Reflecting on the beer blogger – beer retailer connection

There are many challenges in running a beer shop, ranging from woeful discouragement to triumphant success, and back again. The same questions over and over. It feels like I’m living an a beer shop version of Ground Hog Day.

Repetition. The same questions over and over. I try out new answers. I offer the same answer. Over. And over. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, the same answer day-in, day-out. For me this isn’t so stressful. It is just part of the job. I do, however, get a bit frustrated when it is the fifth time I have answered this exact question for the same customer. Does he not realize I will give him the same answer next time, and the time after, as well? My patience wears thin. Clearly there is no retention. How can I get him to realize the answer will not change? To get it to absorb. Are we communicating in different languages? The old he’s from Mars, she’s from Venus kind of thing?

For the past few months I have been reflecting on how citizen beer bloggers could better network with a beer retailer like me.

This is one topic of reflection: Common questions asked by customers. It seems as these questions are not being answered in a way they understand. The questions continue to be asked. So, clearly, I need to share information from a different perspective…right?

Talk about beer supply & demand

I could really use help from beer bloggers to convey how the beer supply chain works. This is one of the most common themes that repeats itself.

“Do you have…(insert beer name here)? If anyone had the beer, you would.”

If we stock the beer, the answer is: Yes! Here it is.
Or: Yes, but I’m sorry, it is sold out. Sometimes this leads to a discussion of seasonal, limited and rare beers.

If we don’t have it, the answer…
Perhaps we can order a case for you. With an inventory of over 1,200 in a small shop with not much more square footage, there are beers available in Washington that we simply don’t stock on a regular basis. That is, if the beer just doesn’t sell fast enough, taking 3 months or longer to sell a case of 24, or worse, a case of 12, it’s put as “full case preorder only” item in our list. Afterall, we don’t want good beer going bad on our shelves, while awaiting discovery.

If we can’t get it, but they’ve seen it at another retailer or bar in Washington State, this can lead into controversial topics like bootlegging…and why we don’t participate in such practice. Or, the topic of special one-off kegs being approved for special events (this is common practice for festivals and is totally legal). It can also lead to topics of private label beers (also illegal in Washington State, according to the liquor control board), and the politics of distribution.

Many times the beer they seek just isn’t available in our state.
Or: It’s beer from a Washington brewery they seek, but the brewery cannot make enough beer to provide our store with any. That is, the beer the brewery produces is already selling out at the brewery and to existing accounts…there simply isn’t enough beer to go around.

“Why can’t you get it?” …. “Will you get it for me?”

If the brewery/beer isn’t available in Washington, I cannot attain it. We are licensed to direct-receive, but can only purchase from those licensed to distribute or who have distributors.

If a brewery doesn’t produce enough beer to add my store to its supply chain, there is nothing that I can do than be on a their wait list, and wait until the time when they choose to grow their brewery or, god forbid, lose an existing account.

If the person is really intent on getting this beer, how can THEY get it? Legal purchase: direct-ship. Travel? Trade? Questionable purchase: Black market?

“Why do you limit beers?”

There is beer with limited production that is highly sought after. If we didn’t apply limits, the first person in the door could buy everything and you would get none. We do this to share the beer love.

The distributor/brewery decides how many cases they will make available to my store. There are times when we request to order five or ten cases, but are allowed to buy just one or two. We have little control over this. This sometimes leads to question of “Why can’t you get more?”

…sometimes a contributing factor to how many cases we’ll get is how much of the brewery’s other labels that we sell. If customers don’t buy their other beers from us, we won’t get additional cases of the “hot” item. It’s just how it is.

…or it could be based on relationships and/or the politics of the beer industry. Verbal contracts. Big chains. Friendships.

…or it could be due to…?

We try to be fair with our allocation, to get the beer into as many hands as possible.

The beer blogger – beer retailer connection

I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between my local beer bloggers and me, my store, and our local beer drinkers. There is definitely new territory that could be covered. But I don’t believe I’ve actually put my finger on it. I am trying to narrow this topic; next month I’ll be chatting about it with American beer bloggers. The panel, “Networking with Local Breweries, Distributors, and Retailers” is pretty wide open, and I haven’t asked conference organizer Allan Wright for specifics. So my mind has been wandering over this topic for months.

I think about each of the beer bloggers who come into our store. I look at their blogs, sometimes scanning, other times reading. Few local beer bloggers are on my regular reading schedule.

My favorite local read: The Washington Beer Blog

It’s written by Kendall Jones. Kendall’s blog is super; it’s written by him and also has women-authored posts by his wife and their North-end reporter. Rarely do they offer beer reviews, it’s focused on what’s happening in the Washington beer scene. The Washington Beer Blog is purely independent, with a focus on “now.” I asked to advertise with them because I like their style. Kendall and crew are the kind of people you want to sit down and have a beer with.

Sharing beer blogs

I don’t “purposefully network” with beer bloggers for our retail shop. I do peruse a variety of blogs and search Google for specific topics to share with our customers. Occasionally I share local beer blog posts with our customers — emailing thousands of subscribers via Constant Contact, posting to loads of visitors on our facebook page and twitter feed.

The beer blogs I share are those that entertain, inform, and, hopefully, engage.

When I feature reviews it’s done to pimp my beer. My delicious beer.

I still have so much to reflect on.

3 Responses to Reflecting on the beer blogger – beer retailer connection

  1. Julie @ Bruisin' Ales says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Can I just post this to our homepage? :) Well done!

  2. Joe Callender says:

    A very thought provoking article. I switched my career path to craft beer because of the very positive vibe I get from it…but ultimately knew not all could be hunky dory in craft beer land. Here are my thoughts.

    - As small as the craft beer consumer base is, it is changing the industry faster than the industry can handle. And no one has sat down to “plan” for the change. So the default mindset is to just go to reaction mode. It’s all anyone can do to “address the problem” in the moment. The good / bad news is that consumer interest is like a wave out at sea. It’s not even close to shore yet. Craft beer can either try to ride it or just watch as it crests overhead. With the growth going on, there needs to be a focus on change management at the system level, not just individual companies reacting in isolation. I think craft beer still has time to become proactive.

    Company after company has fallen on its face when it relied too heavily on the reactionary mode but just about every new company makes the same mistake.

    - You are up against “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Companies soundbite the shit out of saying they avoid this but it takes a lot more work than a soundbite. It’s only compounded when a few have a controlling financial interest in maintaining the status quo. I don’t know much about the system yet but I would venture to guess that it does not serve today’s needs very well. When the system controls people, the system is broken.

    - You are down in the trenches. No one really listens to those down in the trenches, with the finger on the pulse of what is really going on. It’s too bad because there is a wealth of knowledge down in the trench not being tapped. It exists anywhere systems or companies stick to doing things the way they’ve always been done. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of places because too many just want the cheapest quick fix.

    I look forward to the session next month.

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