By Eric Peterson | Jun 03, 2018
Tap handles and signage
After working for Centennial-based RuMe, Pezzotti went on to launch her own startup. "My background was in branding and manufacturing," she says. Combine that with a passion for craft beer, and Pezzotti had the building blocks for Custom Beer Handles.
Pezzotti relied on her background in promotional products to develop the business plan. "You wear a lot of different hats, overseeing manufacturing but making sure branding is meeting these companies' design guidelines," she explains. But tap handles aren't about aesthetics alone: "Design for production is one thing, and design for functionality is a totally different thing."
Black Shirt Brewing was one of her first Colorado-based clients. The Denver brewery had been using real Shure microphones to make tap handles, but it became unwieldy to buy used microphones online. "They aren't cheap," says Pezzotti.
So the design process entailed making a more cost-effective imitation. "Eventually, we perfected this replica of the Shure mic," says Pezzotti. Made of chrome-plated polyurethane resin, the finished tap handles look just like the real thing.
Custom Beer Handles also supplies Left Hand Brewing with handles featuring the Longmont regional brewery's trademark southpaw that are likewise made of polyurethane resin. Pezzotti says it is her company's most popular material, and it pairs well with other materials for a distinctive tap handle. "You can really mold it into figurines," she explains. "You can even paint it to look like wood. Sometimes the breweries can't even tell it's not real."
The minimum order is 100 units, but Custom Beer Handles can fulfill order of thousands of tap handles. Prototyping of new handles typically requires four to six weeks, and production requires six to 10 weeks. Pezzotti says her company has shipped more than 50,000 tap handles in the last four years. The per-unit price is usually between $15 and $25, depending on materials and volume.
Pezzotti runs a nimble operation that partners with numerous trusted manufacturers. "I outsource to graphic designers and production teams," says Pezzotti. "We have folks in Illinois, we have folks in Maryland, all over, even Colorado, overseas in China."
Her mantra: "You're only as strong as your relationships with people . . . whether that's clients or factories."
That means clients can use in-house designers or work with Pezzotti's partners. "We try to be flexible," she says. "I don't want to tell customers how to do something."
The approach is winning Pezzotti new business all the time. "We've grown 50 percent year over year," she says.
Beyond tap handles, the company also makes point-of-sale signage and other related products.
In early 2018, Custom Beer Handles launched a philanthropic program called Taps Give Back. "We donate a portion of the sales from our tap handles to a nonprofit or charitable organization of our client's choice," says Pezzotti. "We get to spread a larger message for our customers, and that feels great."
Favorite beers: Pezzotti points to three favorites: Lord Hobo Boomsauce, Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout, and Black Shirt Bonzo! "It's kind of out there," she says of Bonzo!, a red rye pale ale featuring lavender and pistachios.
Challenges: Bias. "We're not the biggest tap handle manufacturer, and I'm a woman in two male-dominated industries," says Pezzotti. "It's still an uphill battle and I try to push past it and not think about it, but it is real."
She recently lost a client to a larger competitor. "The only answer they could give me was they went with the bigger company," says Pezzotti. "It wasn't because of price. That was the only answer."
Opportunities: Other craft beverage markets. "It's grown into spirits and coffee and wine," says Pezzotti. "I'm a big believer in keeping my eyes open to different trends."
Denver's Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery is one such client; the polyurethane resin monkey hands feature magnetic decals for different varietals. "They can switch out these magnetic decals that are branded and easy to change," says Pezzotti.
That's not to say there isn't plenty of room for growth with craft beer. "Over 800 breweries opened last year," she says. "Some people say it's slowing down and there's a bubble, but I don't see that."
She can't disclose another opportunity -- an innovative new product -- because she's in the midst of the patenting process.
Needs: "From a marketing standpoint, it's getting our name out there more," says Pezzotti. "There is a Colorado tap handle supplier that can do everything [breweries] need."
Another need: thinking outside the jockey box by "expanding our design capabilities and creativity," she adds.