Brewer Magazine Q&A: Bill Sisoian, Freetail Brewing

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.
Bill Sisoian, Director of Sales and Marketing, Freetail Brewing — San Antonio, Texas

BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
SISOIAN: There has been such a huge influx of new breweries operating in Texas and in all the markets where our beer is in distribution that we have to be smarter about how we go to market. All of our distributors have large portfolios so we have to find ways to “disrupt the market in a positive way” to ensure our brands stay top of mind with our distributor partners.  We have had to get creative with impactful incentives to motivate distributor sales people to focus on our brands when they are out in their accounts. Our Freetail Sales Ambassadors are tasked with having to complete several market rides with on a monthly basis to develop strong bonds with distributor sales personnel. As a small craft brewer that is expanding our distribution footprint, the further we get away from San Antonio, the harder it is to be relevant in markets that are located long distances from our home base. We have had some success in setting up local CPC (cents per case) programs in some of our remote markets. In New Braunfels, we set up a Cents Per Case program with Tri-City Distributors and the New Braunfels Food Bank where we co-op a $1 donation per case sold in the three county area Tri-City serves to families that struggle to feed their families. These type of programs that give back to the communities we operate in, help us create brand awareness and a sense of goodwill towards our brands.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why?  What have you learned from them?
SISOIAN: My mentor is a guy named David Duran. David is a Business Unit Director at HEB Grocery Stores in Texas. I met David when I was route selling beer for the local Miller distributor and David was a Unit Director for one of HEB’s oldest stores. We became fast friends and as I progressed at the distributorship and he moved up the ladder at HEB, we always remained close and I have always leaned on him for advice. I have always thought that it was smart to have a retailer as a mentor. It was invaluable for me and instrumental to my success in the business, to get great advice and insight from a very successful and respected retailer like David. No matter what the situation, I have always been able to get great advice from David. Whether it is about us launching a new brand or package configuration, I can always go to David to see if this potential new brand or package fits into our number 1 volume customer’s long term plans.

BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
SISOIAN: Freetail Brewing Company is the oldest craft brewer in distribution in San Antonio but we weren’t No. 1 in sales when I arrived in 2018. Alamo Brewing Company had just built a beautiful new production brewery and did a great job of creating a lot of excitement around their brands and jumped out ahead of everyone in sales. During this same time frame, we also launched our brands in Austin and Houston with little to no investment and we were failing in those markets. We decided as a team to re-group and focus totally on winning here in our home market of San Antonio first before we resume investment in the outer markets. We decided to plant a flag in the ground here in San Antonio… to be the No. 1 craft brewer in our home market. We took an entire year working with our distributor, Silver Eagle San Antonio, to ensure that we dominated the grocery channel and key craftcentric on-premise accounts. To win in the off-premise in Texas you have to win at HEB. HEB is the dominant grocery retailer in Texas and in San Antonio, so we put a heavy emphasis towards winning in HEB. We out performed the industry and drove sales up 16.7% (according to IRI) in 2018 at HEB. In the on-premise, we doubled our tap presence in one year working side by side with Silver Eagle’s on-premise sales personnel. Now that we are clearly the No. 1 craft brewer in our home market, it makes more sense to focus on other markets for expansion. In 2020 we are going to re-launch Austin and Houston with significant investment behind our brands…feet on the street, strong sampling and local marketing investment to ensure our brands have every chance to succeed. We are also considering expanding our footprint in the northern Hill Country and up the I-35 North corridor in 2020.

BREWER: Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
SISOIAN: We made the necessary equipment changes to our canning line to accommodate the production of 19.2 ounce cans. This move will give us the opportunity to compete in chain and independent c-stores where we haven’t been much of a factor in the past. The addition of 19.2 ounce cans opens up the potential for massive sampling opportunities in the single serve world. It is much easier for a potential craft consumer to take a chance on a 19.2 ounce can for $2.50 vs. having to invest $9.00 on a six pack to see if they like the latest IPA. We have just launched this package configuration [in November, 2019] and in two weeks our top two selling brands already picked up significant incremental distribution.

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