Beer Scout: Craftpeak helps breweries shine online

THE FANTASTIC FOUR: From left, Julien Melissas, Zaq Suarez, John Kelley and Corey Bullman are the core members of Craftpeak. The Asheville-based technology startup currently works with over 40 craft breweries in the U.S. and U.K. Photo by Sarah Black

As Western North Carolina’s brewing industry continues to grow, with only a handful of beer producers exiting the scene, more questions arise regarding what will determine each establishment’s longevity.

One of the factors that’s becoming increasingly crucial for local breweries to remain competitive is an attractive, informative and innovative online presence. While numerous area web developers provide that edge for nearby suds-makers, Craftpeak is the lone entity to focus exclusively on craft breweries. The Asheville-based technology startup builds websites and e-commerce solutions for enterprises both in town (Wicked Weed Brewing; Eurisko Beer Co.; Burial Beer Co.) in the region (South Carolina’s Birds Fly South Ale Project and Holy City Brewing) and beyond (Connecticut’s Kent Falls Brewing and New York City’s Other Half Brewing Co.).

Creative director Corey Bullman and technical director Julien Melissas started Craftpeak in 2015. For one of their jobs, they were contracted by John Kelley of local company Galaxy Digital to overhaul and update its large web-based volunteer management platform without disrupting the online experience for hundreds of thousands of users in the process. Impressed with the duo’s work there and on subsequent projects, Kelley turned to them again when the owners of Wicked Weed approached Galaxy about building them a new website.

“What Corey and Julien developed for Wicked Weed was not only a badass website that looked amazing, they had also custom-developed a number of brewery features built to address specific needs that Wicked Weed was experiencing during their rapid growth,” Kelley says. “They were on to something. We knew other great craft breweries needed this technology.”

Bullman and Melissas (son of Wedge Brewing Co. brewmaster Carl Melissas) brought Kelley aboard as CEO and director of sales in spring 2016. One of their first actions was to focus wholly on craft breweries, a natural fit for the craft beer fans who also recognized the challenges of the rapidly changing market and the tools breweries required to compete, survive and thrive.

After refining the features and developing a craft beer-specific platform that they could market to the best brands in the country, Craftpeak hired Zaq Suarez. Referring to his colleague as “a local craft beer legend,” Kelley says Suarez’s “huge personality” and experience starting breweries, running brewery tours and working as the sales and distribution manager for Burial as it was expanding into new parts of North Carolina were instrumental in connecting with and signing Craftpeak’s second and third clients, Birds Fly South and Eurisko.

Suarez has gone on to help cultivate relationships with dozens of respected beer brands domestically and internationally, part of over 40 breweries in the U.S. and U.K. with whom the company currently works. But even with that rapid growth, Craftpeak continues to support its current customer base — and its first client remains pleased with its services.

“They have done a fantastic job of creating a website for us that hits all of our goals while staying true to our brand,” says Alanna Nappi, Wicked Weed’s marketing operations director. “We were especially impressed with their ability to create such an intuitive and in-depth ‘beer finder’ section for us. We package up to 80 different beers in a year, so it was a pretty monumental task to create a place for consumers to not only see all of the different beers we produce but also be able to learn about each brand in an interactive way.”

That challenge of representing a brewery’s numerous facets is something Craftpeak has encountered with each new collaboration. From the details of its taproom and overall space, how and where its products are sold and incorporating its online store, various special events and charitable outreach in the community, the niche industry sector carries distinct online requirements. Craftpeak also takes into account the vast array of different experiences among craft consumers in a market that’s still in its infancy.

“Not only does a single website need to help support many different business functions for a brewery, it also needs to provide an engaging and educational user experience for every visitor, regardless of your level of experience with craft beer,” Kelley says. “With the help of our brewery clients, we have developed many features that help support these business challenges, while also creating an immersive experience for everyone from the craft curious to the lovable neck-beard craft enthusiast.”

As Craftpeak helps drive traffic to its clients’ taprooms, it also provides breweries with a central online landing pad where they have complete control of their brand, versus the whims and ever-changing rules of various social media platforms. Similarly important is its creation of websites that are optimized for mobile devices, especially with about 65-75 percent of all web traffic to its sites coming from those sources. With Google’s recent announcement of moving to a policy of mobile-first indexing, websites that lack a mobile-friendly experience may see a negative impact on their search engine rankings. Here and elsewhere, Craftpeak strives to keep its partners ahead of industry obstacles and, in doing so, will be expanding and creating more jobs for the Asheville community in the near future.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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