Getting Things Right as a Small Independent Distributor

When it comes to being a small independent distributor in craft beer, it goes a long way to hit the ground running with knowledge of the market. A sales rep was just one of many thoughts from a pair of brewery founders when it came to getting started.

Having sales reps that are polite gives a great chance in the market said Nick Bowman of Dayton, Ohio’s Warped Wing Brewery.

He and Justin Carson, a co-founder of Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co., spoke to a group of fellow brewers recently at the Ohio Craft Brewers Association yearly conference in Cincinnati.

The two talked about their breweries and how they have been successful early by distributing on  their own. They also spoke to each of their models which differed and how they worked at motivating sales reps.

One aspect noted was that breweries starting out in distribution should look at focusing on smaller retailers that can react more quickly to new products and have a faster turnaround time on the shelf.

Preaching quality first, (“No lab is a tough conversation to have,” Bowman said) while being confident in your numbers and having passion for the brewery’s product were other aspects that sales reps needed to have when looking to opening accounts.

Wanting people to win on a daily basis was another factor. Reps that were flexible and weren’t looking for a 9-5 job as well. Sometimes, talking beer isn’t selling beer and a great salesperson doesn’t always sell beer well.

Bowman is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing and co-founder of Warped Wing and has worked in the beer industry for over 15 years. The last three have come in his current role at Warped Wing where he is responsible for the management and motivation of the sales and distribution teams, forecasting, cultivation and service of key retail chain accounts and overseeing all marketing functions at the brewery.

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Carson opened Platform Beer in the summer of 2014 and production began early in 2015. The brewery opened a third location in the Columbus area in December of 2016.

Warped Wing has seven sales reps with three in the home market of Dayton while two each are in Cincinnati and Columbus. The brewery also has five drivers and a distribution manager.

Keeping the staff motivated is a key Bowman and Carson said.

“Anytime you can tap a candidate with experience it will be helpful,” Bowman noted.

But it’s not always possible, and that means looking within the brewery for untapped potential.

Using sensory training can help sales reps get a clearer understanding of the beer they are selling as well and can be the first line in education to beer buyers.

Other motivators mentioned were having a strong base salary with weekly and quarterly bonuses that were laid out ahead of time with reachable goals. Starting with a higher salary and lower commission could also be tied to a sliding pay scale that helps create a performance culture among sales reps as well with wins for reps that are able to get new accounts or re-establish connections with former accounts.

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