Josh Seago is one humble dude. He's president and founder of Lou Dog Events, a craft beer-focused events company that will host more than 12 beer fests this year... and yet, he keeps talking about his team, the brewers, the beer -- anyone but himself. When pushed, he describes himself as "just a part of the team." And that’s not an exaggeration. Regular attendees of Lou Dog festivals will recognize him as the guy at the door taking tickets, clearing trash, moving kegs, re-affixing signs, or a million other things. As he puts it, "If the garbage needs to be changed, the garbage needs to be changed."
It's this humility, plus his genuine desire to help build the craft beer community, and a TON of hard work that's built a craft beer events company with a brewers-first mentality. Lou Dog pays for every keg of beer they serve. They don't ask for discounts, or special favors… something that not every company can claim. As a result, Lou Dog Events is quickly becoming one of the most respected beer festival companies in Chicago. And that’s no small feat.
We sat down for our five questions at Big Star over pints of Revolution Brewing's Fist City.
What Are You Drinking?
Revolution’s Fist City. I like to stay local wherever I go. If I’m in Chicago, I like to drink beer from Chicago. If I’m in Naperville, I like to drink beer from Naperville. I also like to pair what I’m drinking with what’s going on with the seasons. I just came off of month’s of drinking stouts and porters and barleywines. So now I’m forcing myself into summer mode.
One of the things I love about craft beer is how these brewers are making an impact in their neighborhoods. They’re hiring local people, they’re contributing to their local economies. When I’m in Naperville, I like to pick something up from Solemn Oath. When I’m in Grand Rapids, I’ll get something from Founders. That doesn’t mean I only drink Founders in Grand Rapids, but when possible I try to support local community. Because the money that they make are supporting their families and impact their communities. It’s exciting to be able to say, “I’m helping contribute to that.”
What’s Something We Can’t Google About You?
If you dug deep, you could probably find this… but I’m also a half-time professor at North Central College. I did my MBA there and I teach in the business program. Under Graduate Principals of Management and Principals of Marketing. I love it. If I wasn’t working in the beer industry, I’d be a full time professor. I always tell the students that I did 15 years in banking and left to start my own festival management and production company. And when you talk to a student about “production management” it’s not that sexy. But as the course goes on and they find out I do beer festivals, then that’s all they want to talk about.
Teaching is exciting. I’m shaping the minds of our future business leaders, but also at the same time turning them into craft beer snobs.
How Do You Explain Your Job To Your Mother?
We’re really a family business. In the beginning when you’re starting off and bootstrapping it and looking for funding, you approach your family and friends. So at our festivals I had all of my family members working — mom, dad, brother, sisters, uncles, cousins — everyone. College roommates. High School friends. Industry friends. Our first year I had like 40 people out there working for me and people thought we were a really large company but it was all my family and friends helping out, working for beer.
My Mom always works out merchandise tent. She’s in her 60’s, doesn’t drink at all and she’s working the merchandise and information tent so she has a really intimate view of what’s going on. It was like trial by fire when she got thrown into it and people are asking her questions and she learned on the fly. So she can really explain intimately what we do.
It’s also nice because I get her input after festivals. I still remember one of the festivals in Naperville we poured Zombie Dust and people went crazy for it. Everyone was coming up to the information tent and asking her where Zombie Dust was. And at the end of the festival she goes, “I don’t know what that Zombie Dust stuff is but you need to order more of it because people were going crazy for it!” I mean, she had no idea who 3 Floyds was, but everyone was asking for it. Her note at the end said “Next year, order more Zombie Dust.” I love getting her perspective because she comes in with a layman’s view on it so it’s really neat to see her perspective on it. I was just proud she was saying “Zombie Dust” and “3 Floyds."
What Makes The Beer Industry So Exciting?
I came from the banking industry and I don’t think you can get more opposite from craft beer. Banking is very competitive, very cut throat. If you can squash a competitor, that’s great. And then you go into craft beer and it’s a completely different atmosphere. IT’s more collaborate, people working together. People give advice and resources, it’s an incredibly collaborative community.
When I started, I considered the "craft beer industry” as only the brewers, they were doing incredible things making incredible beer and I had so much admiration for those guys. I didn’t really consider myself to be part of the beer industry. I didn’t feel like an insider. I’m just working on the outside layer of it. But as we’ve become more involved and I’ve gotten to know the brewers, I want to be careful about it and don’t want to say we’re 100% a part of it but in a sense we’re doing our best to represent the industry well and do what’s right by it.
What Makes The Beer Industry So Frustrating?
On the festival side, there’s a small part that’s in it for the wrong reasons. To make money off of the beer community. When we got started we said, “If we’re going to get into this industry and participate, we have to do things the right way and be in it for the right reasons."
I was talking to a festival producer from out of town and asked him why he was in the business, and he said, "There’s only one reason to be in any business, and that’s money. And if you don’t think that way, you’re not going to survive.” And I thought, “You know what, that guy’s not going to be here in the long term.” We’re in it for the exact opposite reason. There were certain things we said we’d do when we came into it. We said we’re always going to pay for the beers. We sat down and added up what we’re going to buy, and we’re going to purchase 1,000 1/2bbls of beer for 2016 which is roughly $200,000 that we’ll spend in craft beer. If we were a bar, or a restaurant or a grocery store and we were purchasing $200,000 of craft beer, we’d be one of the top contenders in the market. That’s a lot of beer. You have to be in it for the right reasons — and for us that’s to support the brewers that we care so much about.