If you want to operate a distillery business in the US, you’re going to quickly want to find out how to find a liquor distributor. Craft distillers face many struggles, but two related to distribution at the top of the list are:
- Securing a distributor partner
- Making sure the distributor can achieve distribution and availability of their brands within targeted retail and on-premise accounts
It’s only with this market access that a brand has the opportunity to be successful and give consumers the experience they deserve.
So, how do I find a liquor distributor, and which distributor is the best partner?
Top Alcohol Distributors vs Tier Two
There are typically two categories of spirits distributors in each market:
- The “major” distributors such as RNDC, SGWS, Breakthru Beverage, represent the industry’s biggest suppliers. These top alcohold distributors have large sales teams and call on a large account universe of both On & Off Premise accounts. These major distributors have a business model that puts the vast majority of their focus on their big suppliers and high-volume customers, and “dabble” with smaller suppliers and their brands as a side hustle when time allows.
- The “tier two” distributors represent a more eclectic and diverse portfolio of smaller suppliers that typically include both wine and spirits brands. They use a smaller sales team and call on a smaller account universe of both On & Off Premise accounts whose customers are looking for brands outside the mainstream.
So what distributor partner is the best “fit” for your brands?
It may be a bit of a “smaller fish in a big pond or a bigger fish in a small pond” decision.
How Do I Find a Liquor Distributor?
When learning how to find a liquor distributor, one thing to remember is that spirits distributors are just that, distributors! They are very good at taking orders from their customers, processing those orders via their warehouse operations, and delivering those orders. They are quite efficient “logistics companies,” and while they claim that they are “Sales organizations” & “Brand builders”, our experience is that their capabilities in these areas are questionable.
There are a number of factors that impact their ability to sell brands, including limited available time with their customers’ decision-makers, combined with a large number of brands within their portfolios. The fact remains that, especially for smaller suppliers, relying 100% on a distributor sales force to sell your brand to the On & Off Premise accounts is a mistake.
The smaller distributors do tend to have better “storytellers” sales personnel than the big distributors based on their portfolio of brands that require these skills, while the big distributors represent the mainstream brands and can be successful just by taking orders.
Working With Liquor Wholesale Distributors
As you select a distributor partner, it is important to establish performance expectations in the areas of:
- Targeted “Points of Distribution”, making sure your brands are available within the accounts where your target consumer shops and socializes.
- Store Conditions, making sure your brands are priced and “merchandised” to your specifications with your targeted accounts.
You would think that “volume” would be a critical performance expectation within your distributor relationship, but that’s not the case. Unfortunately driving brand awareness, communication of a brand’s key selling points, and “pull” are the responsibility of the supplier! As your distributor gains points of distribution within the market, those points of distribution require marketing support to drive consumer purchases and velocity to ensure those points of distribution are maintained and volume goals are achieved.
All liquor wholesale distributors appreciate and expect the supplier to provide a consistent schedule of “programming” to assist them with performance expectations. Programming typically comes in the form of:
- Sell in Deals: Discounts or “Free Goods” that allow the distributor to offer their customers a “deal” on a specific brand that motivates the account to purchase.
- Sales Force Incentives: Cash payouts that motivate and reward the Distributor Sales Force based on performance.
- In-store or On-Premise “Tasting Programs”: Drive brand awareness and product trial with consumers.
- Advertising: Driving brand awareness, interest, and directing consumers to specific accounts to purchase.
Expert Help Work With Liquor Distributors
The Firewater Firm, with its 50+ years of spirits industry experience, on both the supplier and distributor tiers, understands how this process works. We know exactly how to find a liquor distributor in a way that will make our clients successful. We assist our clients in identifying the best potential distributor partners that service each market and determining what we think are the best partners for their brand.
After coming up with this strategy, we develop distributor presentations and present our clients’ brand to these selected distributors via their executives and Portfolio Directors. These presentations include both the opportunity within the brand concept & positioning, as well as the distributor programming and the marketing support the brand will provide. This makes it clear how the supplier will assist the distributor and ensure the success of the brand.
After securing a partnership with our targeted distributor, the Firewater Firm manages that relationship on behalf of our clients. We take care of many areas, including:
- Educating their sales personnel on the brand’s positioning and key selling points
- Establishing performance goals
- Designing and implementing distributor programming
- Conducting performance analysis
What You Can Do To Ensure Success
In addition to establishing a strong distributor partnership, it is necessary to supplement the distributor sales team with your own dedicated sales personnel! While the distillery’s sales team may be small, we work with the distributors’ sales data to identify and target a select set of accounts that represent the greatest opportunity for the brand to generate meaningful volume.
These select accounts are typically high-volume accounts whose customers are of a similar demographic and psychographic as the brand’s target consumer. The distillery’s sales team, or Brand Ambassadors, will focus their time and selling to these select accounts, as well as supporting these high-opportunity accounts with programming, such as:
- In-store tastings
- Directing customers via advertising to shop these accounts as they look to purchase the suppliers’ brands
Taking The Next Steps
The Firewater Firm will assist you in finding the right distributor partner, managing those distributor relationships with creative and consistent programming, and conducting market analysis to efficiently direct your internal sales resources to the select accounts that provide the greatest volume opportunities for your brand.We will also develop, design, and implement marketing campaigns to drive brand awareness and interest to generate the consumer pull to drive the necessary volume to ensure that these points of distribution are maintained and productive for the years ahead!