With a new Craft Brewery opening about every 11 minutes the flow of new brands and sales reps is never ending. Whether you are self-distributing or selling through a distributor network, selling at retail may be just as important to breweries as developing the next, new Hazy IPA.

A brewery rep needs to be engaged and selling at retail on a consistent basis. Nobody will represent a brand better than those that work for the brewery…or so you would think.

Retailers are constantly evaluating new beers, new brewery reps and even new distributors. In the city of Chicago alone it has been reported that there are well over 200 brewery reps, representing hundreds of breweries, making sales calls every day to on and off premise retailers.

A good brewery rep with great products and even better relationships can sell a lot of beer if they know how to sell. It does not matter if the rep lives in the market they are selling in or if they cover multiple markets and live outside the market they are selling in. A good supplier rep that wants to win will take advantage of every sales opportunity.

Unfortunately, there are some reps that do not want to promote their beers every day. On a recent day in the market I saw first-hand how brewery reps take calls for granted.

I spent the day with two National Account reps who did not live in the market we were selling in. They were all logo’d up with jackets and back packs advertising the beer brand they worked for.

As we visited various grocery accounts these reps never took the time to greet the store personnel working the beer departments. These reps had their hands in the pockets as they strolled the aisles. They never took out a sell sheet or introduced themselves to anyone. Not once!

Now, keep in mind that the brand these reps were proudly wearing on their clothing is down in volume and distribution in this particular market and could use some incremental activity. In addition, as we talked during the day these reps repeatedly pointed out how poorly the distributor was doing even though they had no facts to justify their case.

Did the reps think it was beyond their job to sell at retail? How is the distributor supposed to get behind their brand if the brewery reps themselves don’t? If the retailers saw their logos…and they did….but were never approached by the reps what impression does that leave with the retailer?

How hard would it be for the reps to say hello, thank the retailer for the business and then try to sell a display of their item that was currently on a TPR? Not very hard!

A good sales call only takes a few minutes if it is done right. Identifying opportunities and then selling the retailer on solutions is everyone’s job!

Brewery reps, take control of your destiny and sell at retail every chance you get. If you don’t, there are 200 or more reps coming in after you that will!


Just like that, summer is over and the holidays are approaching. That can mean only one thing…Spring 2018 resets are just around the corner!

With a new Craft Brewery opening about every 11 minutes the flow of new items is never ending. New styles, new packaging, new pricing and large system migrations within large, national grocery chains in 2018 will keep Category Managers and Analysts very busy.

New and established breweries need to continually innovate as retailers demand new offerings for a Craft consumer base that is constantly exploring what is next.

In order to maintain their share of shelf space, the large, established Craft Breweries continue to maintain a steady flow of innovative brands, styles and packages. New items are heavily supported by these breweries with creative social media, consumer promotions, retail events, special pricing, large sales teams and distributor incentives.

Local or Regional Craft Breweries with limited budgets may only be able to support their great liquid with basic social media messages, a handful of sampling events and possibly a sales rep and a great tap room experience where consumers can sample and become part of the culture of the brand.

Are they at a disadvantage without the large sales and marketing budgets the established brewers have? Yes, in fact they are now more than ever.

I recently organized several meeting days where over 30 Breweries presented their 2018 new items to Category Managers for the largest grocery chains in the market. Brewery representatives from large and small companies had 15-30 minutes to present their new items to buyers that are driving over 70% of the grocery business in Chicago.

In the off premise world, this is the Super Bowl. Getting in front of these buyers and making a great sales pitch can make or break a new item and even a brand. This is the biggest meeting of the year for any brewery, period.

When I was a National Account Manager for a large Craft Brewery I would spend hours and hours preparing for meetings like these and I always had butterflies in my stomach waiting in the lobby at the buyers’ office for my turn to present.

For most of the smaller breweries, including the locals, their reps have little or no experience making a sales call to chain buyers or Distributor Brand Managers.

With buyers and distributors having to choose from several hundred new items for 2018, making an effective presentation is essential.

Do you have the right new item for the retailer and the distributor in 2018?

At a minimum every new item presentation should include
* good story

* great liquid

* right package at the right price

* promotional plan

* what’s in it for the retailer and distributor

Here are some general guidelines for any new item presentation:

New Item Presentation Guidelines:

1. Prepare a brief presentation (10 pages maximum):
   *Brewery Facts/annual production/awards/tap room/team
   *YTD sales and distribution review
   *Results vs. goals from ABP
   *Brand Marketing including advertising, social media, press coverage, awards
   *Market data including chain distribution, key program results, on premise distribution, success stories, syndicated data etc. Need to create “what is in it for me”
   *Recommended items to delete with supporting data
   *Competitive Price Survey

   *Support plan (pricing, post-offs, margins, samplings, meet the brewer events, consumer sweepstakes, incentives, coupons, tap takeovers etc.)
   *Estimated annual case sales for new item
   *Estimated annual dollar sales and gross margins for new item
   *New Item Cover Sheet and New Item Form
   *SKU priority ranking

2. Bring cold samples and cups for tasting

3. Bring live package samples for leave behind 

As you might expect the larger breweries with the most experienced reps made effective and thorough presentations during those chain buyer meetings I mentioned.

As you also might expect, smaller and more local or regional breweries had the smallest presentation decks, less new items, less data, less retail support plans, less brand marketing and lower dollar sales and margin projections.

What some reps lacked in their presentation materials they made up with in their passion and love of their product.

But in 2018 and beyond, in my opinion, being local or having passion and love for the brand will not get as many new item placements in large, grocery chains as it recently did.

Less is more these days.

In 2017 Wal Mart made a statement when they reduced their Craft assortment in favor of adding more space on their shelves for high volume packages that were out of stock on weekends and costing the retailer lost sales and profits. This was at a point in time of the Craft revolution where consumer and retailer enthusiasm for Craft beer may have hit a peak.

