Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:21 pm
Spike Brewing LLC
3866 N. Fratney St., Milwaukee
INDUSTRY: Brewing equipment
When Spike Brewing LLC moved into its current facility on North Fratney Street in early 2017, founder Ben Caya figured there was no way the brewing equipment maker would fill up the 14,000-square-foot space.
Before long, however, the company took over 4,000 square feet of office space on the building’s second floor and then another 4,000 square feet adjacent to the shop floor. Sales continued to grow and once open space in the production area quickly shrunk to nothing.
“There wasn’t really any process flow, it just kind of zigzagged through the shop,” Caya said of the company’s setup.
Things reached a point where something needed to change. Last summer, a typically slower time for the business, Caya made the decision to build up some inventory and shut down production to redesign how Spike Brewing does its work.
The result is a more streamlined operation with two distinct production lines each for kettles and conical fermenters. The setup gives Spike the flexibility to focus on different products as market demands shift, while also leaving room for new product introduction.
“It helps us get a little bit more to a lean manufacturing mindset,” Caya said.
The company now plans to add eight employees this year, after growing from five to 21 employees in 2017.
Caya has been figuring out how to help Spike grow since the beginning, and his entrepreneurial roots run even deeper. When he was 12, he and a friend had a small enterprise buying and selling T-shirts from China.
“I don’t know if it’s something you’re born with or something you get turned on to, but it took me over,” Caya said.
Spike Brewing got its start when Caya moved in to a house as a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student. He found three empty beer kegs and, assuming they had some value, put them up for sale on Craigslist.
Those kegs sold and soon Caya had a successful enterprise buying kegs and flipping them for a profit. He even drove to Iowa at one point to pick up 110 kegs to sell online.
It turned out that many of Caya’s customers were homebrewers who would purchase the kegs and turn them into brewing equipment. Caya figured he could make a better profit if he did the cutting and welding for his buyers.
“That was the first signs of what Spike was going to end up being,” Caya said.
As the popularity of homebrewing increased, Caya’s business grew. But eventually, his keg supply dried up, so Caya decided to branch out. He found a chili kettle supplier and began converting those into brewing equipment.
Spike has differentiated its products from the start by welding its fittings. Some competitors used a weldless fitting with an O-ring and compression fit.
“It’s a better option. It’s how they do it in industry,” Caya said.
The company has also continuously expanded its product line with kettles, conical fermenters, brewing systems and accessories. About 50 percent of the kettles the company ships feature some kind of customization, and Caya said embracing customer needs helps the business.
“Brewing is a pretty intricate process so people are pretty particular on how they want their kettles situated,” he said.
Spike sources its base kettles from a supplier in China and brings them in-house for welding and fabrication. At this point, Caya said Spike is more of an engineering and marketing firm that performs value-added processes and assembly. Over time, however, he would like to continue bringing more processes in-house.
“I don’t see us stamping and rolling kettles anytime soon, but being able to take components and keep adding and adding more helps us,” he said.
Homebrewers currently make up 80 to 90 percent of Spike’s sales, but since the company makes mid-level to higher-end equipment, it is also able to attract some professional brewers. Caya said there is plenty of room for the company to continue growing with an increased focus on either smaller, professional brewers or on a wider segment of the homebrewing market.
Spike will continue to expand in both directions, Caya said, adding there are also plenty of ideas for new products.
“Now it’s strategically trying to plan on which butterflies you go after first,” he said.