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Picking the Right Dance Partner for Your Product Distribution


As a winery, distillery, or brewer there will come a time when you will outgrow the trunk of your delivery car. There will be many sleepless nights thinking about the fact that you have a beverage that you believe in but have no idea how to share that passion with the rest of the world. There will come a time when you will get, what I call, Distributor Freak!

I have said many times before, either at my time in private consulting or as CEO of Sam’s Wines in Chicago, that the key to success is not just the product, but a combination of the product, the distribution, and the timing. We at @rosenretail believe this to be 100% true, and the three above “buzz words”; product, distribution, timing, are the difference between being another vodka or Tito’s. Picking your distribution partner, whether it is for wine, liquor, or beer will be the key to your success.

So how do you know? Is the question, and the answer really starts from the bottom up. What accounts do you want to be in to start your brand accession? What hotels, restaurants, and off premise liquor stores do you want to be in? Start there and take a few weeks and look at the shelf set at those establishments.

  • Is your product new to the category?
  • Do you have shelf competition?
  • Do you have pricing competition?
  • Is the establishment engaged in selling new brands
  • Is the locale of the establishment conducive to a more methodical selling style?

We all want our brands at Total Wine or Publix or Hyatt or Ruths Chris, but the reality is that with incentive selling and pricing, those very same stores can be the death of your brand.

I have worked with a new-ish vodka company, and the goal was to be in BevMo. That was the goal, and we made that happen, that was also the kiss of death. We were one of 300 vodkas, and while being in those stores was great on a resume, it wasn’t good for our sales. Very hard to compete in that market place, for sure!

The same holds true for distribution. There is no question that Southern Wines is the hero in brand distribution. Dozens of states, thousands of employees, and unlimited cartage, but is it a fit for your brand? If you are a winery and want to reach the market, how do get your wine off the warehouse shelf at SWS, when they also have Kendall Jackson and Clos Du Bois to sell? Sales teams are not so eager to sell “your special Chardonnay,” when sales numbers are driven by Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

When picking a distributor, please consider the following:

  • Will I get off the warehouse shelf here?
  • Will there be some devoted sales support
  • Can I get brand traction aside from quarterly wine dinners and “ride withs”?

If you are a regular reader of a my books and columns, you probably know that I believe that smaller is better for smaller brands.

Not all of us can be Penfold’s, and that is OK. This is a time in history of AdBev like no other. Small brands can change the market footprint and really move the needle. Social and digital marketing make it easy and cheap to speak directly to the consumer like never before.

Pick a distributor that can support what you do with a similar mission statement as your brand. If you are an artisanal spirit or wine, then your best bet is to align with a like-minded distributor.

The road is littered with brands that chose big distribution over smart distribution.

With 160,000 independent retailers in America the opportunity to move the needle with a little influencer activity is as critical, if not more critical, than putting your cart on the big boys horse. Your end user accounts will be more responsive, and the sales needle will move north.

Dancing with the right partner is like poetry in motion.

Brian RosenExpert Editorial
by Brian RosenRosen Retail Method

Rosen Retail for Alcohol Beverage offers support to retailers and suppliers alike, having created Supplier Boot Camp and Retailer Boot Camp and other award-winning programs that increase gross margin for retailers and cases sold for suppliers. Brian Rosen can be reached at brian@briandrosen.com or twitter @rosenretail.

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