Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

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Distribution, Part II

In Part I of our Distribution blog series, we outlined the difference between self-distribution and working with a distributor. In Indiana (and in most states), cideries fall under wine legislation, so we haven't been allowed to sell our cider outside of our tasting room without a distributor.

Okay, so here we are. We have a distributor (Craftroads Beverage)! Things are about to start happening! We both have the same goal: sell a lot of cider to bars and restaurants in town so that people know about us and become fans. Here's how the work breaks down:

The Distributor's Role

Craftroads Logo

The key things we want from a distributor are a commitment to quality, education, and us. Some bigger distributors would have a bigger footprint from the outset, but they'd also have more brands to sell. We were worried that we'd never get much of their focus. We went with Craftroads because they plan to have a relatively small book of business and want to work closely with their brands. We're kind of hands-on people, so this is music to our ears. 

The key job is for them to have a camaraderie with bars and restaurants and build trust with bar managers. Yes, selling our products is important, but knowing which accounts have the kind of customer bases that would buy craft cider and selling to them is more important. Selling our cider to a bar that can't sell it to their customers isn't a good thing. Placing our ciders at 20 good accounts is more important than placing it at 100 bad accounts.

Finally, there are a lot of logistics that the distributor has to manage - they coordinate and deliver multiple brands to multiple places, need to clean restaurant draft lines (surprisingly, this falls on the distributor, not the restaurant), and maintain accurate records. A good sales rep should know every bar manager in town, what time she likes to meet with reps, when she does inventory, places orders, likes deliveries to arrive, what products she normally orders and at what velocity she goes through product. Phew!

Our Role

Our job is to find the delicate balance of making enough cider to sell to our distributor while also having a good stock for our tasting room. We have to anticipate the growth curve so we aren't sitting on a bunch of inventory or running out of product. We also have to make each of our ciders consistent with the last batch, so that customers always get the same thing if they order a Sunset Tart Cherry, regardless of the bar.

We do sales support as well - the more we get out and check on accounts that keep our ciders on tap and visit new accounts we'd like to work with, the better. We can work directly with restaurants to do fun events like tap takeovers or pint nights. We can work with liquor stores to do samplings. All of these things are ways we can make sure a customer tries (and therefore, buys) our products. 

Your Role! 

Last but not least! You have a job as well! If you've been to the tasting room and can't wait to get some Ash & Elm Cider closer to home, start asking at the bars and restaurants you frequent. Ideal accounts are those that are locally/regionally owned, as usually bar managers get to decide what they put on tap. For example, it'd be a hard sell to get our products at Applebees; it'd be much easier to get us as the craft beer bar in Broad Ripple. When you see us on tap somewhere, order a cider! Tell your bartender that you love our ciders and you're so glad they carry us. The more consistently a product sells, the more likely an account is to order it again. 

We're really excited to be able to start this phase of our business. We've been working on getting distribution up and running since before we even opened, and now that we're here, we can't wait to see how our business grows around Indianapolis. 

Distribution, Part I

Folks that come into the cidery usually have a set of questions they progress through when they’re here:

  1. How long have you guys been open? (6 months)
  2. What did this building used to be? (A pharmacy. A meeting place for the Oddfellows. A strip club).
  3. Where else can we get your cider? (Nowhere. Yet…)

That third question always leads to more questions. The answer is – of course – more complicated than it seems. Here’s our attempt to explain the situation, in a two-part blog! Today is Part 1, which outlines the difference between self-distribution and working with a distributor.

First of all, the USA’s alcohol system is a ‘three tier system’, thanks, of course, to laws set up after the disaster that was Prohibition (where most weird alcohol laws come from). For more information about this system and its history, check out this great article over on Serious Eats.

  • Tier one is the manufacturer of the product – these are your breweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries. Us!
  • Tier two is a distributor. These are companies that buy product from manufacturers at wholesale prices, and then sell them to retailers. In Indiana, we have Monarch Beverage, Cavalier, Zink, etc. who play this secondary role.
  • The third tier is then the retailer. This is where you as customers can come to get a drink. Think bars, restaurants, liquor stores, grocery stores, etc.

Every state has different liquor laws. In Indiana, micro-breweries can cut out the distribution tier up to a point (based on volume). If you’re familiar with Indiana alcohol laws, last year, Sun King Brewing Co. fought to raise the limit so that microbreweries can self-distribute a greater volume of beer before having to work with a distributor. So, microbreweries can self-distribute, and while most of them start with self-distribution, many of them decide to sign on with a distributor well before they hit the self-distribution ceiling in Indiana. There are some great reasons for that:

Why You Would Self-Distribute

Self-distribution sounds like a great deal, especially at the start. You can hop in the car, put a keg or two of your product in the back seat, drive to a bar, say, “Hey, want this?”, and if the answer is yes, you can pick up a check and leave the beer. Bam, you’re on tap at a local restaurant and are already growing the market for your product. You get to collect the retail price for your beer and take it home to the bank. As a startup, that extra profit can help you expand a lot faster than selling at the wholesale rate. Also, in brand new businesses, one or two people could probably handle all the distribution needs.

Bottom Line: Quick way to reach more customers, higher profit margin for the business.

Why You Would Work with a Distributor

Eventually, if things go well, you’ll need quite a team to keep up with the demand for your products. A fleet of vehicles, someone on staff who visits accounts with the sole purpose of cleaning draft lines, sales people to bring in new business and keep current customers happy, and multiple delivery drivers, not to mention someone to handle all of the logistics that come along with so many moving parts. A distributor would handle all of that for you in exchange for a portion of your profits. They will also likely expand your footprint because they have a wider reach and access to more varied accounts because of the multiple different brands they represent.  

Bottom Line: At a certain point, most breweries will end up working with a distributor because the extra reach will make up for the chunk of profits and the staffing needed to support self-distribution.

So, Back to Us…

              We tricked you – none of these laws actually apply to us because we aren’t a micro-brewery! Our legal classification is a Farm Winery, and in Indiana, Farm Wineries aren’t allowed to self-distribute at all. This explains why you can’t find our ciders on tap at bars and restaurants yet.

              Since we opened, we’ve known that we’d need a distributor to grow. We’ve met with many, sussed them out (this is an important partnership, after all), and negotiated contracts. As of TODAY, we have finally signed the all-important paperwork, which means that the time for us to start popping up around the city is near. Like…a few days away!

Next week, we’ll post a blog about what YOU as a cider fan can do to help us grow our business.

Thanks for coming along on this wild ride with us!

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