Friday, August 7, 2009

Beeronomics: Coopetition

Beervana, the Blog has a nice follow up on the state of the Green Dragon, an independent tap house in SE Portland that was treasured by the beergnoscenti, but which ran into financial trouble and was bought out by Rogue. You might expect Rogue to transform the Green Dragon into a Rogue house featuring all or mostly Rogue beer. You would be wrong. They have kept it largely as it was and sometimes it can be hard to find Rogue beer there at all.

In fact as, Jeff points out, Rogue is going one step farther and hosting an 'Indie Beer Fest,' and wonders why they would highlight their competition? Well it is likely because they are cool and don't see their business as a zero-sum game. And they might be right.

There are many instances in economics where business relationships are both competitive and cooperative. One example is where there are network externalities: the more people use a product the more other potential buyers value it. Consider the very first phones, if you were the first person to own a phone in the US, it wasn't worth much, but once your entire community got one, everyone got more value from it. So if you were a single phone manufacturer, sure you wanted to get as many sales as possible for yourself, but the price you could charge and the number of potential customers increased with the number of sales your competition made as well.

Another example is where you have a demand that evolves, like from weak diner coffee to strong Starbucks coffee. Customers learned to prefer strong coffee and began to demand it everywhere. So if you were a coffee house selling strong stuff, having Starbucks expand locally was both direct competition, but it also served to increase the demand for your coffee.

Both of these type of situations are probably relevant for the pub business. A pub business specializing in craft beer in Portland will be enhanced the more good beer there is to serve and the more people have learned to prefer craft beer. Even if you brew your own beer, exposing more people to good craft beer might lead to a net increase in demand for yours as well.

I doubt that Rouge thinks in these terms, but that is the thing about economics - understanding why patterns exist even if the participants don't understand the incentives involved. Jack Joyce once described the craft beer industry as jerk-free (OK, he used slightly more colorful language). I think that this is partly that there is a recognition that while there are many competitive aspects of the business, each individual success bleeds over to group success. With the focus on taking away market share from macro-brewers and creating more demand, there is just less focus on internecine battles.

OK, head too full of economics, getting too serious about all of this. Time to relax and have an Oregon beer. Cheers, and have a good weekend.


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