From the Field — 06 September 2012

It was February 2003 and I was at a crossroad in my life. I was managing a liquor store in South Jersey, had a two-year old son and was looking to buy a house. The last seven years of my life were spent working my way through college while holding various jobs at restaurants and liquor stores. I loved the industry, but I was about to make a move into the unknown. I was thinking about joining the pipefitters union.

The union was a step toward financial stability. Work was plentiful and the union was strong. It was on all accounts a “no-brainer”. The only glitch was an offer to interview for a sales job with a small craft beer distributor out of Phillipsburg, NJ, Hunterdon Brewing Company. I was just starting to learn about craft beer and particularly enjoyed IPAs. I met Dave Masterson, one of the owners of Hunterdon, while working at a wine shop in Avalon. He and his partner Mike currently had two other sales reps helping them to cover the entire state of New Jersey. If I interviewed well and accepted the job, I would be the fifth employee at Hunterdon.

Dave contacted me and gave me a brief background on the position. The job sounded awesome except for the starting salary. It was fair considering it was a small company and I had no sales experience, however I quickly told Dave that I could not take the job. The smart financial choice was to join the union.

Immediately after hanging up the phone I had an uneasy feeling. I felt like I had just sealed my fate to something I didn’t want, but needed. I called my wife Molly and told her the situation. She said, “Just call him back and see where it goes.” So, about twenty minutes after saying “No thanks” I gave him a call, said I changed my mind and asked if we could meet.

A few days later we met for a couple of beers at a local pub. He had not yet honed his now world famous interviewing skills. The meeting went well and we decided I should come to the office to meet his partners. Before heading up there, my wife Molly and I talked about the pros and cons. The only pro at the time was that I would being doing something I enjoyed – selling craft beer. The cons were the daily travel, long work days and a significant pay cut. In theory, my earnings would increase with time if this craft beer movement continued, but keep in mind this was nearly ten years ago and the future was very uncertain. Going against all rational thought and with my wife’s full support, I decided to go for it. Now all I needed now was for Mike and Dave to offer me the job.

At the office I met with Dave, Mike and the rest of the team over some beers. Everything was going well until they informed me that there were two other candidates interviewing for the position. At some point I mentioned how much less money I would make by taking a job at Hunterdon, but that I was willing to make the sacrifice because it was something I really wanted to do. Whatever I said worked. I don’t know if they thought I was dedicated or a just an idiot, but they gave me the job.

The next two to three years would be a crazy whirlwind. I sold beer from Cape May to Manasquan and to supplement my income I worked thirty hours a week at a home improvement store and took night shifts working security. Hunterdon was very supportive and helped out the best they could along the way.

Over the next several years my territory changed dramatically. I covered nearly every part of South Jersey from the shore to the suburbs of Philly. As the business grew, we added more reps. Ten years later…well, you know how it is. Craft beer is booming and Hunterdon is experiencing phenomenal growth. There are now SEVENTY full-time employees at Hunterdon including twenty-two sales reps.

The best part is that I love my job and can support my family at the same time. When I look back now, I can’t believe I almost turned this down.

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ashley.stima@gmail.com

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