When I headed down to PicoBrew headquarters near the University of Washington in early February to talk to Bill Mitchell about his company’s recent entry into receivership, I had already heard of the fast-moving virus that had emerged out of the Wuhan area of China called coronavirus.
And still, despite the fact I was also aware that the first documented person in the US to contract COVID-19 was recovering just miles away from where we met that day, I had no idea just how much the virus would change our lives within the span of just a few weeks.
Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to find a buyer for my company. Mitchell, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. He had a company to sell, something I imagine in normal circumstances is probably pretty challenging. Add in a global pandemic, and it’s a task that seems practically impossible.
So now that it’s a couple months later and business has pretty much ground to a halt everywhere, I’ve been wondering just how far Mitchell and PicoBrew had gotten. While the company had announced it had shut down production and fulfillment facilities in the Seattle area due to COVID-19, there’s been no outward signs of an outcome for the company’s financial situation.
Unless, of course, you consider the curious development of one online auction for “surplus equipment no longer needed” by one PicoBrew, a sign of something potentially bigger.
While the auction describes what is up for bid as “surplus equipment”, many of the items look like equipment the company would need to operate their PicoPak production facility. For those of you not familiar with PicoBrew, PicoPaks are the ingredient pods needed to make beer with one of the company’s home beer brewing appliances and, at least originally, a core part of the company’s monetization business plan.
Some of the things included in the auction include two large industrial conveyors, a large industrial ingredient filler, four forklift machines (four!), and a bunch of other industrial gear. Throw in a bunch of actual products that PicoBrew sells to consumers like the Pico beer brewing appliances (over 100 of those), 200 or so PicoPaks and 150 brewing kegs and it looks like a liquidation.
The auction is not the only canary in the coal mine. Starting late last month, the company started to lay off key employees. Annie Johnnson, PicoBrew’s master brewer since the company’s early days, announced on Tuesday evening via Facebook that she had been abruptly laid off.
So what do auctions and abrupt layoffs mean for PicoBrew? While I can’t say with certainty the company is shutting down or just shuttering the PicoPak ingredient business, neither sign seems very encouraging.
I emailed Mitchell to ask about the auction and he responded saying he can’t comment on the record. Not a surprise, since ‘no comment’ seems like something an executive participating in a court-monitored receivership process should say.
So I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether PicoBrew has found a new strategic buyer or the lender has seized control of the company and is selling off parts (or shutting it down altogether). When we talked in February, Mitchell indicated that the lender had no intention at the time of shutting PicoBrew down. At the very least, the auction and departure of Johnson (who helps make the recipes for the PicoPaks) tells me there is a good chance they are getting out of the consumables business or, worse, the lender had a change of heart.
I suspect we should know soon. As for now though, if you own a PicoBrew and want to stock up on PicoPaks, you could always bid on them.