It’s tough to create “firsts” in the world of action sports. There is little left untouched, unridden, unexploited or unendorsed. That was, at least, until Saint Archer Brewing Company came along: A San Diego brewery of some of the finest beers created by a collaboration between some of the finest players in action sports.
It all started back in 2010 When Josh Landon, President and Founder, had the genius idea of developing a craft beer that was not only marketed by professional athletes but also owned by them. Josh, a filmer and action sports athlete manager was already firmly entrenched within the industry, and it was while interacting with a hard alcohol company that wanted to sponsor one the athletes he managed, pro-surfer Taylor Knox, that the idea of Saint Archers came to him.
“Taylor is one of the most fit athletes our sport ever had and I didn’t really see a hard liquor brand fitting his lifestyle… I told him, ‘Why don’t you do a beer? And if you want to do craft beer that would be even better as we actually drink it.’ And the light bulb went off as I was saying that to him! I thought, ‘I wonder why there has never been a beer that has come from us?’ Now I know why… Because it is insanely difficult! But it is the one product that everyone consumes across all our demographics: Skaters, surfers, snowboarders, artists, film makers, photographers–everyone that makes up our culture. Everyone drinks beer!” he says. Or as Taylor puts it, “I feel like more people have a beer or two after skating, snowboarding or surfing than hard alcohol.”
“The next weekend I was with (pro skateboarder) Mikey Taylor,” Josh continues, “And I said, ‘Let’s do a craft beer company together.’ He was into it so we got P-Rod (skater Paul Rodriguez) on a call. We all got together the next day and that’s how Saint Archer was born.”
Mikey adds some color to that story: “When Josh and I were down in San Diego filming for a skate film, we ended up sharing a room together,” he says. “We were talking about companies and business for a while then decided to call it a night. I remember right when I turned off the light Josh said, ‘We should start a craft brewery!’ I immediately flipped the light on and said, ‘Let’s do it!’ We’ve been stepping on the gas ever since!” Excitement at owning a beer company aside, it’s a big leap of faith to put your money into a startup with someone who has never started a company before, let alone a brewery! But for Mikey it was a no-brainer.
“From the second I met Josh, we just clicked,” he explains. “He and I just seem to always be on the same page; he’s basically become my older brother. I think that dynamic played a big part of being confident in him. Also he’s not the type to half-ass something. It’s all or nothing. Even though he had never run a company before, we all knew that he would pick it up real quick!”
The rest of the industry was a different matter, however. From the doubters who threw Josh’s business plan in the trash right in front of him to the athlete managers who either talked their clients out of investing or tried to secure more ownership for the same investment, the road to existence was not an easy one.
“There are managers in this industry that think they have an idea as to what good investments are and they really don’t know shit. There are a handful of guys that didn’t invest because of what their manager told them and they are kicking themselves. I told a lot of the athletes who have managers from the very beginning that I would not deal with their managers or they could not invest. That came from me, Mikey and Paul… The same applied to P-Rod as well! He’s got a million people helping him but he did this himself. It’s unfortunate that a lot of these managers think they are more famous than their clients… They would be asking for more than everyone else was getting, even though I would explain that I wasn’t going to give them more than Eric Koston would be getting, for example, because they think their athlete is more special! I killed a couple of deals over it.“
“SCREW IT, LET’S DO IT!”
Although it was Richard Branson that first spoke those words, it might as well have been Josh Landon and friends, because in spite of the naysayers, wannabe profiteers, and left-brain thinkers they proceeded to put everything on the line and dive right in. “Everyone has a lot of skin in the game. We put everything on the line,” Josh explains. “Me personally, I quit everything, moved my family from Ventura, and in the beginning Mikey and Paul were paying my utility bills! People just see the success and think we are all millionaires but it was gnarly.”
“Success” barely touches the sides of what the brand has achieved in its very young life. Besides not being able to make enough beer to keep up with demand, Saint Archer recently won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival for its White Ale and was voted best IPA in San Diego, the unofficial “Craft Beer Capital” of America.
In fact, they have experienced the biggest and most successful launch in craft beer history… No small feat! They have done two additional capital raises in the past 20 months, and undergone three expansions since opening last year and still can’t keep up with demand. It’s a dream scenario and Josh is like the kid who got everything on his Christmas list then found another stocking under the bed: He knew he had a good idea but never expected it to go this big this fast. Discerning the reasons for such success
means looking at what Saint Archer has that no one else does: Authenticity within two markets. By bringing in some of the most reputable brewers around (Saint Archer boast number 1, 3 and 5 on All About Beer magazine’s “30 under 30” top brewers) they ensured their beer was top notch. As Josh says, “I always knew we could build a brand because we have the best brand builders in the world… But I never wanted the beer to be just good enough that people were just buying it because the boys owned it. I wanted them to try it because we own it but then drink it and go ‘Damn, these dudes really nailed it.’”
