Distributor Profile: Town & Country Distributors Looks Back at 65 Years in Business

LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT LOCATION

House #45 Senate #23 Congressional #8

LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS SERVICED

House #3, 4, 19, 20, 39, 40, 45, 46, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 77, 78

Senate #2, 10, 20, 23, 27, 28, 29, 39

Congressional #4, 5, 6, 8

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Town and Country Distributors is celebrating 65 years in business in 2018. From 42,000 cases when they started to over six million cases today, it’s fair to say that co-founders Jack Rohner and Walter Sowa began a true beer powerhouse. Town and Country witnessed the peaks and valleys of the beer business over the last few decades, but it’s only refined their purpose and value proposition. The leadership at Town and Country is committed to being the absolute best in customer service and being true partners with their suppliers. It’s part of their legacy, but it’s also their future in a changing and competitive market.

First Days

“Wally had a lot of the connections and I had the money, that’s the way it worked!” Jack Rohner is 95, retired from Town and Country, and remembers their first days of the business in vivid detail. “We bought the distributorship for $18,000, which was a phenomenal price at the time. We wanted to be in business for ourselves.” At the time there was one supplier - Meister Brau - and two worn-out trucks. Their first day of business was tough - the clutch went out on one of the trucks, and they lost a few hours getting it fixed. When they finally got back out there, they worked until 10pm. “We were both driving at the time. They were humble beginnings for sure.”

We were both driving at the time. They were humble beginnings for sure.
— Jack Rohner

They had strong relationships with everyone, especially tavern owners. Early on, Jack and Wally invested in the on-premise side of the business, and it paid off. They increased the brand equity of Meister Brau and it grew to be a beer that was well-loved and had a good reputation with their customers. The morning routine went like this, according to Jack. “I used to live on the south side and I would get up at 4am, pick up Wally and Paul, our first employee, and then go get the trucks which were stored in a local garage, and then drive to the brewery, which at the time was at North and Clybourn. Then we would go out and make deliveries. We did that for almost ten years.” In 1962 the first warehouse for Town and Country was built.

Jack Rohner

Moving Up

Meister Brau came out with draft beer in bottles and cans, which was unpasteurized. That made the brand take off, as the the new product was smoother and very drinkable. Meister Brau really exploded with the introduction of light beer. Jack remembers, “It actually was easy to sell Meister Brau Lite to bars. Word spread quickly and it took off. The selling story for our bars was that they could get their customers to drink three beers instead of two because it wasn’t as filling and you could sell more product.” Meister Brau trademarked the word “lite,” and after the initial success of the beer, Philip Morris, owner of Miller, bought the brand in order to acquire the “lite” label. The company changed the name to Miller Lite and came out with the “great taste, less filling” ad campaign, complete with movie stars and professional athletes. “That’s a true benchmark for significant change in the beer business. Up until that point no one had done anything like that.”

Town and Country built their second warehouse on Chase Ave, outgrew that one, and moved to the one we they are in now. In 1970, they had five routes and sold about 600,000 cases. Over the years they kept adding routes and expanding their offerings. According to Jack, “When Miller took over Meister Brau, we were able to grow the business more, sell more brands, increase acceptance of new products, and add new routes. We went to two million cases, then three million cases, and on and on. We were at almost six million cases when I retired in the 90’s.”

Bringing It All Together

What made all this growth possible? Jack boils it down to hard work and dedication to service. Larry Sowa, Wally’s son, and current President of Town and Country Distributors, explained it this way: “What both of them did was build the company on true customer service. They went back over and over to meet customers before they even placed an order. That’s how you get from 50,000 cases to 100,000 in the beginning and then where we are today, which is six million cases. What Wally and Jack built was carried forward for 65 years. They are titans of customer service.”

