Thought Catalysts: Graham Sherman on Critical Customers

October 12, 2016 Wallis Snowdon of CBC News, Speakers' Spotlight

There are leaders and then there are followers. Generally the idea is to be the former. 

But perhaps it's worth a shot to look at this phrase the other way around. Maybe to be a leader, it's worth being a follower. 

The people who lead the way with awesome ideas and unique talents did so by acquiring knowledge and applying it in new and interesting ways. We all need to learn stuff to lead stuff. And those who do it best inspire others to act. 

They are Thought Catalysts. Here they are as told by the movers and shakers from Speakers' Spotlight


Dear Ryan, you’re fired.

That’s the curt message an Alberta brewery publicly served up to one of its more outspoken customers.

Tool Shed Brewing Company used its website to deliver the news to a Stettler man.

“It’s basically saying, ‘Hey, man. Don’t be a jerk. Here are the rules,’ ” said Graham Sherman, owner of the Calgary-based craft brewery.

“Of course, there was some satire in the article. But I think it’s more about standing up for Alberta beer, than attacking an individual.”

Sherman said the patron in question had worn out his welcome with unsolicited advice and online complaints.

Some might even describe him as a beer troll.

“The blossoming community of Alberta’s craft beer scene is incredible, and Ryan is just one of those guys that trashes all Alberta beer,” Sherman said.

“He seems to be unapologetic about his distaste for local.”

Which prompted the brewery to posted this curt message on its website.

We regret to inform you that we have unfortunately had to make the hard decision to let you go.

It is a hard time out there in Alberta these days and lord knows it’s our customers that have gotten us to where we are today. You can imagine how hard it has been on us to have had to make this very difficult decision.

Further, we would like to offer you eight rules of being a beer critic as unsolicited advice, should you ever wish to be a customer of another local brewery in the future ...

Sherman’s pointed advice, which he said could apply for any aspiring armchair beer critic, included tips on giving constructive criticism “without being an a–hole.”

The brewery owner said Ryan [CBC is using only his first name] seems to have a beef with all Alberta beers, one he likes to share far and wide on company websites and social media forums.

After weeks of watching the online abuse about local breweries pour in on his social media feeds, Sherman woke up one morning and decided it was time for this customer to be sacked.

Although he admitted that his now-former customer can buy any beer he wants, it’s clear the pair won’t be clinking glasses anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t say I’m attacking,” Sherman said. “I would say I’m retaliating. I’m retorting. I’m responding. There’s been so many rude things said about all the breweries in this province.

“Ryan obviously wasn’t too pleased. He didn’t think it was as funny as we did.”

Sherman said honest reviews from his customers are always welcome. But inflammatory comments have no place in Alberta’s burgeoning beer scene. CBC News reached out to the Ryan in question but he declined to comment.

The post that told Ryan the end had come was meant to draw attention to the challenges small businesses face in dealing with online reviews, Sherman said, and to empower breweries to call out beer bullies they have to deal with.

“Can a company say what it wants to say without the fear of that social media blowback?” Sherman asked. “A lot of people are fearful because of what can happen to your business if somebody gets a hold of the troll mob response. And we’ve seen that a lot.

“Beer is a subjective thing. It’s like a beauty pageant. But when somebody goes out of their way to continually do it to all the breweries, they deserve to be fired.”

This piece originally appeared in CBC News.


Graham Sherman is the co-owner of Tool Shed Brewing Company. To read more of his posts, visit his page on Speakers' Spotlight. To have Graham speak at your next function, email Speakers' Spotlight at 

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