Educational conferences generally are serious business—sometimes so serious they can get a little, well, boring. Apparently, the Warehousing Education and Research Council's (WERC) recent annual conference proved an exception. At last month's event in Orlando, Fla., more than 60 attendees purchased tickets—and risked having their expense reports denied—to attend WERC's first-ever "Beer 'n Bull" session.
This unusual event took a lighthearted look at the "contributions" hops and barley have made to warehousing and vice versa. While sampling locally brewed beverages, attendees contemplated the fact that the first commercial refrigeration unit was commissioned by the brewing industry—and therefore, refrigerated logistics might not exist today if not for beer. In addition to exploring historical relationships between brewing, warehousing, and logistics, attendees somehow managed to draw connections between beer and current-day industry issues like differentiation, consolidation, collaboration, and warehouse safety.
"Some of the comparisons were real, others were coincidence, while others were total 'bull,'" said Chad Pilbeam, chief "disestablishmentarian" and perpetrator of the event.
Why did WERC include such an offbeat program on the agenda? "To prove that any discussion can be turned into a discussion about beer, and that any discussion about beer will improve the overall conference experience—even increasing information retention, despite the consumption of barley and hops," Pilbeam cheerfully replied.
In all seriousness, organizers felt that the session would encourage attendees to bring creativity and a sense of risk-taking to their jobs. "Every year we work to create memorable and unique experiences for our members," said Michael Mikitka, WERC's CEO. "When the idea for Beer 'n Bull was presented to us, we knew that while it wouldn't appeal to everyone, there was an audience that would love it."
Judging from attendees' feedback, Mikitka was right. A survey of conference-goers showed that respondents overwhelmingly favored having another Beer 'n Bull session at next year's event, which will be held in Atlanta May 6-9.