What Wally and Jack built was carried forward for 65 years. They are titans of customer service.
— Larry Sowa
Town & Country Warehouse Beer Stacks

Today, Larry and John Holland, CEO of Town and Country and Jack’s grandson-in-law, continue the commitment to customer service specifically through their refusal to adopt case minimums. “If a customer calls us and they need something, we will hotshot it out to them. We take care of our customers. From an operational standpoint, we will not leave anybody without beer.” It’s a nod to those early days. Jack says, “Wally and I used to give customers our home phone numbers and they would call us at home. One thing I remember is during the first Super Bowl game, back in the 60’s, a customer called me up at home while I was watching the game. He had bought 150 cases of Meister Brau, but was running out, and asked if I could bring more over. So I put about 150 cases on the truck, and he took it all. When we got there on Monday morning he was out of beer again. That was a nice feeling.” John adds, “Both Jack and Wally bought station wagons. Many, many times guys would call them on the weekends and they would throw 30 cases in the back of the station wagon, and bring it out.” True titans of customer service, indeed.

Distributor Profile: Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. Celebrates 130 Years of Busines

LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT LOCATION

House #16 Senate #8 Congressional #9

LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS SERVICED

House #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 ,27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 69, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 97, 98

Senate #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 39, 40, 41, 42

Congressional #2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10

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Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. is celebrating 130 years as a premier distributor in Chicagoland. Five generations of the Glunz family have had a hand in their success, and it’s this legacy that is also shaping their future. From life-long learning through education, to a renewed commitment to building face-to-face relationships, the future of Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. is secure because of their commitment to the people that make their operation possible.

Glunz Beer

THE ORIGIN STORY

The Glunz family has been there since the very beginning of the Chicago beer industry. The American dream is realized in their story, and in the legacy of Louis Glunz, an immigrant from Germany and the first in a six-generation family business now known as Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. In 1879, Louis emigrated from Paderborn, Germany with his neighbor, Oscar Mayer. He eventually made his way to Chicago where business was booming as the city recovered from the fire of 1871. During this time Schlitz Brewery sent down tankers of water from Milwaukee as well as a donation of beer to the city. After moving to Chicago, Louis worked for Wacker-Birk Brewing Company and befriended Charles Wacker, the owner. When Chicago got back on its feet, Mr. Wacker asked him if he would be interested in starting a distribution business. Louis Glunz bought a shop at the corner of Wells and Division and started a wine, spirits, and beer store which is still there today. He and his family lived behind the shop and bottled beer in the basement to sell in baskets at local taverns. The rest, as they say, is history.

Louis Glunz Beer
Louis Glunz Beer

ADAPTING TO EXPAND

Schlitz first became the largest beer producer in the US in 1902, and that title came and went through the 1950’s. Jack Glunz started bringing in other breweries in the 70’s, first Becks from Germany, and then Augsburger out of Wisconsin, and then Molson from Canada, selling over a million cases in the state of Illinois alone, along with the rest of their portfolio sales. As the major players in the industry changed, the business had to evolve and leadership looked for new opportunities in the market.

We don’t want to look at what happened yesterday, we want to look at what’s going to happen tomorrow.
— Jerry Glunz

This is the theme of the Glunz family story, the key to their success, generation after generation. They invested in small, local startup “micro breweries” in the 90’s which would grow into the first wave of craft beer as we know it today. Not everyone was on board with micros in the beginning, but the Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. anchored a small network of people looking to get craft brands into the hand of consumers. According to President Jerry Glunz, “We believed in the movement since the beginning and it ended up being a large part of our growth and expansion.” In addition to their growing craft beer segment, they doubled down on their imports portfolio. “We don’t want to look at what happened yesterday, we want to look at what’s going to happen tomorrow.” 

