How financing with business coaching helped beer aficionado launch his business

Small Business Loans
April 12, 2018

During graduate school, George Thornton worked part-time at a San Diego beer supply shop to earn some extra money while feeding his growing passion for homebrewing.

When the store shuttered in 2012, he immediately spotted an opportunity. Thornton, then in his late 20s, already had almost a decade of homebrewing experience under his belt — and felt he could do a better job at serving this fast-growing community.

That same year, the beer connoisseur launched brewing-supply shop The Homebrewer in North Park, one of San Diego’s hottest craft-beer centers. His business idea, he said, emerged from an obsession with all things homebrewing and an obligation to keep beer-culture momentum going in North Park, where his previous employer was located.

“I wanted to keep it going in that neighborhood,” said Thornton, now 34. “I opened up a few months after the other one closed down.”

Six years later — with the aid of flexible financing and dedicated business coaching from CDC Small Business Finance — The Homebrewer has evolved into more than a shop that sells brewing kits, hops, yeast and how-to books to novice and experienced brewers. That part of the business is now paired with an adjoining small-batch brewery and gleaming tasting room that also hosts classes.

Love of beer at an early age

Thornton’s interest in hoppy, yeast-y concoctions began in his early teens, when he found himself particularly drawn to the history and culture of British and German beers. By age 19, he brewed his first batch of beer at his sister’s apartment, according to an interview with his undergraduate alma mater UC San Diego.

“I’ve always been interested in beer from a cultural aspect,” Thornton told CDC. “From a pretty young age, I’ve enjoyed different styles of beer and what made one different from another one.”

His enthusiasm for the art and science of small-batch beer making gained steam when he worked at the local beer-supply store while also pursuing a master’s degree in history from San Diego State University.

His part-time gig gave him the chance to ask questions, absorb homebrewing knowledge and understand what’s required to run a successful retail business. This also marked a period of experimentation. Around that time, he and a fellow homebrewer would continuously challenge each other to continue making progressively better batches.

He loved the practice of brewing beer because “I was doing one thing and focusing,” Thornton said.

Small-business loan with a side of coaching

About two years into business, Thornton wanted to add a small brewing operation and tasting room to his retail supply shop. That’s when he approached leading lender and non-profit CDC Small Business Finance for financing.

An SBA Microloan secured through CDC helped pay for brewing equipment, mainly large fermentation tanks. The loan also paved the way for an adjoining tasting room — Home Brewing Co. It serves as the central focus of the business, situated on El Cajon Boulevard, west of North Park’s booming 30th Street.

One condition of the microloan was that Thornton would be assigned an advisor for general business guidance. In this case, it was Chuck Sinks, head of CDC’s business-advising department, which works with potential and current borrowers on improving credit, crafting business plans, and much more. Even after borrowers are funded, CDC Small Business Finance sticks by them to ensure they’re successful through all stages of their business.

“Most borrowers welcome it,” Sinks said. “It’s a great feature and it’s somewhat unique.”

business advisor meeting with small business owner

Chuck Sinks, head of business advising at CDC Small Business Finance, meeting with George Thornton, owner and operator of The Homebrewer and Home Brewing Co. in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood.

Business coaching turns into mentorship

Over the last four years, Sinks has become a mentor to Thornton — serving as a sounding board on areas including bookkeeping, accounting and business strategies.

In the early stages of The Homebrewer, Thornton took out a small loan through an online-only lender to use as working capital. Access to cash was near-instant but it came with a high interest rate that wasn’t readily apparent until Sinks helped him crunch the numbers. (At that point, Thornton was already a client of CDC.)

“With Chuck’s advice, we made it a priority to pay it (the online loan) off first,” Thornton said. “Chuck has always been a pretty good mentor for me.”

Sinks finds working closely with small-business owners like Thornton to be rewarding. He particularly enjoys paying the occasional visit to clients to check on their progress face-to-face.

“George has a lot of grit because he doesn’t give up,” said Sinks, who recently checked in with Thornton at his shop. “I like people like that. I find that most entrepreneurs have the same gene.”

‘Keep the ball rolling’

Over the years, CDC Small Business Finance has flexibly paired Thornton with different loan products to meet his evolving goals.

After establishing the tasting room, his immediate goal was to build-out his business website, launch a related e-commerce store and upgrade parts of his existing location. This all required additional capital.

The initial thinking was to outfit Thornton with an SBA loan. While this was a good match, he expressed needing the funds in a shorter time frame.

That’s when CDC’s experienced staff thought quickly to give him with a Fast Fund loan.  This loan served as bridge financing — essentially interim financing “to keep the ball rolling” on the business’ growth — Thornton said, until permanent financing was secured.

“The bridge financing George received allowed him to avoid a slowdown in his store renovations, and position himself ever better, for a larger, (SBA) Community Advantage loan,” said Nick Miluso, CDC’s lead relationship manager, who worked on the loan.

“As an SBA lender, we are well aware that many clients cannot afford the time it takes to move through the somewhat cumbersome process,” Miluso added. “It is through this experience, and listening to the needs of the small business community, that we have developed supplemental loan products to serve our clients better.”

Thornton plans to use the new loan proceeds toward the installation of an outdoor patio to attract more foot traffic and jumpstart e-commerce sales, among other goals, he said.

Jobs created/preserved: 10

CDC Small Business Finance offers several loan options for business owners who want to grow their operations and are planning for their long-term needs.

Tell our loan experts about your business, and they’ll work to match you with a financing plan that best suits you.