My first summer on a beer truck, 1969, was also the last year Pearl Beer was the number one selling beer in Texas. Pearl had been in that top position for the previous 15 years, but their biggest markets were all in south Texas. That summer, the brewery workers at AB had gone out on strike, and by July, there was no Budweiser in Dallas, so the Bud drivers picked up empties at the local bars. At the time Coors, where I worked, had all 10 states and a portion of Texas on allocation. Dallas was allocated only 10% of what Coors sold in 1968.
The Dallas warehouse was totally empty every morning when we arrived for work with the trucks still full from the railcars that arrived during the night. Each truck had a print out of their daily accounts with a sales history. My job as a college student and helper was to tell the salesman just how much each account was allocated. As you can imagine, there were some pissed off retailers.
Schlitz, a strong number two in sales, rented the empty Falstaff warehouse and filled it with inventory. While there was no Budweiser, and limited Coors in Dallas, Schlitz had beer everywhere. By the end of the year, Schlitz has surpassed Pearl and had become the largest selling beer in Texas. In the summer of 1970, it happened all over again. AB went on strike, Coors again was allocated, and Schlitz took advantage of this situation and continued to grow market share. In fact, Texas became the number one volume state for Schlitz. The brewery made Texas a division with a sales team devoted solely to the state.
Because of the importance of Texas to the brewery, Schlitz gave the Texas wholesalers quite a bit of attention and the wholesalers responded with an organization called “The Gusto Club.” To support the wholesalers, Schlitz had put together a very effective state sales team. During the late 60s and into the 70s, many of these Schlitz field sales people were hired by the wholesalers to run their operations. Some were even able to buy into ownership of the Schlitz houses.
By the early 80s, the self-inflected problems of Schlitz finally caught up with them and the brewery was sold to Stroh. Miller Lite was now on fire in Texas, while Schlitz was losing ground at an alarming rate. The Schlitz wholesalers started to either sell out or acquire Coors in their markets. Coors never established any market share in S. Texas so the wholesalers struggled. The combination of Schlitz and Coors seemed to work at that time.
With declining Schlitz sales and the fact that Stroh never got established, Stroh started to consolidate and the lay-offs began. Many of the Schlitz field sales people ended up at Gambrinus and other importers including Molson’s, Labatt’s and Femsa. Some of these companies did well but, most did not and ended up like Schlitz, selling out or being acquired by another beer company.
After years of great success with Schlitz, many of the field sales personnel stayed in touch and even today continue to communicate with each other although most are now retired. These men lived through the high times and the death of what they loved, and because of that, they truly are this band of brothers….