Louis Glunz Beer
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Louis Glunz Beer

BELIEVE IN PEOPLE

The most important value to the Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. today is their commitment to their team. “My parents believed that their biggest asset was their employees and we believe the same thing today" said CFO Janet Bischoff. "That door won’t open, that first case won’t sell, it won’t get loaded on that truck, and it won’t get ordered without our team of employees.” So a profit sharing program was introduced in 1992 based on years of experience, not based on title or salary. “It’s how many years you have put in to make this company successful.” Company leadership also encourages children of employees to get into the business, starting with summer jobs or working in the warehouse. Imports Manager John Glunz Jr. added, “At one point, we had three generations of one family working for us. We are the fourth generation and our nephews are the fifth and the sixth generation has been born. We are a family business.”

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EMBRACING EDUCATION

With the emergence of craft beer, the company chose to focus on education, which quickly became another core value of their business. It was all about teaching their people about beer so they could go out and preach about it. Jerry explained how this works in reality. “Then we would educate our customers, the retailers. We would do classes for retail managers, and server classes, and then classes in the bars and liquor stores to train their customers. We just kept evolving our value add through education.” 

You are never done, you’ve never learned everything, you always need to be looking for something to expand your knowledge.
— Jerry Glunz

Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. still believes in education and teaching the story of beer, and so they have invested in education at every level of the company. Sales training, training with breweries, and national management training is all part of the daily company culture. Jerry said, "You are never done, you’ve never learned everything, you always need to be looking for something to expand your knowledge.”

PREDICTING THE FUTURE

What’s the future of the beer industry? Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. predicts it will be imports. Right now they are seeing a lot of incredible growth with lambics, with smaller breweries, and trappist breweries. Jerry said, “We have six of the eight trappists in the world and we feel that as people evolve to be better, knowledgeable drinkers, they are going to want to evolve to the imports.” They compare this to the same evolution that happened in the wine industry since the 60’s and 70’s, when wine was in jugs and on draft. Janet added, “Look at where the wine industry is today. Besides liquor, it is the fast growing beverage industry in alcohol. People have become educated, taken the time to learn, they are doing tons of tastings at retail, retailers on premise have increased their wine selection, where they are selling $15/glass wine without batting an eye. It’s an evolution. The wine industry didn’t get where they are today with speciality wines and wines from all over the world overnight. We are on that same path. People are becoming more educated, more discerning.”

Louis Glunz Beer


For the Louis Glunz Beer however, their bet on the future is bigger than imports. They are betting on the next generation. Jerry captured this ethos. “We need to teach the future generations, guiding them, helping them, and making them as strong as possible.”

We need to teach the future generations, guiding them, helping them, and making them as strong as possible.
— Jerry Glunz

Marketing & Social Media Consulting Sessions

ABDI and Matt Tanaka Marketing

 

We've partnered with Matt Tanaka Marketing, the beer industry marketing consultants to perform five digital marketing and social media consulting sessions with some of our members.

We wish this was a service we could offer to everyone, and hopefully someday we can. For now, we're taking requests for any distributor that might like to take part.  To apply, fill out the form below. Spots are limited, so don't delay! 

 
Name *
Name

 

The Agenda

Each consulting session will include a pre-meeting phone call to set an agenda, as well as a half day in-person training and consulting session. 

Matt Tanaka will lead you and your team through a number of branding exercises and online marketing scenarios, as well as equip you with best practices for how to begin to use, or improve existing digital marketing strategies. Topics covered will include: 

 

Social Media For Distributors
Social media marketing is important - no one is debating that, but there's a question that plagues beer distributors the country over -- does it really matter to a distributor? Our answer is yes, it does. 

Good social media is about providing unique access to something that people care about, and distributors have a ton of access. From your breweries, to your events, venues and beer personalities, you have a wealth of interesting content that beer fans in your market are looking for. Plus, if you do it well, it can help provide an audience to put your brands in front of in a local context. 

We will help wrestle through these questions, as well as being to define a social media strategy. We'll work with your team to put together a social media content calendar and start developing content. 

Online Advertising
Digital ads allow for advertisers to be incredibly specific and targeted in their approach. Are you launching a new product focused on millennials in urban environments who would describe themselves as "foodies?" You can use Facebook ads to place announcements directly into their feed. 

