can definitely create a nice place and share our love of beer with others.” My goal for 99 Bottles became to create a “community hub” for beer lovers — a place where we act as stewards of beer while it’s under our care, give it proper packaging and send-off, and carry a wide enough selection that folks will be able to literally “take their tastebuds on an adventure” with the beers we provide.

Now I can’t imagine a life without beer — or 99 Bottles.

What are some of your favorite aspects about owning a specialty bottle shop?

Beer author and radio host, Lisa Morrison says, “Every beer has a story.” I so agree and love this aspect of beer. There are stories behind recipes, styles, breweries, and drinkers.

Despite some of the “horror” and “funny” stories I share on my personal facebook page and beer lifestyle blog, I really do love owning and operating a specialty bottle shop. It is over stories like those that we bond. Good customers don’t necessarily make a good story. It’s odd and poor behavior that makes a good story. Not that I’m encouraging that. LOL!

So, my favorite aspects of owning a specialty bottle shop:

The product: I love beer. With nearly 200 different styles, over 1200 beers in stock, and nearly 4500 beers on the books, you never get bored with the product.

The customers: Sometimes it’s like a regular “Hey Norm!” Cheers environment around here.

The staff: They’re my kids. Not literally. Craig & I don’t have real kids, other than our dogs, so our staff is like family.

Any advice for someone wanting to open a beer store?

The best advice I was given prior to opening our beer store was advice from friends who own a wine store, they said, “Always set aside your taxes in a separate savings account.” There’s a lot of taxes involved when running a small business — retail tax, B&O tax, use tax, litter tax, asset tax, employee tax. It’s important to understand and treat these monies as the government’s — not your own.

That couple also offered the advice, “Pick business hours you can live with. Strictly stick to those hours.” There’s nothing li ke trying to be a customer of a small business and having them close willy-nilly for family and personal activities. Customers willfind other places to shop if you don’t stick to your posted hours.

I’d also add:

Expect to learn a lot about running your beer store simply by trial and error.

Take business and communication classes if this is your first business.

Develop a thick skin. I’m still working on this.

Be prepared to wear many hats. You’ll be customer service, store manager, purchasing, merchandiser, courtesy clerk, human resources, inventory control, bookkeeper, janitor, marketer, plus job titles you never even imagined existed.

Establish a good relationship with your liquor agent; he/she will help make sure you’re operating within the law.

Realize that all your time will be devoted to your business — this means no time to attend beer festivals; no vacation or sick time unless you have staff, friends or family who can cover for you.

Know that beer is a political business. You will need to go to bat for your products and customers on a daily basis.

Be prepared for a lot of work for small return. Since we’ve opened the store, I put in more hours each week (in six years of operation my weekly hours have decreased from 80 to 62) than I have ever done on any other job and make far less money, but I have a business that is an extension of home, a product that I love, and some of the most wonderful customers.

You’re on the retail side, but if you could be involved in the beverage industry elsewhere, what would it be?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Since the privatization of liquor in Washington State last year we’ve seen giant corporate liquor chains attempt to lure our customers. Though we’ve got mom-n-pop budgets, our competition has deep pockets. Many customers declare and maintain loyalty, but not all will. This leaves me wondering what the future holds for small Washington specialty bottle shops like 99 Bottles.

So, what would I do if I no longer were no longer owning a specialty bottle shop; no longer working at 99 Bottles? There is the possibility of returning to medical and/or software writing… however, I’d totally miss the beverage industry.
Since we’re dreaming, I’d want to be working in-house for a mid- to large-size brewery or a beer distributor/importer on Web, marketing, and social media projects. A job that keeps me local (mostly; little travel), while allowing me to keep in touch with the online worldwide beer community and promote good beer brands.

Follow 99 Bottles here on Twitter and Facebook.

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