As a college student working holidays at the Coors distributor in Dallas I began to notice that a certain culture existed in the industry. Coors, although highly regarding in the business, was still a small regional brewery selling in only 10 states and parts of Texas. At that time we were merely the fourth largest selling beer in Dallas behind Pearl, Schlitz, and Budweiser.
Still, Coors had an attitude of us-versus-them and worked together as a team. This culture continued later when I was the District Manager at Lone Star. We spent the majority of our time selling product as there was little paperwork or corporate culture to deal with in those days. It was not until I was with the Schlitz operation in Louisiana that the first glimpse of the corporate culture showed its ugly face.
Even during my Coors days in Kansas, our culture was much more of an us-versus-them one than a corporate culture, despite the fact that Coors had more than a 60% share of the market. Our team spent the majority of our time fighting back our competitors. We had 100% distribution, and with a limited number of SKUs, we were close to 100% on all packages and we had no non-buyers. Draft accounts were exclusively Coors and AB only had five draft accounts in Wichita. Different times!
In the 1980s, things began to change. First light beers entered the picture, than imports, and the breweries started to add new beers. The advent of pre-sell along with turn-key software systems had wholesalers spending more and more time attempting to understand market dynamics. Pushed along by the major breweries, the corporate culture slowly began to work itself into the fabric of the industry. And as the industry began to change and become more complicated, the fun began to slip away. Many of you who are reading this will know what I am referencing.
Those early leaders of the craft movement, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Anchor, and even Boston, began with a culture that supported the visions of their founders. It was a fun culture, combining both the us-versus-them attitude, with a real passion for beer.
All of these companies had to change as they grew into major players. Their challenge was to grow and become corporate, while also trying to maintain the fun and competitive philosophy held from the inception. Although this is a difficult track to follow, some breweries have been able to maintain this culture, while some have not.
Today, if you take a step back, you can see the passion and love for beer within the culture of these small and new craft brewers. The young people who volunteer their time and efforts help these small crafts get started. This culture is what is driving the craft industry. Even the small craft wholesalers will go that extra mile to help.
A small craft wholesaler was recently noted for periodically paying the brewery in cash immediately in an effort to help the fledgling brewery establish themselves. I have seen some wholesalers actually purchase cooperage and then lease it to help start-up brewers they sell. Again providing a revenue stream for the wholesaler, and a huge assistance to the brewery.
The industry truly benefits from this culture; it brings the fun back into beer. Crafts will grow, they will change, and cultures will adjust. Hopefully the craft industry will maintain its core values. At this time in our trade, it is truly the age of innocence.