Relationships Still Matter
First of all, I am pleased to announce that Molson Coors vice chairman Pete Coors will be joining us as a speaker at our Beer Summit in late January next year. One reason I'm glad to welcome Pete back to our stage is that he not only will be leading the company which will likely own 100% of MillerCoors by that time, but Pete is one of the few top beer execs left -- perhaps the only one left at the global level -- who still believes in the value of building close personal relationships. Beer, for whatever reason, remains a business of friends, at least in the U.S. And friends enjoy doing business with friends.
This personally struck me this past weekend as I attended the wedding of a craft brewery exec and a distributor at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, where we are again having our Summit January 29-30, 2017. It occurred to me while I was openly weeping during their honest and touching wedding vows that the beer industry doesn't just create friendships, it creates lasting loving unions.
Camaraderie and relationships (and a few romances) are what make our industry so unique in the otherwise sterile world of consumer goods. The beer industry is still a relationship business. You don't see this level of camaraderie in the toilet paper business or even the cola business. And I truly believe our Beer Summit is perhaps the most important venue in keeping that spirit alive, because it's big enough where all the right people are there, but small enough that you can still see everybody you need to see.
And best of all, the beers are on me.
But I get the feeling this year the stakes are higher in the beer business. There have been a rash of "craft beer is in trouble" stories running in the mainstream and trade press lately. You'll find the latest one last weekend in Thrillist, titled ominously Craft Beer's Dark Secrets, which cites an anonymous marketing exec at a medium-sized craft brewer. The theme of this article is similar to others: Too many breweries creating a crowded marketplace, tap rotation nation, too much brewing capacity but not enough packaging capacity, too much bad/infected beer being produced, too much dusty old beer on the shelves, rampant pay-to-play, and big brewers aggressively getting into the game. Oh, and deep discounting: the biggest red flag in predicting a 1997 redux.
SIDEBAR: Please can we all remember that Pete's Wicked Ale went public on the NASDAQ on November 8, 1995 and rose 40% immediately. Petes was initially priced at $18 in the offering and closed at $25.25 at the end of the first day of trading.
Today the brand doesn't exist. Doesn't even exist. Not kidding. Doesn't exist.
These issues, I am certain, will only intensify as more breweries come online and capacity starts to outstrip demand, and distributors and retailers start to say "no mas" on additional brands and SKUs. There will be more Pete's Wicked Ales, mark me. The reverse-tipping-point is here, or will be soon. And when times get tough and the craft pie is not growing even high or mid single digits anymore -- or, god forbid, FLAT -- people will get sharp elbows. It's already happening.
Look, I was already armpit deep in the business in 1996-2000 when the last time this was happening in craft. Everybody now seems to hopefully say, "This time is different." From what I saw back then and what I see now, the only difference is people have more tatts. Even the beards are the same. And the blithe ignorance. They know what they know, but what they don't know they assume doesn't exist.
When things turn south, this is the time when creating new relationships and more importantly strengthening the ones you already have become that much more crucial. You are probably thinking that I'm saying all this to sell tickets to my Summit (I do have two kids in college). Yes, admittedly I want people to attend. But I honestly believe these things to be true, and if you've been paying any sort of attention in the beer business and are being honest with yourself, you know these things to be true as well.
So I am personally curating next year's Beer Summit speakers to focus on a few carefully selected themes:
-How to navigate the waters amidst craft's volume softness and simultaneous outside-the-three-tier-system taproom boom.
-How to maintain and build relationships with so many suppliers or distributors when things get strained, particularly with new craft brewers who expect to be entitled to distribution and retail space.
-How to cut costs while still maintaining good service.
-And finally, what the metrics and strategies are if you are planning to buy or sell your company, both as a craft brewer and distributor.
-Plus we're going to have a little fun with a Family Feud-style game show between distributors and brewers.
If any of those issues are of interest to you, please consider investing in you and your top people to attend. There's not just $100k ideas, there could be million dollar ideas (particularly when it comes to M&A and portfolio management).
YOUR WIFE/HUSBAND/S.O. WELCOME. Plus, as an added bonus, the Beer Summit is held at the historic Hotel Del Coronado just outside of San Diego ….. In other words, bring your significant other for the whole weekend. Unlike most other conferences, at the Beer Summit, all dates are welcome at our receptions without registration. And trust me, the receptions at the Del are the best part of the show, as we hold them outside with good loud classic rock, instead of in a dowdy horribly lit conference room with elevator music.
Don't miss the chance to hear from some of the industry's most prominent voices. Reserve your spot now at www.beernet.com/summit.php or by calling the office at 210.805.8006.
Did you know we're having our Wine & Spirits Summit right after Beer Summit? Stay a bit longer and double your industry knowledge. Click here for more information: www.winespiritsdaily.com/summit.php
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I look forward to seeing you there.
Until tomorrow, Harry
P.S. As Pete Coors said in his acceptance email, "I am flattered that you would want me to participate in your Summit. I was signing up anyway because it is always interesting." Love to hear that, particularly the interesting part. If it's not interesting or you are disappointed in any way, I'll give you your money back. (But I won't refund you if you find anything offensive, because we tend to push the envelope on that sometimes. Otherwise we'd be bankrupt). -HS
"The world needs aggressive, outspoken, funny, obnoxious writing and not that many places will publish it these days."
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