From the 1960s until the early 1980s, when a brewery team announced an upcoming crew drive, it typically meant one thing: the brewery was out to get the wholesaler. The brewery team’s purpose was to document deficiencies within the wholesaler, including out of date beer, out of stock beer, and distribution gaps. Depending upon the state of where the wholesaler was located, the timing for termination could have been drawn out for several months, supported by performance letters to the distributor. These crew drives were not fun.
The other type of crew drive during this time frame involved a three-day event with the wholesaler being graded on their performance. This was typically the result of the wholesaler’s nomination for that brewery’s “Wholesaler of the Year” category. These crew drives, of course, were fun and interesting because of their involvement with high performing operations. With the arrival of the 1980s, however, crew drives shifted focus to QA performances. Brewers wanted fresh beer and incentivized the wholesalers with dollars and awards. These crew drives could have swung to the positive or the negative, but all in all, they typically went well.
Fast forward to today’s crew drives that deal with rollouts of either a new vendor or a new product. When a wholesaler launches a new breweries’ product, a team of brewery people come to the wholesaler’s market and for one week, team up with a salesperson from that wholesaler’s team. The teams’ focus will be on the on-premise side of the account and will deal with draft handles and package placements. The overall success of these rollouts usually boils down to planning and pre-selling by the wholesaler. The wholesaler, with the brewery’s input, understands the brewer’s overall marketing and strategy. Based upon the brewer’s communications of their vision, the wholesaler can drill down and target the right channels to provide the new brands with the best opportunity for growth.
The highest performing wholesalers are the ones who make the effort to send not only management, but also key sales and marketing staff to the new vendors’ breweries. When the wholesaler makes this commitment, the payoff can be tremendous for both companies. Wholesalers who do not visit the brewery will initially fall short of their rollout goals and the subsequent effort by the brewery to educate the team can be difficult.
The success of the rollout dictates the immediate success of the brewer, the brand, and the wholesaler. A poorly planned rollout makes it difficult for the brand to grow. Even with a strong and well-planned rollout the long term result is still not guaranteed, but why should any of the players take a chance?
Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.