My Biz: Beer Chips

When Brett Stern sees a problem, he fixes it. A lifelong tinkerer, the 50-year-old inventor used his expertise in industrial design to market snack foods, so says BusinessWeek.

Unable to find a beer-flavored potato chip, Stern whipped up his own batch. Within two years, he was shipping packages of aptly named Beer Chips, which retail from $1.39 to $3.60, to Whole Foods, SuperValu, and Publix grocery stores.

Stern used $11,200 of his own money to launch the Portland (Ore.) company. He says he generated $500,000 in revenue in 2007 and $1.3 million in 2008. He claims a profit margin of 11%, which he credits to his virtual business model: He outsources everything but the creativity.

Controlling only the design and direction of the product, he relies on others to manufacture and distribute it. That keeps his overhead low: His only employees–a bookkeeper and a marketer–both work part time from a garage.

Stern, who’s known to carry chip samples in his car and give them to strangers, also keeps his eye on the big picture. He hopes to create enough demand for Beer Chips, with such new flavors as margarita and Bloody Mary, that a snack-food company will purchase it.

Editor’s Note: Update: I contacted Brett Stern and he told me that he sold the company to a larger snack food company, Barrel O Fun Snacks. This was his goal from day one.

Photo by BusinessWeek.

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