In the 1970s, the beer distributors west of the Mississippi River were represented by not only their state associations, but by a regional assocation, the Rocky Mountain Conference of Beer Distributor Associations, headquartered in Phoenix. The members met twice a year, frequently at a resort.
At the end of the decade, the association’s winter meeting was held on the Pacific Princess, otherwise known as the Love Boat from the popular TV show of that era. The first morning of the cruse, I wandered the ship in search of the meeting room. There were a number of names written on the sign-in sheet, all distributors; however, the room was empty. I continued wandering the boat, looking for another meeting room, or even another distributor. Finding neither, I began to wonder if I was the wrong boat. Eventually, I found a bar and it was packed with distributors. The convention had 247 listed attendees, all of whom were, at one time or another, in that bar. By the end of the evening, the ship was out of beer and had to make an unscheduled stop to build inventory. This time, double the normal amount of beer for a cruise was loaded onto the boat.
Issues facing the industry in those days seemed much simpler than today. Outside of the ever persistent cloud of tax increases on the state level, the national issue the industry was dealing with was mandated deposits. Politically, only the boycotting of Coors in California was on the table as various organizations used the Coors family’s political views to help publish their individual causes. The California Coors distributors were not pleased, but outside of that state, the industry was relatively happy. Beer was growing and the light beer industry was on fire, having just been introduced earlier in the decade. Consolidation had not started, Schlitz was still a viable brand, pricing was solid, pre-selling was off in the future, and, if you did over a million cases annually you were considered a big operation. All in all, the industry members were happy and profitable. You could easily see that level of satisfaction on the boat and when talking with all the distributors.
The environment at this year’s NBWA will be much different from the days in the past. While the beer industry continues to be fun, pressures from inside and out are taking a toll on the industry’s attitudes. In some way, this is created by consolidation and the corporate cultures now embedded in the business.
This is certainly not the case in the craft segment. At the recent Craft Brewers Conference, the environment was much more upbeat. Growth and opportunity were key subjects. It many ways, the convention was not unlike the conventions in the 70s and early 80s. It was exciting to see and fun to be around. The craft segment is not about surviving, but about growing and navigating through the various industry barriers and obstacles. In fact, many large distributors were in attendance, networking and attending seminars. Smart on their part.
While the lines in the tiers are blurring, it is easy to see where the excitement is in this decade. Ability is what your capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it..