From the Field — 09 October 2012

My passion for great beer started at a very early age, probably even earlier than I was legally allowed to consume it. It was the early 90’s and just like many people, I had started to notice the sudden underground “micro” beer movement that was starting to take place around the country.

Fast forward a bit to the first time I met Dave Masterson. It was about fourteen years ago when Hunterdon was in the early years of business. At the time, I was 22 years old and really starting to appreciate different styles and brands of beer. I was a night manager/stock person at a local liquor store and the other managers who did all the buying didn’t want to deal with Dave because they didn’t have much knowledge about beer and felt it was a waste of time. So when I suggested we should bring some products in from him, they told me to deal with it because nobody would buy any of his brands and they could blame me if the products didn’t sell. So I did. Not only is this store still an account with Hunterdon to this day, but it is one of our top 35 retailers in the state. This is a prime example of why businesses should never shy away from change.

I left that store three years later to pursue a career within the beer industry and ended up working for a macro beer distributor for ten years. I worked in all aspects of the company from the merchandising department, to cooler sets and sales. I watched the decline of macro to the incline of to what is now called “craft”. I start this piece off with this quick bit of info on myself to help you understand that I’ve been on both sides of the fence in this business and that I embrace the revolution of people choosing craft and why more business owners should do the same.

Every time I step into a potential account, the line “If you build it, they will come” always repeats in my mind as if I’m in the movie Field of Dreams. “That won’t sell here” is the line that we craft beer sales people hear at least a few times a day. My follow up always is, “How do know? Have you ever offered your customers anything different? Have you ever offered any craft beer before? Do you realize this is a profitable growing segment of business you’re missing out on?” The usual answers to these questions are “No, No, No, and No.” One of the biggest problems in this business is stores and bars are afraid to take chances. My theory has always been you will never know unless you try. And if it works, the profitable rewards are endless.

Proper variety and profitability are the two main ingredients that business owners should be paying close attention to in today’s market. Day in and day out, I see macro drinkers changing to craft because they are looking for change and are tired of the “same old same old”. Offering your customers a constant variety of good beer will keep those drinkers interested in coming back again and again. The days of “stack it high and watch it fly” are over in this business; people are more in tune to learning about what they are drinking and want to be educated with as much information as possible. I hear stores constantly say they have no room in their cooler to offer craft beer, but yet they have five to ten different packages of the same products in multiple doors. We all know that beer sells faster cold then warm so why not offer more variety of products in the cooler that will benefit you and the customer?

I just recently read an article that states 33% of alcohol drinkers who visit restaurants regularly report that they are more likely to order beer when offered a large selection of beer brands. Taking pride in your draft selection could profit you immensely. Think about this: Does a macro beer drinker care if you carry their beer in bottle or on draft? The only reason a macro drinker would care if it’s not on draft is if they don’t want to pay the price for the bottle. Most macro brands want you to keep their draft beers priced so low that you yield small profits on their beer. They are always looking for a $1.50 – $3.00 draft price. By doing this they are robbing you of potential profits by keeping that beer on tap. In return, they give you things such as giveaways to help the brand sell so it appears as if you are selling and profiting more. In actuality you’re selling more but profiting less. You can keep a macro beer on tap that you pay $90 for and sell for $3 a pint and profit $282 a keg or a craft beer you pay $150 for and sell for $5 a pint and profit $470 a keg, or even $6 a pint and profit $594 a keg. The craft beer drinker respects the fact that you have a great selection of different styles and brands on tap, especially if you take pride in keeping your draft system properly maintained. This in return will yield you high profits.

One of the things I constantly hear from people in the macro industry is that they can’t understand what has happened to the loyal brand drinkers. Why doesn’t the craft beer drinker stick with one brand instead of constantly looking for different things to try? My answer has always been that the craft beer drinker is much like a wine enthusiast. We like different styles and like to try different brewery’s interpretations of those styles. If you like a Merlot or a Cabernet do you always buy from the same winery? Mick Jagger says it best in the song Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones. He says, “Thank you for your wine California.” He doesn’t say “Thank you for your wine Ernest, Julio and Gallo.”

People are learning to embrace great beer and their palates are constantly expanding and ever-changing. It is our job to keep our customers educated and your customers thirsty for more. The time is now…..Get involved!

Cheers!

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ashley.stima@gmail.com

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