Cider Corner: Are You Ready for a Distribution Deal?

UrbanTree Cidery started out with self-distribution for about one year and co-owner and Cidermaker Jackie Annise feels that although it was valuable that the Atlanta-based company started this way, she also feels that the company lost a year of potential growth.

“There was a distributor that wanted to partner with us. However since we had the option to self distribute, and heard all the chatter that it is this amazing opportunity to have that option, we decided to start with self-distributing,” Annise said. “We have now been with our current distributor for three years and I have the utmost respect for them and our partnership.”

Annise pointed out that when your cidery self distributes, you are also becoming a logistics company, a sales company, and the money you “save” from not sharing a distributor is paid in additional taxes, licenses, labor, and vehicles.

“I always say it was a great learning opportunity to start with self-distribution, however, I would not recommend starting this way unless you have a network already created for sales and logistics,” she said.

READ MORE: Cider Corner: Creating New Sales Avenues Through Demographic Exploration

Now, population density may play a major factor in your decision to distribute on your own or not. For an Atlanta cidery like UrbanTree, the people are close by. For a cidery like Wild State in Duluth, Minnesota, it made sense to get distributed right away. That and self distro isn’t allowed in the state.

“You have to find the people where they are,” said Wild State CEO Adam Ruhland. “We started from the beginning planning for distribution, it’s a key part to a brand that wants to grow.”

Wild State signed with a local craft wholesaler and started putting out small amounts of product quickly.

​”​It doesn’t matter a huge amount that we aren’t in a major metro area but it does matter that we sell our ciders there​,” ​Ruhland said.

Stem Ciders started out by leasing a truck and slowly servicing​ accounts radiating from ​its taproom.

​”​Honestly, it was done pretty smoothly and in a ‘manageable’ way,​” explained CCO Dave Duffy​​. “Not going too wide, too fast.​”​

Duffy noted it’s a proven best practice for startups, though it’s much easier where there’s greater customer density.

“There is no ‘magic number’ or scenario in which you will ever be ready for distribution,” Annise said. “Upon opening UrbanTree cidery, it was the first time any of us had made an alcoholic beverage to sell in the market, and taking that leap is a giant step.

“A great step but nerve-wracking all the same.”

Photo courtesy Wild State Cider

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