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Women in Male-Dominated Fields: Brewery Owner

Insights & Ideas Team •  October 13, 2016 | Focus on Women

Tami Plourde’s days often consist of frosty beverages and fun get-togethers.

“I feel kind of guilty when I tell my 7-year-old daughter I’m going to work, but really I’m going to drink beer and throw a party. But that’s my work—I’m not lying!” said Plourde.

Plourde is one of a small number of female brewery owners in the United States. She’s the co-owner and director of sales and marketing at the Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She and her boyfriend, who is the founder and co-owner of the business, oversee 22 employees and put on many events and tastings for small businesses, corporations, non-profits and individuals.

“You see a wide variety of people, and it’s a lot of fun. They’re so grateful to you. They just love sharing the space and drinking the beer, and I like the job because I’m not punching the time clock. To me, that’s a successful career.”

Plourde never planned to become a front-office executive in the male-dominated beer business. It happened in her late 20s after she experienced both success and failure in other industries. Looking back on her life, she can see that she always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even as a child growing up in Minnesota.

“I used to charge my friends 25 cents to jump on our trampoline,” Plourde laughed. “I made a few bucks on it.”

She also had a wonderful mentor in her father, who told her that she could be anything she wanted.

“He always said, ‘Go for it.’ He encouraged my sister and me to be tomboys. He sat me on a lawnmower when I was four. That carried over to when I was a senior in high school—I was on the grounds crew, mowing. I became the first female parkmaster for the Park and Recs in Lakeville.”

Life took many twists before she landed at the brewery. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, Plourde traveled for several years, bartending and waitressing to fund her adventures, and then worked in sales at a car rental company. In less than a year she became one of the youngest female managers while securing corporate accounts and working the north-central territory of Wisconsin, but she found it wasn’t her passion. She left the car rental business and opened her own restaurant, which lasted about two years. “We had to close for a variety of reasons. I learned some tough lessons.”

Her boyfriend, Joe, owned the Pearl Street Brewery and asked her to help out.

“I started taking over some job responsibilities that he was too busy for, like selling the beer. There weren’t many women out there doing beer sales.”

Investing for You: 5 Critical Questions for a Smart StrategyAt first, Pearl Street, a craft brewery, produced only 500 barrels per year and did not package the beer, but they quickly gained popularity and began packaging in 2007.

“That was a whole new learning curve. I got to learn the distribution game. That’s very much an old-boys game, a lot of men, a lot of polo shirts. I had to operate a room without knowing what I was doing—setting up territories, creating contracts and encouraging people to buy our beer and distributors to sell our beer.”

Plourde worked her way up to brewery manager and officially became a co-owner in 2015. She must work many nights and weekends but is used to the schedule and looks at the variety as a positive. Work/life balance did become more difficult almost eight years ago when her daughter was born.

“Because my hours are not typical, I have cashed in a lot of favors with a lot of great friends. I’ve spent a small fortune on babysitters and daycare; but as she gets older, she comes with me a lot. She spends an enormous amount of time at the tasting room. I think it’s very important for her to understand what we do.”

Plourde is still one of the only women in the country in her position at a brewery. “There are very few women in ownership roles, but there are a lot more women popping up as brewers, brewmasters, distributors, sales people and managers. It’s really exciting to see. It’s an exciting career to get into. You need to have passion and thick skin. For women, there are a lot of opportunities. You can do something innovative or grow something. It’s all there.”

In the next three to five years Pearl Street is looking to make a large expansion, which Plourde will help lead. She is 40 and plans to stay hands-on for at least 10 more years. No one is more thrilled for Plourde’s success than her father, the man who gave his daughters a strong foundation and the belief that they could do anything. “He’s our number one fan. He takes our business cards and stickers everywhere. It’s pretty cool.”

And after all of her years as a woman in a man’s field, Plourde has learned some lessons that might be helpful to others: “Don’t be afraid of failure. If fear of failure stops you, then you’re just shortchanging your dreams and aspirations. The beer business is a male-dominated industry, but women are going out there and saying, ‘We can do this, too, and we can do it just as well.’ Having that dynamic perspective is diversifying the industry and making it more interesting. There’s value to that. Have big dreams and go for it and work really hard, especially young women out there—the world is your oyster.”

This is the second in a series about women working in male-dominated fields. Previous; Women in Male-Dominated Fields: Welding.

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