Apr 232019
 

Despite a Denver snow storm, another successful Craft Brewers Conference recently concluded. As is typical at these conferences, old friendships were renewed and new ones were formed. Brewers and distributors visited, learn about new industry topics, and viewed the exhibits. The CBC continues to dwarf all other beer industry conventions with more than double the attendance at the NBWA. Expect the CBC’s attendance growth to continue at next year’s event in San Antonio.

One of the more interesting speeches at this year’s CBC was made by Marc Sorini, in his annual appraisal of governmental and legislative affairs. After providing an update on the history of franchise laws, Marc noted that some states are finally loosening their franchise laws. As he noted, this move could signal the beginning of states’ siding with the craft industry. According to Marc, “Wholesalers have massively consolidated and now have more than enough clout to protect themselves both legislatively and legally.” Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Maine all are currently undergoing some form of franchise reform.

Each state has a different sales volume maximum which is required in order for the wholesaler’s supplier to have the right to terminate “at will” without the necessity of paying to terminate the contract. The status of each state’s bill varies.  Some bills will not make it out of committee and some bills will not get to a vote, while others will.

Certainly most in the industry will celebrate this news; but should they? On the surface it appears that these laws are advantageous for the small suppliers, enabling such suppliers the ability to terminate and move to a different supplier without financial compensation; and thereby providing improved ability to execute on the suppliers’ products.

Suppliers, however, need to first step back before concluding that these changes in franchise laws are advantageous. Consider that there are two, perhaps three wholesalers in any major market. A supplier’s choices are very limited. If any supplier believer that a wholesaler would take on a new vendor without franchise protection, they should reconsider.

The reality is that without protection, wholesalers will rewrite their distributor contracts. It is possible that many wholesalers could ask both parties to wave all provisions of their respective state beer franchise protection laws and only use the contract as the legal document. Rest assured these contracts will have provisions on terminations and multiples. The language will be very wholesaler specific, with little regard to the rights of the supplier. In fact, most of these contracts will become evergreen. Suppliers will not have any choice but to go along or simply pack up and leave. Since there are only two or three wholesalers, the supplier is right back to where they started. Wholesalers may lose their franchise protection but they will not compromise on contracts.

Divorce is probably as painful as death.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 162019
 

Last week Stone Brewing announced the sale of their Berlin facility to BrewDog of Scotland for an undisclosed amount.  Stone has owned the brewery since 2014, but has now decided to leave the Germany market.

In an August 2014 edition of this blog, (Sound strategy starts with having the right goal.), Greg Koch, Stone’s co-founder, blamed the closure of the brewery on multiple issues, one being building complications and the resulting delay in construction.  Koch claimed that when concerns arose, construction was halted and no solutions were presented.  He added that the delays cost Stone both time and money, stating that the project was “too big and bold” for Germany.  Koch lamented that the brewery should have started smaller, thus giving all involved the opportunity to gain insight into what was necessary for successful growth.

In the same post referenced above, the challenges that Stone Brewing faced in building a facility in Germany were outlined.   And as it turned out, those challenges were real and Stone is, in fact, closing.

Various posts have addressed the topic of foreign ownership and management faced by beer companies hoping to establish in the U.S. market. Such companies continue to fail or fall short of their goals by not adapting to the U.S. beer industry model.  Leaders, who have been successful in other countries, fail to understand the American systems or they try to incorporate their countries’ systems in our country. The result is frequently failure.

ABI, MC, Pabst, Heineken (to some degree) and others breweries are managed by non-American leaders.  But the ongoing theme seems to be: is this working for these companies?

Jeff Alworth, who writes a blog entitled Beervana, criticized Koch when he, Koch, announced the Berlin project by smashing a pile of German beers with a rock. Shortly thereafter, Koch exclaimed that “Berlin is not really a beer city yet.”  That is like saying Augusta, Georgia is not a golf town yet.  That statement surely endeared Koch with many of the Germans.

Simply because a brewery finds success in their home country does not mean that same success will be duplicate in another country.  It does not matter whether you are dealing with the U.S. or another country, the facts are the same.  As we discussed in the 2014 post, Germans have local breweries and support them, just like Americans support our local crafts.  The German’s might have tried one of Stone’s beers, but in the end, they will support their own countries’ beers.

