Last year, one of my former national account managers had an interview with a small, but successful importer. The national account manager had been unemployed for almost a year even though he had years of chain experience. He was in his mid-fifties.
The interview took place in Washington DC, and as it turned out, he arrived along with seven other candidates, all much younger than he, and all claimed to have chain experience. They each were given a case study and asked to create a chain presentation. The importer, led by a young sales manager, had been struggling in recent years, especially with the chains. The company realized they needed help outside of “feet on the street” sales people. The sales manager, to his credit, after reviewing all the presentations, realized that clearly the work submitted by the senior national account pro was just what he needed. The account pro was hired and sales are now moving upward.
In a recent conversation with a highly experienced national account manager for a major craft brewer, he commented that when he competes against smaller craft breweries in chain presentations, he always achieves his goal. Lack of experience and retail knowledge was apparent. While small local and regional crafts are experiencing success in the on premise, off-premise chain remains the domain of the big boys.
The challenge for these small but growing craft breweries, along with many importers, even those importers who have been around for some time, is just how they can grab some of this real estate on the shelf. For example, I recently received an email from a contract craft brewer regarding Jewel/Osco. The chain is looking at the brewers products but did not have any of their pricing. The national sales manager stated he did not know he had to submit it!
This story is classic in that it illustrates why the crafts share in the off-premise is much less than the on premise. There are two reasons for this: one is the total lack of internal knowledge, skill sets, and unwillingness to hire and retain industry chain experts. Secondly, this craft brewer chose to have their brands distributed by a start-up wholesaler who, obviously, cannot provide assistance in the chains either.
One of the first questions always asked by either a MC or ABI wholesaler when reviewing possible new brands, either import or craft, is “what chain authorizations do you currently have?” Having a number of authorizations helps the wholesaler determine if either the brand has legs or the brewer/importer knows what they are doing.
Either way, until the crafts come to the realization that in order to grow and expand, a sizable investment in developing the off premise is necessary, the crafts that do not, will continue to live in the world of self-distribution or package stores, in limited off premise accounts.
As my national account friend always states, “It’s all real estate on the shelf!”