Other retailers took note of this latest tactic from Wal Mart.

We may be starting to see other retailers backing off on adding duplicate packages and “me too” items that will never sell at the level the largest brewery packages do.

I believe we are seeing an increasing strategy in the grocery channel to “swap” items and the total sku count for the Craft Beer segment may not grow as it has in recent years.

A recent IRI study I conducted showed that in most markets, 60-80% of the Craft Beer segment is driven by only 5-7 Brand Families. That’s it.

These are the same statistics I have seen over many years which tells me that there is a lot of churn and not a lot of growth.

My humble prediction for 2018 and beyond is that Craft Beer shelf sets in large grocery chains will see more emphasis on large brands with high volume items that get supported well and less on Regional and Local Craft brands.

I do not see Craft Beer share of total space growing in 2018. And maybe beyond.

Key Account Guidelines:

If have new items in 2018 and want to be a chain brand, understand which chains will generate the most volume and therefore the most success for your brand.

Understand what the movement criteria is and what the margin and promotional requirements are for that retailer. Where will your item get placed on the shelf? Will it get retailer support including ads, displays, feature pricing, cold box placement and email blasts to their loyal customers? What is the role of the Craft Segment for that retailer and what does the competitive set look like?

Will your item be on the shelf one year but deleted the next? What impact will there be on brand health when your items did not make it in “key” chains?

For some brands, the right place to hunt for new distribution in 2018 may also include key independents and large liquor stores that are still growing Craft assortment. These types of retailers have less demands than grocery chains on immediate sku productivity.

Before you know it 2018 will be here. Will your new items get placed in the right stores?


Welcome to The Bright Tank!

The Bright Tank blog provides training and coaching tips along with real world examples of what’s happening within Craft Beverage, all delivered through email and Twitter @1031Marketing.

I believe the key to making a great brand starts with the people that help create, brew, market, deliver and sell it. Craft category leaders include those who make a commitment to cultivating their most valuable assets, their people.

So, I crafted a fresh approach to employee development. I provide beverage consulting, live networking events, training and field coaching services for the Craft Beverage Industry. Check us out at

My experience helping beverage companies grow sales and distribution has proven that there is one ingredient in common with those who succeed. Besides great liquid and a great brand, beating the competition cannot be attained without consistently dedicating resources and developing skills sets so people can learn and grow.

Grab a craft beverage and prepare to explore insights, tips and real world examples of selling #Craft

Dave Olsen

A 1031 Company

A 1031 Company

What’s Brewing: Selling Skills and Effective Probing

Is local craft beer easier to sell than Regional or National brands? Not really.

Yes, it is true that to some retailers local is king and a blind squirrel could get the item sold in!  Getting it in the store may actually be the easiest part these days!

Just because a brand is local doesn’t mean their packages will immediately get placed in all the right stores, at the right time and in the right shelf position.

I recently spent a Coaching Day in the field with a sales rep from a local Craft brewery. It was good to be back at retail! Retail is where I started in Craft Beer back in 1993.

After a few calls it was clear to me that a good sales rep today is no different from those back then. Retailers are still retailers and as long as sales reps know the fundamentals of the selling process and how to ask the right questions they can achieve their goals for the call.

I firmly believe that effective probing skills are essential for any sales rep. Sadly, most reps I work with fail to probe effectively and as a result miss key opportunities to sell their brand. They simply have not been provided with the right training.

A great example is a recent call at a local liquor store. While surveying the store we found an opportunity to improve shelf positioning for the 6pks off the bottom, warm shelf.

I explained to the sales rep that a couple of well-timed probing questions could lead to a decision to improve the 6pk position:

* How are shelf placement decisions made?
*What is the criteria used to determine which packages gets placed in the cold box?

We did a quick role play before meeting with the buyer. It was clear early on that the rep did not know how to go after this opportunity. With no experience dealing with this issue, no training on how to deal with it and no guts to attack the situation the rep was struggling in the role play.

After some coaching and giving good examples of how to use effective probes the rep seemed more comfortable and was ready to meet the buyer.

We got the shelf position changed right away!

I know what happens to those bottom shelf brands because I have seen it during Category Management projects over the years. Those brands eventually get discontinued because they have no volume!

Eye level and in the cold box is where brands thrive and unless somebody asks for those shelf positions they will never get it!

You see new local Craft Breweries’ packages getting placed in stores every day. If you ask most of those Breweries they most likely have not developed merchandising standards which would include shelf positioning objectives.

It is safe to say that the biggest Craft Breweries do have a plan which is why they have the preferred shelf positions most of the time. No one wants to be on the bottom shelf!

So, if your brand is not where you think it will sell best, figure out what it takes to get it placed in the store where beer lovers can see it better.

Here are some guidelines and additional examples to help you become more proficient with effective probing:

Probing Guidelines:                                                                                                  

•       Use open ended questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How

•       Transition from general to specific

•       Encourage responses by listening and acknowledging

•       Be aware of pace and do not interrogate

Probing Examples:

•       Who is the decision maker?

•       What criteria do you use to decide which packages to place in the cold box?

•       What are your margin expectations?

•       How are display or draft decisions made?

•       How many Craft brands do you feature weekly/monthly?

•       What are your goals for the category?

•       When do you reset the shelves?

•       How do you decide which seasonals to carry?

•       When do shelf tags change?

•       How far in advance do you finalize monthly pricing?

•       What types of cross-merchandising programs have been successful this year?

•       What segment is showing the highest increase/decrease in sales?

•       What is driving those trends?

•       What information do you use to evaluate the category?

•       When are samplings/promo nights most effective?

•       Which pack sizes drive the highest share of profits?