October 19, 2021 by Speakers' Spotlight
Small Business Week: How Graham Sherman’s Collaborative Approach Saved His Business
Overnight, Graham Sherman saw 75% of his business disappear. A worldwide pandemic had just been announced and his brewery was forced to close their doors to stay safe in a COVID-world. With the fate of his business on the line, Graham turned to his old friends — collaboration and partnership — to both save his company and help his community.
Graham is the owner of the Tool Shed Brewing Company, a result of taking his homebrewing “too far” as he says. What started as a hobby in his backyard tool shed is now a 22,000 sq. ft brewery based in Calgary, Alberta. The pandemic wasn’t Graham’s first challenge as an entrepreneur. When he first quit his well-paying, stable government job to jump head-first into craft brewing, he quickly learned that his new-found vocation was actual illegal in Alberta. He had to switch gears pretty quickly, changing his game plan from simply brewing craft beer to disrupting an industry.
When Tool Shed first opened its doors, Graham couldn’t brew his beer on location. Instead, he had to export his ingredients to BC and import his beer back into the province. It took a year of perseverance to convince the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Corporation to change their legislation so he could brew his beer in the province. Now, eight years later it is brewed in Calgary and sold in more than 1000 locations across Canada.
2020 could have been the year that ended it, but instead of commiserating, Graham said, he did exactly what he did eight years ago — changed his game plan. He looked to see which companies were doing well in the pandemic and that’s how he met a local company offering organic food delivery. Their business was flourishing, but the demand was too high; they couldn’t keep up. They needed more space to store and prepare their products. Graham had space — he had 22,000 sq. ft. of it.
Overnight, Graham converted his brewery into a storage facility. He partnered with this local company to provide them with the space they needed to successfully meet the demands of their consumer-base. And, as a result, help Calgarians stay safe. This is how he managed to save his business throughout the pandemic.
Graham has never been afraid to collaborate. With Tool Shed, he didn’t want to just sell beer, he wanted to elevate the craft beer industry in Alberta. He purposely sought out his competitors to collaborate with them. On-site, he makes his own packaging; his competitors didn’t have the same ability. So, he offered to do the same for them. His openness led to a budding, competitive, and collaborative environment for the industry to thrive. And this same collaborative working model saved his business during the pandemic.
Truly standing out in a tough economy, against monster-sized competition, requires us to use part of our brains we don’t often access, Graham says. He credits the power of disruptive behaviour and thinking, alongside collaboration for his entrepreneurial success. It was a bumpy journey, but staying true to these principles has helped him again and again.
“We don’t know what’s coming next,” Graham said. “But I do know, we can figure it out.”
Graham Sherman is a self-professed “high level geek” who used his love of technology to disrupt an entire industry. He’s been shaking things up since he worked on private-sector government and military contracts in Afghanistan, to when he began brewing beer and changed the game for small breweries across Alberta, to today, when he transformed his business to meet the demands of a pandemic-riddled economy.
Speaking on his bumpy entrepreneurial journey, Graham’s passion comes through in every talk as he shows audiences how to harness disruption to transform their lives.
Interested in learning more about Graham and what he can bring to your next event? Email us at [email protected].