On top of the genuinely great beer they produce they brought with them an authenticity within action sports that can’t be bought. Within the world of action sports, authenticity still rules. No matter how hard other brands try to buy into the desirable and highly profitable world of snow, skate and surf, it’s easy to spot intruders. That’s what sets Saint Archer apart. When Taylor Knox serves you a beer at one of their Ambassador events (where the athletes work the bar), he is serving you a beer that he owns. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!
“I know with everyone being a part of the company and showing up to events there’s a more personal connection,” Taylor explains. “It’s not just someone you see on the poster but never meet.”
In fact, Saint Archer boasts an athlete roster in line with any multi-million dollar brand. With skaters such as Paul Rodriguez, Eric Koston and Mikey Taylor, surfers Taylor Knox, Josh Kerr, Dusty Payne and more and snowboarders of the likes of Todd Richards and Pat Moore, endorsement budgets should be through the roof. But that model is flipped on its head with them as each Ambassador had to invest his own money to become an owner. In fact, everyone that’s part of the brand owns it and there’s a significant minimum investment amount to get in.
Snowboarder Pat Moore and surfer Jack Freestone were the most recent to join the brand, around eight months ago. When I ask Pat why he decided to invest in the company, his answer was simple: “Great beer, great crew, why not? Each event we throw is a great example of amazingly talented people all getting together to enjoy good beer and support each other!”
But representing a company and actually putting your money where your mouth is are two very different things. Was it a hard sell to pay, rather than be paid to be part of Saint Archer? Like all the other athletes involved in the brand the answer is a resounding “no”. “Not at all”, Pat says, “To me it was such a great opportunity. I saw all the rad people who were a part of it and how committed they were to creating a great product. I love craft beer, I love traveling to new places and tasting their different styles of beer. I take pride in our beer and it’s really an honor to be a part of Saint Archer.”
The model makes perfect sense. When athletes with incredible marketing power have their own dollars invested in a brand, chances are they are going to go all out marketing it. Josh has forgone traditional print marketing and put almost all of their outreach eggs into the Instagram basket. “Between us we have about 6 million followers,” Josh says. “When we have a new beer or an event, all of us will post the same thing. So you are getting 2 or 3 million eyeballs just on Instagram alone!” In addition to this the owners will often tag Saint Archer off their own backs, giving the brand huge outreach amongst them all.
Probably the only downside to their monumental success is the lack of free beer… “This is going to sound crazy but we don’t have any excess beer,” Josh laughs. “All of us have to buy the beer at the store. That’s 100% true! We sell every single drop and we are not anywhere near supplying the demand. So Paul Rodriguez goes to his local Whole Foods and buys a 6-pack just like everyone else. I told them really early on that they needed to be ok with not getting free beer because I am going to try to sell every drop if I can!”
Currently, Saint Archer is at the point of expanding from its southern California birthplace into Northern California territory, but what next in terms of expansion? Will Saint Archer be gracing the shelves of Texan liquor stores sometime soon or even cross the ocean to deliver Europeans après-ride thirst quenching in the form of their pale ales? Well, Europe might need to sit tight for a while but New Yorkers are in for some Saint Archer brew next year. “We love New York and a lot of us have a strong affinity for the place,” Josh explains. “And then Australia– it fits us. It’s who we are and we all love Australia. We are making choices based on where we think the brand will do well.”
With rumors of buyouts milling around I ask Josh if selling the company is the end game, but it seems far from his thoughts right now. As he explains, “We are just trying to produce as much beer as we can to have as many people drink it in the world as we can. The goal is to get Saint Archer in as many places as possible. We don’t have any plans to sell it–we are having too much fun! Besides, what else are we all going to do together? I don’t feel like this is ever going
to happen again where we all come together and invest and do something together. It’s not really something that can be replicated. And although I love to surf everyday, I’m not sure I could just surf every day!”
With the mind-blowing expansion of Saint Archer and Josh’s crazy schedule he might be lucky if he surfs at all, but you can bet than when he does paddle out it’s with some of the most famous, craft-beer-owning athletes this planet knows.