Dec 172013

Little KingsI think the first time I met George Henricksen was while I was working at Glazer’s.  At the time, George was running Royal Imports out of Cincinnati.  Royal was the US importer of Mackenson and Whitbread beers, both owned by InBev.  Royal had a 10 year agreement to import those two excellent beers. George, who managed Royal through independent brokers, sans full time employees, had built the company’s annual sales to approximately 300,000 cases.  George and Dallas broker, Dick Barron, worked with Glazer’s to establish these brands in Texas.

When I took the CEO position at Warsteiner’s US, whose headquarters are in Cincinnati, I made it a point to get together with George for dinner when I was in town.  It did not matter where we went, we could not walk five feet in downtown Cincinnati without someone stopping George and saying hello.  George knew everyone!  In a bar, same thing!  He knew everyone from the receptionist to the bartender to every customer.  It was amazing!

George spent many years with Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. selling Little Kings.  One of Little Kings biggest markets was Denver, where George lived.  The distributor at that time was Murray Brothers.  George and several other vendors including Warsteiner, Labatts, and Barton started a club called the “Under Five Club.”  The Club was made up of those vendors who had a market share of less than five percent.  All of these vendors coordinated their individual annual promotions, incentives, and special event calendars into one joint calendar which allowed each vendor to promote their respective products without overlapping the promotions of another.  Using this technique, the vendors enabled Murray to focus on their programs without competition with other in-house vendors.  Obviously, Murray loved this cooperation between vendors.  The Under Five Club also worked together and split costs on generic p-o-s items like wooden racks which could be used by any of these vendors during their programs.  The top 50 liquor stores all had wooden racks shared by the same vendors.

This cooperation extended to the on- premise with draft accounts and handles.  The vendors supported each other and helped with on premise promos or pub crawls as they worked together in the top 25 on- premise accounts.  It would be hard to find a similar type of relationship in today’s beer environment.

George’s beer career, which spanned decades with Little Kings and Royal, led him to work in 49 states across the US.  And just like in Cincinnati, George knew almost every distributor.  George, with the help of a small broker network had built Royal into a several hundred thousand case importer.   When the agreement with InBev expired, however,  InBev did not renew his contract.

George has since retired and now spends much of his time with his daughter and granddaughter in Florida fishing and golfing.  As a beer salesman, George really believed that “making friends is our business” and he always made sure he knew everyone’s name.  With his distinctive, one-0f-a-kind gruff voice, you knew immediately when George was around!

I never met anyone in the beer business who did not like George Henricksen.  In fact, I never met anyone anywhere who did not like George, or as I prefer to call him, The Cincinnati Kid.

BBU Honor Roll;

2013 – George Henricksen – Royal Imports

2012 – Diane Fall – Warsteiner





 Posted by at 7:45 am
Dec 102013

Fat TireWhile working as a distributor I was often assigned new brewery reps. for our markets.  The majority of these new brewery reps. were young, fresh out of college, and some had MBAs in which the ink has not yet dried.  These young reps had been put through training on distributor economics and how to sell beer.  The classes were generally taught by brewery executives who had never owned or operated a beer distributorship.

In the 80s, Coors Brewing Co. had a training program called Distributor Economics.  This was a two-part training class:  DEI was the introduction to distributor economics and DEII was a three-day exercise, with each day representing one year of business.  You were placed on a team and given a case study in which the distributor was losing money.  The idea was to put programs into place that would make the operation profitable.  At the end of every day, each team presented their operation to the group.  The team with the best case study results won.  Again, the class was usually taught by executives with backgrounds at company owned operations.  The class was mostly theory.

I had numerous new craft and import vendors come and visit when I was building Glazer’s beer portfolio.  Each time I would ask the vendor to outline their strategy and marketing programs.  In almost every situation the vendor would produce their beer and packaging.  I would continue to press them for a marketing business plan and I would usually get this answer “well, we have a couple of signs!”

My recommendation to each of these vendors was to find an experienced beer sales manager, hire that person, than we would talk.  While the vendor made excellent beer, they often did not know how to sell their product.

