The upcoming CBC convention is expected to host more than 10,000 people. This year a participant has the choice of attending an industry convention, seminars, classes or other training sessions most months of the year. In addition to the CBC, there is the annual NBWA convention, along with similar events hosted by Beer Marketer’s Insights, Beer Business Daily, Beverage Importers Association, and the list goes one. The aforementioned does not even include all the schools which offer various beer classes or the multitude of online tutorials now available. Does anyone have any time to actually sell beer anymore?
When Coors expanded into South Texas in the mid-1970s, San Antonio had a local beer wholesaler’s organization. At this time, the only annual conventions were offered by one’s supplier and the NBWA, the latter of which had a spring and fall meeting. Remember, this is before the NBWA had exhibition halls full of vendors and new products, all in search of distributors. The spring event was politically focused, whereas the fall event was industry and supplier focused. It was that simple.
Local medium-sized and major markets, along with the state, all had beer wholesaler organizations. All four Coors of San Antonio wholesalers were invited to join the local beer organization. Attending these monthly meetings was comparable to today’s reality TV. The meeting consisted of: the local AB wholesaler, Bill Crain, who was seated at one end of the table and John Monfrey, the local Falstaff wholesaler (Falstaff sold over two million cases) who was seated at the other end of the table. In the middle of the table was Jack Williams, the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, and the second largest Schlitz wholesaler in the country with over five million cases. Other attending members included: the Pearl and Lone Star wholesalers, two breweries that were still functioning in the city, and four new Coors wholesalers.
In addition to the fact that John and Bill were typically quite confrontational with each other, the meetings focused on local and state issues, including which political issue and legal issues needed to be supported. The group also assembled with the intent to aid local charities and events. As a young sales manager, one could learn a great deal about the industry and one’s competition during such meetings.
I attended the Wichita Beer Wholesalers group while in Kansas as well as the Portland group while in Oregon. Kansas hosted a state Coors organization and, of course, the state had the Kansas wholesalers’ organization as did the states of Oregon, Utah, Louisiana, and Washington.
As wholesalers began to consolidate throughout the years, the local organizations began to disappear. Many markets now only have two or three wholesalers, not counting the self-distributing crafts and the independent craft distributors. Very few, if any, local beer groups exist anymore. Why should they with the myriad of other groups now in existence? Even at the state level, some states not only have their statewide group of wholesalers; but in addition, they have craft brewers and even state groups of wholesalers with different agendas than the established groups. Many suppliers have wholesaler advisory panels from each state or region. In reality, a wholesaler could spend all of his or her time just attending meetings.
Those local wholesaler groups have served a purpose for decades and the industry has not been the same without them.
The art of communication is the language of leadership…