Inspiring Independents: Ales By Mail

Ales By Mail is a family business set up by Paul Kruzycki, his wife Karen and their daughters Millie and Abbie in a bid to help the burgeoning number of craft beers from the UK and around the world reach a wider audience.

The online store opened in October 2009 and now sells beers and ciders from more than 120 producers, including Beavertown, Flying Dog and Wold Top.

Pick and mix cases, beer-themed gifts such as books, T-shirts and glassware and mixed cases from individual breweries make up the rest of the retailer’s broad range.

Ales By Mail handles deliveries of beer that breweries sell through their own online shops, often getting preferential offers and exclusives as part of the deal.

Kruzycki started out developing his own range of bottle-conditioned beers and a cider themed on fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, before moving into retailing.

Sum up your shop in a sentence: Ales By Mail is the market leading online craft beer store, offering the best range and awesome customer experience and service.

What sets you apart from other drinks retailers? Our customers will tell you it’s the way we treat them that makes us different – at the heart of everything we do is delighting those customers, from the moment they find our site to the moment they drink their first beer. We’re passionate as a company about quality and growing our reputation for great, friendly service.

Who is your fiercest competitor? You don’t tend to get many “fierce” beer people – they’re a cuddly bunch really. We don’t worry about what competitors are doing, preferring to focus on our customers and suppliers. When your sector is growing and successful it’s only a matter of time before a bunch of me- toos start springing up. We’ve seen them come and we’ll see them go. Our only fear is that they might leave people with a mistrust of online beer sites and disappoint first-time craft beer drinkers with poor beer or service. To counter that, we work hard to maintain the respect of our suppliers and customers.

And how do you maintain an edge over them? Aside from great customer service, making sure we have the best beer and variety keeps us ahead.

How do you keep customers coming back? We make it easy for them to come back with an awesome range to choose from. A lot of work goes into sourcing the best for our site.

What area of the business is performing best? We’re seeing growth across the business – export and online sales are booming. Our third- party fulfilment operation, where breweries and retailers use our expertise to ship their orders, has exceeded targets this year already.

What’s your biggest challenge as a retailer? Our biggest challenge at a time of rapid growth is keeping the consistency we already have and maintaining our company culture. I set high standards for everyone in our organisation to aspire to.

What’s your top retailing tip? Online retail is about getting customers to engage with the brand and not just the products – that’s half the battle.

What has been your biggest business mistake? I’ve made many mistakes in business – and learnt a lot of valuable lessons from them. Fortunately, they were small enough that we could recover quickly. I regret not starting Ales By Mail sooner.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Perhaps the one that sticks with me the most is: “You are already naked – there is no reason not to follow your heart,” from Apple founder Steve Jobs.

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