How to Win Your Current Markets

Digging in and “winning” your local market has become more paramount than ever in craft beer sales. Selling in what Chris Lutkowski calls his “backyard” of Asheville, North Carolina was a key for Hi-Wire before the brewery began branching out.

“If you don’t win in your local market, there’s no way you can win on the road,” the brewery’s Director of Sales explained. “Once you’ve got solid support at home, you can then take your selling story to other nearby markets and start to become “local” there as well – I like to use “regional” as a description too.”

Jim Prince, the VP of Sales for Rahr & Sons said the Fort Worth, Texas brewery has made it a priority to invest in both their people and on brewing exciting and innovative new beers.

“We look for sales reps that have a passion for great beer, along with a level of experience in the market that equals the quality of our beers,” Prince said, noting they have seen a larger section for opportunities within the “casual dining” format of business.

“Accounts once dominated by “Bud, Miller, Coors” drinkers are now finding a consumer base that is more willing to explore craft beer, and quite frankly demand better beer,” Prince explained. “We have worked out opportunities with locations that promote “craft tours” or “craft experiences” and help train staffs on beer styles as well as food pairings with certain menu items they have available.”

Lutkowski said that Hi-Wire is just starting to become successful in Chain Grocery, but it’s taken a lot of time, hard work and follow up to break through.

“A lot of chains these days are not looking to be “brand builders” – their space is extremely limited in their cold boxes and unless you have a proven product or an extremely local customer favorite, you’re going to get denied your first few times that you ask for distribution,” he pointed out. “That first selling story is so important to lock down and establish – it’s basically the foundation for which you’ll base all of your other selling stories upon.

“You have to start somewhere – might as well roll up your sleeves and get to doing it.”

Lutkowski also stressed the importance of a good product.

“All bets are off if you’ve got QC issues,” he said. “Local rep support is also essential – don’t give a rep three states to cover with five major markets and expect great results. The local competition these days is so intense that you’ve practically lost your placement even before you walk out the door of the retailer.”

He also added that brewery reps need to continuously make follow-up calls.

Lutkowski also gave recognition to three reps that have helped build the Hi-Wire brand.

“Bobby Richardson is doing great things in Eastern North Carolina through relentless follow up with both retailers and his wholesalers,” he said. “Anthony Mandala actually [is] overlapping a very successful rollout in Ohio last year and Chris Morgan [is] getting attention and focus from his wholesaler in Tennessee through well-planned incentives and drive items.”

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