Soon after hitting the streets in Texas, New Belgium hired a new ranger.  At a lunch meeting, the ranger spent the entire time explaining how he was fasting and cleansing his system.  He did not even bring up New Belgium and their programs.  Shortly thereafter, in talking with Kim Jordan, head of New Belgium, I commented on how it would be interesting to watch NB grow and adapt to the industry while trying to keep their unique culture.  To her credit, Kim and her team have done a great job bringing in top beer talent, yet keeping their niche.

A new book on craft beer, Distribution Insight for the Craft Brewer, recently hit the shelves.  This book, written by the sister of a small Colorado brewer who now puts on beer festivals, is advertised as a how-to on distribution, distributor appointments, and a myriad of other top topics in the craft industry.  The price of the book is $39.95!

So, craft brewers, who have spent years in training and learning how to brew beer, have invested hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in a brewery, can now spend just $39.95 and learn how to distribute beer!  Perhaps we will soon see Craft Beer for Dummies!

Those craft brewers who do end up purchasing this book may, in fact, realize that to be successful in the beer business one needs more than simply good craft beer!  Maybe then they will also invest in finding the experienced beer people who can help them with sales and distribution.  To those other craft brewers who do not invest in employees to bring them this much needed knowledge, you don’t know what you don’t know!






 Posted by at 7:45 am
Dec 032013

breweryOn a recent consulting engagement the following question was posed to me: “How many breweries have I visited in my career?”  I never actually counted the number of breweries I have seen, the question caused me to stop and think.

The very first brewery I visited was the Jos. Schlitz Brewery in Milwaukee.  I was there for a job interview.  My schedule was tight so I did not get much of a tour, but I did eat in the employee cafeteria.  While there, I drove by Pabst Brewing Co.  Both of these breweries were at, or near, the height of their business.  In fact, Schlitz was a strong number two in the US, and Pabst was not far behind.

A little over 10 years later, I visited Schlitz again.  This time the brewery was being shut down by Stroh Brewing Co. who had recently purchased Schlitz.  The brewery was a ghost town, empty desks, trash still in trash cans, and executive offices left in a mess.  It was a sad sight.  The brewery has since been converted into retail, offices and apartments.  The Pabst Brewery was closed in 1997 and now the facility has been converted into a hotel and retail shops.

My next brewery visit was Lone Star in San Antonio.  The brewery was not as modern as Schlitz, and Buckhorn Hall of Horns Bar, a tourist attraction, was on the property.  The brewery grounds were one big picnic area with a huge pool which was packed with people during the summer months.  What a great promotional tool!  The office of the chairman/founder, Harry Jersig, was immense, and to this day, the largest office I have ever seen.  His square footage was bigger than my house!  The brewery today is empty and gutted.

Pearl Brewing Co., close to Lone Star and the home of the Jersey Lily Bar, is now retail shops and apartments too.

Coors in the 70s had a great program.  All wholesaler sales people had the opportunity to visit the brewery after working at the company for one year.  Coors treated its visitors like kings as everyone got a personal tour through the brewery.  The highlight was drinking beer out of a small facet while the beer was on the way to packaging.  It was as fresh as beer could get.  Everyone stayed at the Pig and Whistle motel, a small establishment built in the 30s.  We were served the largest T-bone steaks with cold Coors drafts.  All the employees came back fired up to sell more Coors.

By 1980, there were less than 50 operating breweries in the US. Throughout the years, I have visited: Shiner, Modelo, Pacifico, Femsa, Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Mendincino, Stone, Rogue, Portland, Bridgeport, Olympia, Rainer, St. Arnolds, Texas Brewing, Stroh, Great Grains, Stevens Point, Pittsburgh, New Belgium, Flying Dog, Warsteiner, Krombacher, Veltins, Bitburger, Peticolas, Rahr, Sleeman, Molson, Backus and Johnson, and many more.   Now with crafts on fire, there are close to 3,000 breweries with more coming.

Just recently a new website  was established and it lists every brewery (2,538) in the US including detailed information on each.  One can even create and follow their own “brewery trail” highlighting tasting rooms and hours.  A great idea!

Take time to visit these breweries, but remember for them, success is a journey, not a destination!

 Posted by at 7:50 am