NBWA Convention Primer: A Talk with Craig Purser


Dear Client:

We hope you're looking forward to the upcoming 79th Annual NBWA Convention as much as I am. In case you've been drinking a few extra cold ones on the beach this summer and missed the news, the annual event is returning to Chicago on September 25-28.

ED NOTE: NBWA will be providing a free convention app for your smartphone and tablet with all the information you need to know about the convention schedule, speakers, and seminars in one place, so I encourage you to download it. Also, all of our coverage of the convention on beernet.com and craftbusiessdaily.com and will be freely available in front of the paywall throughout the convention, so you and your people will have full access.

As both Craig and I were traveling, we conducted an email back-and-forth interview to discuss the highlights of the upcoming Convention and what to expect.

BBD: Craig, last year's convention stands out because news of MegaBrew broke while we were in Vegas. It's an understatement to say that the industry has seen a lot of activity over the past year. Guess that means there's a lot to talk about during this year's convention?

Craig: That's very true. Since last fall, a ton has happened. As expected, the Department of Justice initiated a comprehensive - and exhaustive -- examination of the American beer industry. We had congressional oversight, and lots and lots of folks were contacted. Brewers, other suppliers, distributors… But after all that, the best thing that occurred is that the DOJ now understands that the independent distribution system is essential to competition, and they wrote about it in their Proposed Consent Order.

BBD: Is that going to be the focus of this year's convention?

Craig: Well, we certainly will be talking about it, but we have a lot to cover during our time together. We'll hear about distributor independence and working with industry partners from some of today's most innovative and forward-looking distributors and by trading partners including Gavin Hattersley of MillerCoors, Bob Pease of the Brewers Association as well as a panel of industry insiders. We'll also raise a glass to the Brewer Partner of the Year and hear how the winning brewers exemplify the commitment to relationships and innovation needed to drive growth in the beer industry.

One theme that is going to be front and center is how to win in the face of challenge and change. We'll hear about the importance of passion, leadership and teamwork. It's the life story of one of our headline speakers, Super Bowl champion quarterback Joe Theismann. Through his seasons at Notre Dame, with the Washington Redskins and as a broadcaster, Joe Theismann has a great story about endurance, focus and working with others. It's an important message as we look to a future where we strengthen distributor independence and strengthen relationships with industry partners - and all of this taking place in a business environment that is being transformed daily by technology, ever-evolving consumer tastes and shifting market structures.

BBD: So, it's football season, but it's also political season, and distributors obviously need to keep an eye on the political climate - especially in an election year. Will that also be the case at the Convention?

Craig: No question about it - and it goes without saying that this year's election is unprecedented. And the outcome and effect on our industry uncertain at best. It just so happens that the first presidential debate is scheduled for the Monday night of the convention. So the very next morning, we'll get a play-by-play insider analysis from both sides of the political spectrum with Tucker Carlson of Fox News and Bill Press of CNN. We are really looking forward to hearing from them.

But the presidential race isn't the only political contest on ballots this fall. Every single seat in the US House is up for election, and so are 34 Senate seats. Here's the thing - 24 of those 34 are currently held by Republicans, and the Democrats only need to pick up a handful of seats to take control of the Senate. Harry, you are right when you say beer distributors understand that relationships matter, and they know that Congress matters. So while all the hours on the cable networks are focusing on the presidential race, NBWA is keeping a very close watch on these so-called "down ballot" races that could really impact the regulatory and business climate.

BBD: In that area of regulation, trade practice compliance couldn't be more critical. Can you tell us how the Convention will help distributors in that area?

Craig: It's no secret that federal and state alcohol regulators have increased attention and focus on alcohol industry trade practices, including some high profile enforcement actions. That's why on the first day of the convention - Sunday afternoon - we'll welcome Rob Tobiassen, a pre-eminent regulatory compliance consultant and former TTB Chief Counsel, along with NBWA General Counsel Paul Pisano. Together, they'll walk members through the basics of alcohol regulation, especially how to comply with the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, and offer some really practical guidance to help you implement best practices and training at your business. They'll have some useful and critically important information for distributors.

BBD: Talk about the education seminars, especially mine.

Craig: We're offering 18 education seminars across the three days of the convention, starting with two additional seminars on Sunday that will make it especially worthwhile for folks to arrive early. The BIECC - which as you know is the Beer Industry Electronic Commerce Coalition - has a session with experts telling us how to access and leverage Big Data to improve internal and external operations, increase sales and attract new brewers.

Also, social media guru KiKi L'Italien will share how you can use simple, inexpensive tools - that are right on your phone or at your fingertips - to strengthen your story and reach more people. Overall, with subjects ranging from warehousing to management trends, sales coaching and cyber security and social media training, we'll have something for everyone. So I would encourage folks to get to the website and reserve their places now for the seminars that interest them. And of course yours.

BBD: Well, that wasn't much of a plug for me in particular, so I'll do it myself. Yes, in fact I am presenting after taking two years off to give everybody a break. My seminar is called "10 Years of Beer Business Daily: Why We Are Where We Are" and it's going to be on Monday morning. I'll take a fun and informative look back at all of the major developments in the U.S. beer business and how they brought us to the beer business we have today, and make some predictions of where we are going into the future.

But back to you -- because it's all about you apparently -- there was a lot of talk last week a the BI meeting among distributors about how technology certainly is reshaping the industry. So is it safe to assume there will be opportunities for folks to learn more about the new and innovative products and services flooding the marketplace?

Craig: Of course, as always we'll have a Product Demonstration Showcase with 150 companies highlighting new ways to grow your business by improving efficiency, reducing costs and supercharging service. You just might be able to sample a beer you've never had before - I'll look for you on the show floor. By the way, the Product Demonstration Showcase has been expanded to two days, in response to many requests for more time. A full listing of the exhibitors is on NBWA's website.

BBD: All work and no play would make for a dull convention. Which means, I would assume, there will be some opportunities to have a little bit of fun and tip a pint or two as well. I'll be burning up my unlimited BBD Amex card posted up at the hotel bar.

Craig: It wouldn't be an NBWA Convention if we didn't raise a glass and celebrate the successful distribution system - and each other. We have an awesome Welcome Reception planned along with several other entertaining events highlighting the choice and variety of products that distributors deliver across the country. It's an opportunity to forge new partnerships and grow existing relationships.

Right before the Welcome Reception, the Next Generation Group will join for a little networking and socializing over beers in "The Living Room" - that's the Hyatt's newest hotspot, not a room at your ranch, Harry.

BBD: Speaking of the Next Gen, young people tend to be dumb so it's good that this group seems to be really growing. What else is on tap for them during convention?

Craig: Well we aim to make them less dumb. The Next Gen Group has grown to nearly 350 members, and it keeps generating great excitement. In addition to the happy hour on Sunday night, Next Genners will join for a lunch on Tuesday with Jim Johnson, Jr., Ph.D., who is an expert on demographics. He'll have a lot of useful information and insight for this group in particular about the future of the American beer consumer.

We're going to have a great turnout, with distributors and suppliers from around the country joining us in Chicago. So I hope everyone who hasn't registered yet will go to NBWA's website today. That's www.nbwa.org.

BBD: Thanks for your time, Craig. See you guys in Chicago.

Until tomorrow, Harry

"When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest." - William Hazlitt

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