What Makes a Great Beer Distributor?
Whether you’re the go-to for craft beer, the college student standby, or the reliable neighborhood shop, beer distributors are an important part of any community. But what makes one distributor stand out over another?
Here are some suggestions on how to improve the service and sales of your store to draw in more customers, and stand out in the Pittsburgh beer scene.
Hire and Train Knowledgeable Staff
Distributor customers tend to complain about two major points: inventory and employees. How to supply the correct inventory for your demographic may not be an easy question to answer, and varies region to region. However, hiring employees who are knowledgeable and approachable is a must for distributors regardless of location.
Like any business, you want to make sure your employees are friendly and helpful towards your customers. Attentiveness to customers who seem lost and assisting them with questions should be a priority for your staff.
Employees should also be able to give recommendations to beer novices and lovers alike. When employees are interested in and are passionate about the products they sell, they instill more confidence in your customers that they are making informed choices and this encourages them to make repeat visits. Make sure you provide your staff with a good knowledge base on your products, and on beer flavor profiles to help them make the best recommendations they can to the public.
Social Media Still Matters
Unfortunately, many distributors are still slow to jump on the tech train. Oftentimes, beer distributors do not have an updated list of what products they carry, or worse, they have no website at all. Not having a website is possibly the worst marketing mistake a distributor could make.
Having a business Facebook is not an equivalent replacement for a website, as it does not seem professional, and does not allow customers to find more detailed information about the products you carry.
You want to keep your customers in the know about exactly what beers you provide. Foot-traffic customers may come into your store to browse through your selection in person. But when people are looking for a specific beer, they will be doing their browsing online to find exactly where to go. It’s much more convenient for customers to be able to find their solution online, rather than having to call several distributors to find out who carries what. If your customers can’t find what they’re looking for on your website, they will most likely go elsewhere.
Listing the products you offer online also reduces the amount of time employees have to be on the phone answering repeat questions about inventory. This gives them more time to perform their daily tasks and aid in-store customers.
Keep your hours listed with Google accurate, accounting for holiday hours. The holidays are a hectic time, and it should be easy for customers to find out if your store is open or not. This will improve your customer service and prevent negative reviews on conflicting or confusing hours.
Beer distributors can now sell singles and fill growlers on site. Taking advantage of the ability to sell in small quantities can help you bring in more customers.
Places like Giant Eagle are taking advantage of selling to their customers’ tastes by allowing them to mix and match beers to build their own six-pack. Offering an option for customers to customize their purchase allows them to sample a variety of beers, which makes them more likely to purchase a full pack of one of their samples later on.
By offering more expensive beers as singles, you may entice a customer to find a beer they like and encourage them to buy a full pack of a more profitable beer. Rather than them going to the old reliable (and cheaper) beers because they know what it tastes like.
Selling by singles can also help you turn a profit out of damaged packs (damaged cardboard or a few broken bottles/cans) or help get rid of out-of-season beers (pumpkin, etc.) by selling the remainders on their own.
Growlers and Beers on Tap
Offering growlers is something still relatively new to PA distributors, and it’s a service not many distributors have taken advantage of. Having a tap system in your store can set you apart, especially by offering nitro taps, which can be difficult to find outside of craft breweries and bars, and produce a unique pour for stouts and porters. CraftBeer.com even penned a lengthy article on the advantages of nitro taps.
Providing local brews to-go in growlers allows customers to get some of their favorite beers fresh from the tap without having to take a trip to the brewery. Get creative with marketing your tap system. Offer a growler of the month, or a growler punchcard to encourage customers to come to your store over another.
Offer Local Options
Offering local beers can set a distributor apart as well. Finding your favorite local brew on tap might not be too difficult at a bar, but finding some of that beer to-go may be a little more tricky. This is especially true for beer produced by breweries in the city. It is easier to find big-name in-state brews in distributor locations than it is to find beer brewed in the neighborhood next door.
The ability to buy local beers in larger quantities than one can purchase in licensed grocery stores is a huge advantage for distributors. Selling local and craft beers by the case can open up new doors for you as the seller and can introduce small breweries to the general consumer as well as restaurants and bars.
In our previous article on Favorite Local Breweries, you can take a look at some local brews to consider stocking. Get involved with your local beer scene and reach out to brewers near you. You might discover that your shelves are lacking a local favorite.
Avoid a Beer Scavenger Hunt
If customers have to walk around your store several times or are consistently telling employees that they cannot find a product, something is wrong. Finding products should be easy for customers, especially for first-timers to your store. Make sure your signage is easily readable and that products are organized in a manner that makes sense.
Prices should be able to be easily found and ideally be listed on the shelves for each product. Unclear prices, having to ask for prices, or being unable to find a price on their own, will frustrate customers.
Making purchases should never be confusing for your customers. If customers cannot simply grab a product off the shelf and purchase it at a front counter, you should make your process clear and easy to understand to anyone who walks into your store.
Keep Your Own Knowledge Up-to-Date
Just like any other career, as an owner or manager of a beer distributor, you should keep your knowledge of the industry up-to-date. Not only does this mean staying current on the trends of the industry, but also local trends. By staying actively engaged in the buying trends of your customers, you will find it easier to have a feel for what inventory will turn over quickly, and how to avoid ordering products that stick around on the shelves too long.
You should keep tabs on changes to PLCB laws as well, and ensure that you’re taking advantage of the variety of products you can sell as a beer distributor.