HELMSBURG — When The Beamery Group owner David Watters took over the former For Bare Feet sock factory property last spring, he envisioned creating a small-scale industrial park.
With only about 8,000 square feet of office space now remaining from the original 72,000 square feet, that vision is beginning to come true.
The complex is home to Stainless Manufacturing and Automation, The Beamery Group — which includes The Beamery and Helmsburg Barrel — and Quarter Sawn Flooring.
In the next few months, Watters anticipates the Malt Guild to begin operations, as well.
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“It’s been a little bit of a rough start, as all things are,” Watters said.The flagship business, The Beamery, designs and builds custom timber frame structures. The buildings are fitted and assembled in the Helmsburg facility, then disassembled and shipped to the construction site.Much of 2014 was spent moving The Beamery from the Zionsville area and catching up on existing projects. Business has picked up in the past year.
The Beamery is currently handling several large projects, including the regional Girl Scouts headquarters In Indianapolis and a restaurant in Pittsburgh, as well as six projects in the design stages in Brown County and Indianapolis.
He has added two employees since moving in and expects to take on another three in the next year. At least one of them is to help with his latest venture, one that he has been researching for the past year: making barrels for aging whiskey.
In addition, Watters anticipates he might add another two to three employees to the Helmsburg Barrel payroll in the next year.
A little more than a year ago, Watters learned that demand for whiskey barrels was outstripping supply. So, the concept of Helmsburg Barrel was born.Watters approached Malt Guild owner Robert Pate for advice about the market, and Pate saw an opportunity for a partnership, Pate said.“I said, ‘Hey, if you’ve got some space available, I’ll transfer my DSP (federal distilled spirit producer license) over from Greene County to Brown County,’” Pate said.
His current federal license does not allow for producing whiskey, only warehousing and bottling it, Pate said. His business is to buy unaged, distilled spirits, age it in oak barrels, and then either resell the barrels as a commodity or bottle it for resale by a third party.
“There are no barrels to be had,” Pate said. “You’re talking about 90 or more days, in most cases, lead time, for somebody to actually get you a barrel.”
Being in the same building as Helmsburg Barrel will give him a major advantage, Pate said.
Until now, he has mostly acted as middleman, buying and reselling aged whiskey, as he could not get enough barrels to age it himself.
Pate will give people the opportunity to invest in the whiskey like a commodity, he said. That can either be done in a manner similar to a bond — where Pate guarantees a buy-back price on the aged whiskey — or the investor can opt to sell it on the open market, potentially netting a higher profit.
“I think people might be interested in investing, especially if they knew there was going to be a guaranteed return,” Pate said. “Some of these barrels are going for $3,600 (on the open market).”
The concept is fairly new to the United States but has been done in Scotland for years, Pate said.
Malt Guild is not permitted under its current license to sell the whiskey directly to consumers for consumption, Pate said. He can only sell to retailers or distributors.
However, there is also the potential for a business with a liquor license to purchase the distilled spirits and have Pate age it; then, he can bottle it for them, and they can sell it under their own label.
Pate anticipates having his federal licensing finalized by early October — he had to apply for a location change — and he could be putting alcohol in barrels by the end of the year, he said.
Watters said Helmsburg Barrel will start by making about 20 barrels a month specifically for Malt Guild, with the potential to expand as additional buyers are found.
Quarter Sawn Flooring, which is moving to Brown County from Martinsville, also ties in with Watters’ plans for Helmsburg Barrel.The high-quality flooring company uses hardwoods, including white oak, the same material that will go into Watters’ barrels. Pieces of oak left over from Quarter Sawn’s production that are too small for flooring can be recut to make barrel staves, cutting down on waste, Watters said.Quarter Sawn owner Kent MacPherson said he is bringing five area employees with him to the new location.
Once the business is fully moved in, it will occupy about 20,000 square feet next door to The Beamery’s operations.
Nearby in the south building, David Rost’s SMA continues to do strong business around the country, Watters said.SMA is a metal fabrication company that specializes in manufacturing automated machinery for use in food processing, pharmaceutical and manufacturing facilities.Rost’s was the first business to begin leasing from Watters last fall.
Watters talks about the businesses leasing space from him more like partners than customers. When describing his vision for the Beamery Group property, he frequently uses the word “synergistic.”
He is working to cultivate a group of small, specialized businesses that can compliment and help each other. When discussing borrowing each other’s equipment and helping each other move into their spaces, Watters agreed with the analogy of borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor.
It is one of the advantages of working directly with owner-operated businesses, he said. And it is a foundation he hopes to continue to build on.
There is still a lot of opportunity to grow at the Beamery Group property, Watters said.The more than 8,000 square feet of office space on the second floor of the south industrial building has fiber optic connections and is well suited to any business that needs connectivity but doesn’t require a storefront, Watters said. He has even had someone suggest to him that it would work well for a call center.A yoga studio run by Patty Donaldson in the old Helmsburg School portion of the building has seen increased popularity, but it is one of the few non-Beamery activities going on there, Watters said.
Originally, Watters had laid out plans for an industrial kitchen in that building so that he could open the property to use for wedding receptions and similar events. Those plans are still possible, he said. For now, though, he is focusing on the tasks in front of him, and moving on to new concepts as time and money allow.
Along with the property, Watters also bought an unassembled, 14,000-square-foot building from the county, designed to fit against the existing building. It could be set up to provide additional space.
When he was bidding on the former For Bare Feet sock factory property in the fall of 2013, The Beamery Group owner David Watters estimated having 32 to 56 employees at the location by the end of the third year there. The group began moving in spring 2014 and was operational at the end of that summer.
The Beamery Group: 8
Helmsburg Barrel: 1
Quarter Sawn Flooring: 5
Projected additional jobs in 2016
Helmsburg Barrel: 2 to 3
Malt Guild: 2 to 3
Quarter Sawn Flooring: Declined to speculate