How do you connect a city and a large town that are one hour and forty minutes apart? And, why would you even want to? Because businesses can grow in regional markets! And that’s what the leaders of the Region 3 Council want to see happen more frequently. For Farmville and Danville, their connectivity came from the Ballad Brewing Company (originally founded in Danville). Now, leveraging a new market opportunity in Farmville’s Hotel Weyanoke the company expanded its footprint for the Danville brewery and is introducing new varieties of beer for the Farmville market.
“Ballad Brewing was the third phase of a Danville loft apartment project developed by Ross Fickenscher and Garrett Shifflett,” Ballad Business Operations Manager Tim Meyers explains. “Rather than rent the downstairs portion of the building, Ross and Garrett decided to get into the brewery game themselves.”
Meyers, who previously worked for a brewery in Pennsylvania, joined the Ballad team at the beginning of 2017; the Danville brewery officially opened that May.
Fickenscher and Shifflett, who purchased the Weyanoke property in 2013, started development work on Farmville’s historic hotel in 2016. The hotel opened for business in May 2018.
“This is the kind of cross-region business development GO Virginia wants to encourage,” said Liz Povar, program manager for GO Virginia Region 3. “Ballad’s story demonstrates how business leaders who are successful in one region can expand their success across the Region.”
After both businesses got off the ground, the next natural step for Fickenscher and Shifflett was to introduce beer from the Danville brewery to the Farmville market.
“My role is to focus on growing sales through distribution to outside markets,” Meyers says. “We spent the first year of operation selling in our tap room in Danville to learn what beers customers liked and to choose beers we wanted to send to distribution.”
The Hotel Weyanoke made Farmville an important territory to add to their distribution list.
Meyers noted that brand recognition is a major focus when entering a new market.
“Farmville is a small market for us, but it’s had higher volume than expected,” he explains. “Now our bottles are for sale in the Food Lion in Farmville as well as several other restaurants. If you see our beer at Food Lion, it’s nice that you buy it, but it’s also nice that you recognize the Ballad brand.”
The Ballad name, Meyers explains, is a nod to Danville history.
“The Ballad name is inspired by ‘The Ballad of the Old ’97,’ a folk song written about a mail train crash and derailment in Danville in the early 1900s,” he adds. “We latched onto more hometown imagery with our beer names, like ‘The Fast Mail Pale Ale’ and ‘Balladeer.’”
Preserving local history is also important to developers Fickenscher and Shifflett.
“We’re all over the state,” Shifflett comments. “For the past seven years we’ve been concentrating on the Southwest, and since 2012 we’ve done projects in Farmville, Danville and Lynchburg.”
Community engagement and involvement are important factors in all the development partners’ projects.
“We try to engage the community and utilize community resources,” Fickenscher adds. “We believe our facilities help make a difference in the communities where we’ve completed our projects.”
The developers also know that community connections lead to new markets.
“After we expanded distribution to Farmville, we expanded in Danville and added South Boston and Martinsville,” Meyers relates. “Just a few months ago we brought Lynchburg, Roanoke and Salem into the fold.”
Meyers plans to continue this gradual growth plan until the brewery reaches full capacity.
“In working in the Farmville market I could see things that had been successful there,” Meyers concludes. “It puts a blueprint out there that tells us what we should do with the space we have.”