Choosing a distributor ?!
As a craft brewery or even a small vineyard and winerery. How do you choose a distributor ? Do you go with the big guys carrying the top three ? Or do you find the distributor that actually cares about the products they carry ? What if the small distributor is just starting out and you could be one of their first brands ? Is that a good thing or a bad thing , how would most brewers look at this situation ?
I get asked this question a lot from brewers looking to enter our market. The things I tell them to consider what's in the portfolio of each distributor, what their fleet/warehouse is equipped with and the ability of their sales people to appreciate and sell craft beer.
Here locally we have 4 main distributors. One is a Bud house that has a very small portfolio, excellent warehouse with huge coolers, new trucks, but doesn't really understand craft beer yet. That said they have done a great job with Odell, 10 Barrel and Uinta, all recent additions to their portfolio.
Next is our MillerCoors distributor which has Stone, Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, Laughing Dog, Grand Teton and a few others. They do an awful job rotating their beer, have no understanding of craft beer but have a state of the art warehouse and ordering system.
Our "Craft" distributor has only one big domestic brand, PBR and the largest portfolio of anyone in town. They have Sierra, Sam Adams, Deschutes, Georgetown and many other craft brands. Smaller new brands tend to get lost in the shuffle. They are very arrogant and do very little to actually sell beer but instead just take orders.
Lastly is a wine distributor that is really just getting into beer. They have the two big importer lines and a small but growing craft portfolio. They don't have refrigerated trucks but they do have an educated and passionate sales force.
The things I would look for are what are the beers in the distributors portfolio. If your looking at your local market try to find a distributor that doesn't have a local beer. Its a bit of conflict when a distributor has more than one local beer in their portfolio.
Make sure they treat your beer well. Refrigerated warehouses, trucks and regular line cleaning.
Make sure they are serious about selling craft beer and plan to spend a lot of time in accounts with the sales people. They won't take the initiative and train their people on the ins and outs of you and your beer. That will fall on you.
If you're looking at entering markets outside of your local area I would say almost across the board Bud houses are your best bet. They tend to have the smallest portfolios, they have the best developed distribution program and they have the retail shelf space and tap handles to get your beer in as many places as possible.