How to Preserve Malted Grains for Strong Brewhouse Performance
We’ve all seen it before: A local brewery perfects a great rotation of beers, invests in an excellent in-house experience and develops a strong brand identity within its immediate neighborhood.
And yet, in spite of doing all of this, they still struggle to scale to the level they had hoped to achieve.
It’s all too easy to enter the craft industry with a Field of Dreams mentality—“If you build it, they will come”—and overlook the meticulous planning and execution required to get your product into the right markets. With a smart, effective distribution plan in place, however, you can grow your brewery to exceed all expectations.
Here are four key steps to consider as you map out your distribution plan.
1. Focus on Getting Your Product in Front of More People
Whether you’re working with a distributor or going the self-distribution route, you have to think about increasing exposure when building your plan.
The more grocery store and specialty bottle shop shelves you can get your product onto, the better.
You should also look at the more popular bars around town and figure out what it will take to get your beer on tap there. (When doing this, be mindful of clientele preferences when determining which products to distribute; if a bar caters to a crowd that is largely into domestic drafts, it’s probably not the best venue to push your latest peanut butter porter.)
Having a strong, diverse selection of three to four beers to distribute can help you get in the door. When a bar already has several popular IPAs on tap, you might get passed over if that’s all you’re offering. But if you’re able to distribute a pilsner, an amber ale and a stout, for example, it becomes easier to fill a gap for the business and distinguish yourself from the competition.
2. Build Sales and Distribution Relationships
As with just about any industry, relationships matter. A lot. And particularly when you haven’t built enough brand awareness to warrant an increase in demand, you need someone who will go to bat for your brewery and the products you’re placing in the market.
That’s why it is critical that you invest in relationships with your sales and distribution representatives.
Smaller breweries might find themselves at a disadvantage here due to a lack of resources necessary to incentivize reps, but there are other creative ways you can increase share-of-mind.
You need to devote the time, the energy and, when available, the money it takes to build and nurture these relationships as you try to establish your place in the market.
3. Develop a Pull-Through Marketing Strategy
Another key aspect of an effective distribution plan is to have a pull-through marketing strategy in place.
No retailer is going to be thrilled about bringing another product in that stagnates on their shelves or taps—particularly in the SKU-mageddon age where there is a proliferation of choices in the craft scene.
In order for your distribution plan to work, you have to help generate and sustain demand for your product. This means building a strong following on social media and engaging with this audience, investing in paid search and SEO tactics and differentiating your brand from the competition.
You might also want to explore possible collaborations with a local nonprofit organization or musician as a way to generate increased demand for your beer. This will introduce your brewery to new audiences and help you build greater brand equity.
4. Be Willing To Give Away Beer—For Free
When you’re trying to expand the distribution footprint of your brewery, you’re going to need to give some beer away for free.
Pouring samples at a local bottle shop or hosting a pint night at a bar on the other side of town might be a necessary effort if a retailer is going to carry your product. And that’s okay. Just be judicious about what events you choose and how much product you’re willing and able to provide.
For increased exposure, consider hosting a fundraiser in conjunction with a nonprofit organization or local cause that will bring new folks to a bar or pub. Such a goodwill gesture will both help you build connections with those individuals and show the retailer that you care about their business as well.
Don’t Forget About the Most Important Thing
All of the above steps to executing a successful distribution plan are futile if you’re producing a subpar ale or lager.
It is imperative that you bring a quality product to market when looking at distribution channels because you will very quickly lose out on potential business—and burn bridges further down the road—if your beer won’t sell.
Take a look at your taproom or brewpub sales and customer feedback to assess which beers to include in your lineup. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to effectively build your distribution plan and begin expanding the reach of your brewery.