Finding a Distributor: Turning Pro Part 21

It is not difficult to find distributors that are willing to work with new craft breweries. There are lots of newer, smaller distributors out there and the only way they can afford to take on new product lines is to sign them up as soon as the brewery starts producing beer. But the distribution business is like any other business; there are good companies and bad companies.

The question becomes how do you choose who to work with? I spoke with one brewery owner that told me, “Eh, they’re all the same. They all suck, so it doesn’t matter who you sign with.” I’m not sure that I would agree. I know from the horror stories I’ve heard that there might be some distributors who will cause you grief, but I’ve also heard good or great things about almost all of them as well.

I found all of this quite confusing, so one of the first things I did was to build up a list of trusted advisers that I call on for recommendations and advice regarding distribution. They come from backgrounds that span industries and each has a unique view into distribution that they are willing to share with me.  I have
found this invaluable.

One of the things that they have all told me is that first and foremost you need to decide what you want to achieve. Are you going to grow slow or fast? Do you want to have dense coverage in your backyard only or do you want a dusting of coverage across the nation? What volumes can you consistently produce? That alone will tell you something about how much distribution you can take on. You don’t want to sign up with a distributor, get them all excited, and then not be able to deliver the goods. Working with a distributor is a two-way street, like being married. You count on them for getting your beer out there, well represented, and in good shape, but they count on you to get them excellent beer, in the quantities they need, and when they need it.

Many folks like to categorize distributors into two groups, big and small. Often they identify “big” as those distributors that represent major national lager brands and those who don’t are “small.” Some craft brewers hold the theory that smaller is better, because they will have more time to focus on your brand. They will view your business as more dear, because it accounts for a larger part of their revenue. They also say that the larger distributors will ignore your brand, because they are focused on their cash cow and you are insignificant to their revenue.

I’m sure there must have been at least some examples of this happening, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people repeating it. However, I’m not sure it is that cut and dried. Sure, a larger distributor with major brands needs to take care of those brands, but they also seem to know that they can’t remain stagnant in this ever evolving craft beer market. They need to foster new brands just like the little guys. I’ve heard from some of the moresuccessful craft breweries that going with a smaller distributor can be
limiting as well. They can help you distribute, but it can be harder for them to help you grow. One of the benefits to the larger distributors is that they have the resources to help a brand grow. Even a gentle push from a giant might be more effective than a mighty heave-ho from the tiny guy.

Issue: MyBlog