Vetting the Right Distribution Partner

Looking into distributing is not just two choices. Some may just see the “red” trucks or the “blue” trucks​ hauling macro beers as the only way to go outside of self-distribution. Yet, doing homework on all options needs to be done before making the step into who to work with.

It sounds simple, but ​Rob Burns, the co-founder Night Shift Brewing & Night Shift Distributing — which services fellow like-minded craft breweries in the Boston area, said there isn’t one clear-cut formula in what he has a distributor is looking for. He also knows, as a brewery founder, that what a brewery needs may not always align. So look at everything.

“[Look] at the people behind the liquid to the price points, the packaging, beer styles and what their goals in the marketplace are,” he said at the 2019 Craft Brewers Conference in Denver. “Do they line up with the accounts we service?

“It comes down to a good conversation and figuring that out.”

As a distributor, Night Shift Distributing is always looking for something non-traditional or unique. The book may have 50 or more IPAs, so finding something different is a plus.

Collin McDonnell​, the co-founder & CEO​ for ​Henhouse Brewing​, said ​​doing ​all the work before​ is crazy important because not every brewery works ​for every distributor.

​”​That might seem like common sense but often people are in a rush to get into an agreement so they don’t do that full due diligence​,” he said. ​

​He gave an example that if a brewery is making esoteric beers with art​-​forward packaging, a big A​-​B distributor might be able to put ​that beer in a lot of convenience stores, but ​the package isn’t going to be the right place for ​that beer.

​”​Line up what you want out of the agreement with what that distributor is good at is super critical​,” he said.​

​Burns added that almost every state ​liquor control has a ​website ​with a list of ​which wholesalers​ have licenses for an area​.

​”​There aren’t just two choices, often that’s not the case​,” Burns said​.​ ​”​Even if it’s not a beer-centric seller. Wine or ​spirit house​s​ may be better for your brand. Look for indie beer wholesalers. it could be a good fit.​”​

​Of course, part of that homework is talking to all the houses. They all can make great promises, but your brewery’s brand needs to see the execution.

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