Craft Brewers Praise Distributor Partners

Working with a beer distributor is all about cultivating a relationship. It requires frequent communication, shared goals and trust. That ‘s the assessment of four leading North Carolina brewery owners and executives who spoke at the annual meeting of the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association in Pinehurst.
Billy Pyatt, owner and president of Catawba Brewing in the western part of the state, has seen his business double within the last year after expanding into a statewide distribution network.
“We started having in-depth conversations with distributors,” says Pyatt. “We have been able to come up with some really good distribution partners. Every day I learn something from you guys; not only being able to take care of our product and getting it to the right place at the right time, but being able to teach an “old guy” like me who came from a different industry. It’s important for us to have this open business relationship so we can do the right thing for the end user: The grocery store and the consumer.”
Jamie Bartholomaus, president of Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem, has seen his sales increase by more than 400 percent since moving into a distribution network four years ago. Instead of having his employees transport beer to various locations, Bartholomaus transitioned some of those workers into sales and marketing positions while relying on his distributor partners to handle logistics.
“Our goal is to make people feel guilty if they are not drinking our beer,” says Bartholomaus. “We have 15 of our people out on the street. In a highly competitive marketplace, we have got to keep communicating with the buyer and have our distributors doing the same thing. When we selected wholesalers, we chose the companies we want to work with. We have a relationship based on trust and the wholesalers are our customer.”
Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville has quickly developed a strong regional reputation for its unique portfolio of hoppy IPAs, Belgian ales and fruit-enhanced sours. After relying on a self-distribution model for several years, Wicked Weed transitioned into a distribution network in early 2016.
Justin Crouch, the N.C. sales manager for Wicked Weed, echoes the thoughts of Bartholomaus, saying, “We consider our wholesalers as the customer. We require high standards in terms of quality control and being educated about our beer, and we expect our distributors to know that too. Some of the wholesalers we work with have already laid the groundwork for what we expect in terms of quality control, including cold storage. Most of all, the wholesaler has to have a shared vision with you, or it’s not going to work.”
Tommy Gannon is the East Coast sales director for Sierra Nevada Brewing, the second largest craft brewer in the U.S. Gannon is a longtime veteran of the beer business and has his own rule of thumb for picking distribution partners.
“The first thing you should do is get off your butt and get into the marketplace,” says Gannon. “The market will tell you who the good distributors are. You walk in and look at the shelf sets or tap lines and you say, ‘Who is winning and who is losing.’ We need to make sure convenience stores and chain grocery stores are a big part of our business, so we look to the distributor for leadership, focus and commitment.”
Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights, talks with Tommy Gannon (Sierra Nevada), Jamie Bartholomaus (Foothills), Billy Pyatt (Catawba) and Justin Crouch (Wicked Weed)

Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights, talks with Tommy Gannon (Sierra Nevada), Jamie Bartholomaus (Foothills), Billy Pyatt (Catawba) and Justin Crouch (Wicked Weed)