Series: Sales: “So, you want to work at a brewery?”

Sean Pagano

Read about the perspective of Sean, the Director of Sales and Business Development at Switchback Brewing Company to help you on your search and interview process!

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What is your brewery story?

I home brewed through the early 2010’s but officially started my beer career back in 2014 working retail Baltimore, MD. I quickly became interested in the business and sales side of things. I’d meet beer reps in the store every day and think to myself “I can do that!” I got my first shot soon after and helped DC Brau Brewing Company in Washington, DC open their Maryland territory. In 2017, I joined Sierra Nevada Brewing Company to cover the Baltimore, MD metro area and was part of the sales team that introduced Hazy Little Thing to the world! Being at Sierra Nevada taught me so much about selling skills, leadership, and the necessity for constant market awareness and innovation.

After the pandemic, my wife and I had a unique opportunity to relocate to Vermont after many years of visiting regularly and supporting great VT breweries. And in late 2022, I had the honor of joining up with Switchback Brewing Company. Working with one of Vermont’s most beloved breweries has been a dream come true! And working for a 100% employee-owned company like Switchback is super empowering! I’m very excited to be a part of Switchback’s future.

We recently launched Askew Beer Co., which is an employee-led brewery started by us employee-owners at Switchback. Askew focuses on leaning into the more experimental side of craft brewing where a traditional and established 22-year-old legacy brewery like Switchback normally wouldn’t. I’ve gotten to work closely with some of our brewers and production staff to create some exciting new beers.

What is your role at the brewery?

I am the Director of Sales and Business Development at Switchback Brewing Company. I’m also a stakeholder for our new brewery, Askew Beer Co., with my fellow employee-owners.

What are the top things you would look for in hiring?

For our sales department at Switchback, we primarily look for people with practical knowledge of the beer industry in the market they’ll be selling in. We look for salespeople that are disciplined in getting things done without a lot of supervision but can be team players with our wholesalers, accounts, and business partners to make decisions on behalf of the brand. Being able to apply structure and accountability to a job where you’re your own boss most of the time is important. We also look for great culture fits as well. We like working with folks who have big, friendly, approachable personalities but aren’t too overbearing or salesy.  

Being a fan of great beer and a good storyteller is also a plus!

What is your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of working in craft beer sales is the community that comes with it. Meeting creative, ambitious, hardworking people every day and getting to share a beer with them is always a highlight of this job for me. Getting to do that in Vermont has been a highlight of my career so far and a big reason why I joined the VBA board of directors.

The craft beer industry is comprised of people from all walks of life with one thing in common: They’re all passionate about sharing great beers with the world! I feel lucky to work for a company like Switchback Brewing Company and Askew Beer Co. where everyone’s experience and experience is so varied. It keeps our working relationships strong and our camaraderie even stronger! I couldn’t do what I do without the support of the rest of our extremely talented and motivated brewery staff!

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of craft beer sales right now is adapting to how quickly the industry is changing. Consumer and retailer buying habits change frequently and without warning. Staying nimble and aware of what’s going on beyond the four walls of our brewery is hard. And it only gets harder with the more beer you sell and the more territories you sell to. Having great wholesalers, great employees, and a great community of friendly breweries to lean on helps mitigate some of these challenges. We’re all in this together!

How have you seen your role grow?

I was lucky enough to be given the chance to rebuild Switchback’s sales program from the ground up a couple of years ago. It’s been a fun adventure helping Switchback expand their product offerings and accessibility of brands beyond the flagship. The 22 years of success that Switchback Ale has had is such a solid foundation to build our future on. My role has grown from simply building and leading a sales team as a new employee to being an employee-owner and steward of our brand and company legacy.

What is a typical day like for you?

I usually start my day with a review of our sales numbers throughout our distribution footprint noting any big gains or losses and anomalies. I try to touch base with my sales team most mornings to make sure they have everything they need to achieve their goals in the market. Once I know that my team is ready for the day, I like to chat with our shipping and receiving department to make sure the beer is getting out to the wholesalers smoothly and that I’m relaying any special requests or watchouts from the market to them. I like to chat with our brewers and production crew to see what they’re brewing, cellaring, or packaging that day.

Afternoons are usually the time for meetings in the office or out in the field. It’s not uncommon to meet up with wholesaler reps, sales team leadership or company stakeholders for lunch to keep them apprised of what’s new and exciting at Switchback. I also regularly try to ride-along with my sales reps in the market to coach, support, and guide them through their sales day when I can.

I like to finish my day in the taproom chatting with our staff to hear what our guests are saying about new products or just catching up with my wonderful coworkers. Switchback was founded on great beer made by great people. So, it’s not only a fun place to work but it’s also a fantastic place to hang out with friends, family, and co-workers. 

What would you recommend to someone who is hoping to work for a brewery in your field? 

When you mention to folks outside of the industry that you sell beer for a living, the common response is often regarding how glamorous and fun our jobs must be. But there’s also a ton of hard work that goes into before you get to do the fun stuff. Be ready for early mornings helping to merchandise grocery stores, long evenings slinging samples in a liquor store, hot summer weekends at festivals, and taking meetings from a gas station parking lot.

Get familiar with the science and psychology of selling and consumer habits. Having charisma and being passionate about craft beer and the beverage alcohol industry will only get you so far. Eventually you’ll want/need to know why and how people are buying your product. There are tons of great resources out there to learn the basics of selling skills and it’s never too late to start.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

I’m very excited to share our new Switchback Beer Garden and Tap House on Flynn Ave. with the world this summer!  We’re building a bigger and better Switchback experience including an expanded food menu, outdoor patio and event lawn, plus a full bar featuring 20 taps and imaginative cocktails. We have so many fun things planned for that space, and it’s been awesome to see it become a reality.

Also, try an Askew Beer Co. beer when you see them around! We’ve been dreaming up some cool ideas and have been having a blast bringing them to life. It’s been a great opportunity and wouldn’t have been possible without the flexibility that comes along with working for an employee-owned company like Switchback.