Great Fermentations continues to prosper

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Address: 5127 E. 65th St.
Phone: 257-9463
Web site:
Founded: 1991
Founder: Keith Hill
Owners: Anita and Jim Johnson
Service/product: equipment and supplies for home-beer-brewing and winemaking
Employees: 5
Revenue (past 12 months): $600,000
Date of first profile: Aug. 14, 2006

Anita Johnson took a leap of faith in mid-2006, moving her successful business from a shoebox in the heart of Broad Ripple Village to comparatively palatial space on far-less-traveled 65th Street near Binford Boulevard.

She landed on her feet.

Revenue at Great Fermentations has increased 71 percent as Johnson continues to grow her business despite the difficult economy. She has added brewing classes, introduced fresh grapes and fruits to her winemaking product mix, and succeeded in attracting more online customers.

The dollars and cents are important, but Johnson still is just as thrilled by the personal part of her job—interacting with customers. She remembers their names and preferred beer tastes and puts that knowledge to use when they come in to browse the store’s offerings.

"People do this for the joy of creation, for the social aspects," she said.

Johnson and her husband, Jim, began brewing beer for fun and were Great Fermentations customers before they took over the then-struggling business in July 1995.

They turned it around, and 11 years later expanded from 900 square feet in Broad Ripple to a 4,000-square-foot combination warehouse and storefront in an anonymous industrial park a few miles east.

The additional space provided room for classes, which allow new hobbyists to learn basic techniques before trying it themselves. Johnson regularly teaches the classes, but also often brings in outside instruction for diversity.

Great Fermentations’ Web site has been gaining momentum since it was introduced in 2005, allowing customers to order supplies and equipment—including new products suited for larger-scale brewing.

Last year, Johnson also started selling fresh grapes and fruits for winemaking, offering an alternative to the premade concentrates included in the 100-plus wine kits that Great Fermentations also has in stock.

Wine kits are better for beginners than the more complex fresh fruits, which require more work to cultivate the flavor, but Johnson says that many veteran winemakers have taken to the new option.

As the company has grown, so has its employee base. Since the 2006 profile, Johnson has added three full-time workers, more than doubling the staff.

Johnson is proud of the progress she has made. She knows her ability to turn a hobby into a prosperous career makes her "really lucky."

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