Based on Stone’s approach to the Berlin brewery, the chances of success were slim at best.  The same can be said of other breweries that approach business in a similar fashion.   It is an historical fact.  Having spent many years with German breweries, Stone’s struggles come as no surprise.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 092019
 

The term GOAT is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time.” And while GOAT discussions are held regarding a variety of topics, the area of sports is frequently one that is deliberated and these conversations about which sports are the greatest are frequently held in sports bars.  For example: the greatest football player of all time, the greatest basketball team, the best golfer, etc. Mathematicians or statisticians might create algorisms that, in their opinion, prove who is the greatest.  As you can guess, such analyses do little more than throw gas on the fire, but it is always fun to engage in the conversations.

Now that the first quarter of the year is in the books, pundits and others are debating the myriad of reasons why sales in the beer industry have declined.  Someone in the industry might tell you sales are down as a result of “Corn Gate,” the ingredient battle between AB and MC.  Honestly, if this is what we are now arguing about, the beer industry is in trouble!

Perhaps the term GOAT in the beer industry should not apply to a particular brand or brewery, but rather the term GOAT should be known as the Greatest of Any Time?  In other words, where are today’s industry leaders and who are they?

Many leaders of the past, including Pete Coors and Jim Koch are on the back side of their careers and Bill Hackett just retired.  The leadership void between the two industry giants, AB and MC is now quite evident.  It seems obvious that there are no new leaders stepping up to replace these storied industry giants.  But, perhaps, one could make the case that the industry no longer needs such leaders to develop and protect it because the industry is so diversified.

The usual adage purports that those currently exhibiting success are the next generation of leaders.  Perhaps the recent industry articles on Tito’s Vodka illustrate this truth. Tito’s continues on its sales rampage, taking no hostages nor deviating from their core marketing.

Perhaps it would be difficult to follow in the footsteps of a leader whose company has negative growth. Some will support this supposition and see no need for leaders like as Pete or even August III with the current industry diversification of creative products and segments.

One can argue that now, not in the past or the future, the beer industry really needs true and strong leadership.  The industry needs those who will look past “Corn Gate” and speak directly and forcefully to the real issues and problems.  GOAT = Greatest of Any Time but now would be as good a time as ANY for leadership.

GOAT.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 022019
 

In the early 1970s, Texas was by far the largest volume-producing state for the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company.  Texas itself was a stand-alone division of Schlitz, and the largest division in the company. Many of the Schlitz wholesalers were ranked in the top ten in volume:  Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas were all in the top five, with Austin and the Valley rounding out the top 10.  These large distributors did not need multiple markets to obtain their high rankings, in other words, their footprints were exclusive to their respective cities.

Even the expansion of Coors into South Texas in the mid-1970s did little to dent Schlitz’s market share.  The Coors expansion, coupled with the rapid growth of Miller Lite, however, had raised eyebrows among some of the Schlitz wholesalers who began to look at their own futures.  Coors had gone with exclusive wholesalers and their initial market share was as low as two to three percent, up to 13%. It would, however, be several years before the Coors houses started selling out to other distributors.

By the early 1980s, with their volume in decline and a loss of confidence in Schlitz’s senior management, Schlitz wholesalers began to sell their companies in an effort to maximize their own investments.  The Valley was one of the first to sell, followed by San Antonio. The Alamo City still had Schlitz roots in their GLI make-up and, interestingly, the Schlitz warehouse sign still sits on top of their warehouse.  The sale of Austin, Dallas, and others key markets quickened the death of Schlitz.

So the question is, did these buyers get any return on their investment in Schlitz?  It is probably safe to say that those who sold never regretted their decision to sell. Honestly, some may have wished they had sold years earlier.  It is all about timing when selling.

Recently it was announced that Silver Eagle, the largest AB house in the U.S., had sold its Houston operation.  The selling price was rumored to be close to one billion dollars.  It is no secret that the volume losses of Bud and Bud Light have been dramatic with no turnaround in sight.  John Nau, the owner of Silver Eagle will maintain ownership over the San Antonio branch. Many of the small to medium size AB houses will most certainly be contemplating selling to large AB operations where certain synergies can be realized.  It makes sense given current trends for the AB operations.

The Schlitz operations of 30 years ago were not as diversified as today’s businesses.  Combined with the rapid decline of Schlitz, these wholesalers had no choice but to sell.  I have never had a former Schlitz wholesaler state regret at their decision to sell, while on the contrary, I have had both former Coors and AB wholesalers state their regret in selling.

The next five years will shed some light on the future of many of the AB houses.

Success is a matter of luck and timing.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am