Navigating Change and Adversity: A Candid Look at Switchyard Brewing Company’s Journey

Navigating Change and Adversity: A Candid Look at Switchyard Brewing Company’s Journey

At Switchyard, we’ve always been open and candid about our journey, sharing both our successes and the challenges we face. Today, I want to give you an honest glimpse into some of the recent obstacles we’ve encountered, such as financial difficulties, a tipping policy shift, and equipment failure. In doing so, I’ll share some personal insights on the importance of adaptability, resilience, and nurturing a strong company culture in the face of adversity.

In August of 2021, we made the bold decision to eliminate tipping completely and pay our staff a living wage. We rejoiced, no more tip-line! Tipping has never felt right. It’s always been my personal belief that as the chief leader of our company, it’s the company’s responsibility to pay our staff, not our customers. No one should be dependent on earning a wage that is 100% dependent on the whim of the customer. Part of why we did this is so that our front-of-house staff are able to afford to work weekdays, opening shifts, and slow days. It also means that they are being fairly compensated for “side work” such as bussing tables, cleaning up, etc that aren’t tipped work. At the end of the day, this move was, and still is, in line with our commitment to creating a positive and supportive work environment for our team.

Consider this, if an associate at your local hardware store helped you find the exact part for a project and gave you some friendly advice, do you feel the need to tip them? The vast majority of you will likely say no, of course not, they are paid an hourly rate for their product knowledge, experience, and customer service. That employee’s take-home salary is not dependent on the customer – it’s dependent on the company they work for. The way we see it, that’s how our business should operate. Better service does not always result in better tips. Better tips do not result in better service. Poor tips do not correct poor service.

We soon found out that many of our customers still wanted to tip our staff as a way to express their gratitude, even though we were adamant that it was not necessary.

Like in the hardware store example, if a customer handed the associate a few bucks for their assistance, I’m sure the store employee would gladly take it. Here at the brewery when a customer left cash on their table or at the bar, we would simply put it into a bucket and split it with all non-management staff who worked during that month. Unlike what you would expect from customers at the hardware store, our guests caught onto this and we noticed more customers bringing cash with them when they visited the taproom.

We even noticed out-of-town guests going out of their way, walking down the street to the nearest ATM just to withdraw cash to give to us! Some habits are certainly hard to break. So, we listened to our guests’ feedback, and about a month ago we reintroduced the tip line, showing our dedication to being flexible and responsive to our community’s wishes. Even though the option to tip on a credit card is back, the tip always defaults to “No-Tip” because all Switchyard staff are still guaranteed their living wage, regardless if every customer tips, or if no one tips at all. Every full-time coworker still enjoys benefits such as paid vacation and continuing education opportunities and every coworker still receives employer-paid virtual urgent care and mental health therapy sessions for them and their partner/spouse/children. 

In the midst of this tipping policy change, we faced an even more significant challenge when our glycol chiller, the heart of our brewing process, broke down. This crucial equipment controls the temperature during fermentation, and without it, our brewing came to a standstill. It took us two long months to get the chiller fixed, and during that time, we had no choice but to rely on guest taps to keep the beer flowing.

It was a humbling experience, to say the least. I mean, who goes to a brewery to drink other breweries’ beer, right? But we had to find a way to keep our doors open and stay true to our commitment to our community.

Throughout these challenging times, I’ve been reminded of the power of adaptability. In the world of business, we have to be ready to pivot, respond to change, and embrace new ideas. This lesson rings true not only for our tipping policy but also for the way we handled the glycol chiller crisis, and even with our response during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Resilience has also played a crucial role in our journey. It was tough for our team to stay positive while our brewery’s lifeblood was out of commission, but we supported each other and found creative solutions to keep moving forward.

Above all, I’ve learned that nurturing a strong company culture is essential during times of uncertainty. By promoting open communication, fostering a positive work environment, and taking care of our mental health, we’ve been able to navigate these rough waters more effectively.

As we look ahead to the future, I’m grateful for the lessons learned and the unwavering support of our community. Through embracing change and overcoming adversity, we’re growing into a stronger and more resilient Switchyard Brewing Company. So, here’s to the journey ahead, with all its twists and turns. Cheers!

Kurtis Cummings, a steadfast optimist, and visionary entrepreneur is the founder and president of Switchyard Brewing Company in Bloomington, Indiana. Having moved to Bloomington in 2006, Kurtis discovered his passion for homebrewing and transformed it into an entrepreneurial pursuit. With a background in pre-hospital emergency medicine, Kurtis developed eight guiding principles that drive the decision-making process at Switchyard Brewing Company. Committed to using business as a catalyst for positive change, Kurtis fosters innovation and community impact through his unique approach to leadership and business.