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StillFire and UGA SBDC Ignite Brewing Success

StillFire Brewing — A Success Story

By: Kim Broun, PR Specialist

Law school opens the door to many possibilities. While sitting in his law school classes at the University of Georgia, Aaron Bisges, general manager at StillFire Brewing, never dreamed one of those possibilities would be opening a brewery after graduation. He worked at bars and restaurants throughout law school to help make ends meet. But it wasn’t until his uncle, John Bisges, a fellow UGA alumnus, approached him about opening and managing a brewery after graduation that he thought he could use his business knowledge from law school to turn his bar and restaurant experience into a career.

Using his UGA connections, Aaron Bisges reached out to Benny StaRomana, business consultant at the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (UGA SBDC) for assistance writing a business plan. 

“The city of Suwanee had approached Aaron and his partners about using the former fire department building in their downtown area to open a taproom,” said StaRomana, who is based in the UGA SBDC office in Gwinnett. “I helped them put the business logic behind their ideas for the business.”

Bisges sought the expertise of the UGA SBDC to ensure the business was on the right track, but he also wanted to utilize the organization’s industry connections.

“We wanted to make sure we were not missing anything and to also see if there were any other contacts in the brewery industry we could reach out to,” said Bisges. “Benny quickly became a great resource. He helped us with the business plan and encouraged us to participate in the SBDC GrowSmart program, which made us think about the business from a bigger picture.”

Designed for businesses with more than two years of successful operation, UGA SBDC GrowSmart guides participants through a step-by-step evaluation of their business to develop a business plan with long-term vision and growth strategies. It gives participants the opportunity to step away from the daily business tasks and dedicate 35 hours to focus on the future of their business.

The partnership with the UGA SBDC helped Bisges secure the loan and the funds needed to start StillFire Brewing. Since opening in 2019, the business has been booming. StillFire has found the recipe for success, according to StaRomana.

“Yes, there is great beer, but there is also great customer service and an overall great experience. But to get people in the door is great marketing,” StaRomana said.

And StillFire has that. Randall and Angie Veugeler, two of the founding partners, own a marketing company and Suwanee Magazine, helping to keep StillFire at the front of the minds of community members. In addition, they hired an internationally renowned brewer, Phil Farrell.

“My strength has always been relationships and wanting to develop a community,” said Bisges. “We did not want StillFire to be just a watering hole. We wanted it to be a community destination experience for people, family, friends, kids, even dogs. We wanted to be very open and inviting and create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.”

The atmosphere accomplishes the goal. You will not find closed off booths, but long community tables to encourage interaction between groups. Live music frequently draws crowds together, and the brewery also offers theme nights, like Luau, Great Gatsby or Tacky Christmas Sweater, which encourage customers to wear the appropriate attire.

Location also has been a big part of the brewery’s success. The fire station was already adjacent to a playground and gazebo area. And when StillFire was in the works, the city of Suwannee approached the StillFire business partners for their input on making the area even more community oriented.

Now, StillFire wants to build on that sense of community in a second location that is set to break ground this year in Smyrna. Once again, the partners utilized the UGA SBDC during the process.

“We consulted with Benny a lot when thinking about a second location. He helped us with demographic studies, a financial cost analysis and helped us narrow down a list of potential locations,” said Bisges. “He gave us confidence to know we were making the right decision with the second location.”

Since opening, StillFire’s sales have increased each year and the staff has grown from one employee to more than 50. Going forward, as they open their second location, they also plan to focus more on the distribution side of their business.

More than five years since their first meeting, Bisges continues to meet with StaRomana, and he still appreciates the value of the UGA SBDC.

“What makes the UGA SBDC so unique and awesome is that they are not in it for financial interest or gain,” said Bisges. “There is no personal motive other than wanting to help people in their community succeed. And I can tell that in how we were treated and how they worked with us. The people involved with SBDC are truly the magic that makes it great.”

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