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
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 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.
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.