We will talk through the options, as well as help your team define a strategy and budget to begin an advertising campaign. 

Website Design
In 2017, if you don't have a website, you don't exist. Simply put, potential customers are looking for information online, and you want them to find you. Say a new restaurant opens in your territory, and they have a first-time beverage director who doesn't know the brands. The first thing they'll do is Google, "how do I order beer?" You want your information to appear as a result in that search.

We will talk through options for building website (from affordable to completely custom), or perform an audit on your existing site to point out ways that the site can be improved or tweaked. 

Video Marketing
According to Forbes, video will account for 80% of all consumer internet traffic in four years… and it’s no shock that 60% of marketers report to have used video in their marketing plans in 2016.

We will discuss how video can impact your brand, boost your relevancy in the market place and help grow sales, as well as different options for producing that content. 

Event Promotion And Planning
Events are key to a brewery's success. But in a market where restaurants, bars, and breweries are all competing for attention, you need to do something to stand out. Something more than just a standard tap takeover. It's much more powerful to build the kind of experiences that give beer drinkers lasting connections to the breweries you host. That's how you win fans. 

We will talk through your event strategy and work with your team to brainstorm events that reach consumers in a deeper way. 

 

 
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About Matt Tanaka Marketing

Matt Tanaka Marketing is a marketing and design studio built specifically for the beer industry. They equip breweries, retailers, distributors and festivals across the country with the tools and strategies they need to reach their customers. 

On the distribution side, Matt Tanaka Marketing has worked with numerous wholesalers, from startups to third generation family companies. . They build websites, write social media strategies, plan unique events, build brands, design logos and packaging, and more, all in an effort to reach more customers and ultimately, sell more beer. 

 
 

Photos From The 2017 ABDI Conference

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Distributor Profile: Chicago Beverage Systems

LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT LOCATION
House #10 Senate #5 Congressional #7

LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS SERVICED

House #2, 3, 4,5,6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 25, 26 ,27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40, 78

Senate #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 39

Congressional #1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 

A COMMITMENT TO IMPROVEMENT

When Reye Beverage purchased what would become Chicago Beverage Systems in 1979, the company was delivering under a million cases a year with only three brands: Miller Lite, Miller High Life and Löwenbräu. “At that point,” estimates President Jim Doney, “total company market share was probably about 5% or 6%... and now we’re over 60 share.”

Today, the company operates from a 298,000 square foot, state-of-the- art facility on the city’s West Side, and represents the largest portfolio of imported, craft beer and domestic brands in Chicago. They deliver close to 8 million cases of beer each year to more than 2,200 retailers across the city. When asked what contributed to that massive growth, Jim says, “Over the year’s we’ve kept plugging away. We knew long term that Miller or Anheuser-Busch would be the overall major players in Chicago, so that drove us everyday when we were out getting our butts kicked. Sure enough, that’s come true.”

“Another key factor” he continues, “was that the Reyes’ were relentless in pushing us to be the best and most competitive team that we could be... and as we started accumulating more brands, gained more strength, and grew more efficient in how we ran the business, we became a much stronger distributor.”

SUCCEED AS ONE: A MISSION STATEMENT AND A MANTRA

Chicago Beverage Systems' mission statement, “Succeed As One” is really more of a mantra. It starts every meeting, every presentation, every call. It’s emblazoned on polos, it’s on powerpoint decks, and was mentioned by nearly every employee we talked to.

A key pillar to that success is a passionate, engaged, and well-informed team — and they’ve spent a lot of time and resources solidifying that fact. They have truly put their money where there mouths are. Chris Ashby, SVP of Sales explains, “Most of our employees are in a training class of some kind on a weekly basis, whether it’s through a Chicago Beverage course, a Reyes Holdings course or a supplier course. We like to consider ourselves best in class in the area of employee development and that’s really important to us.”

An early adopter of the importance of the Cicerone Certification Program, Chicago Beverage has placed a premium on building a team of educated sales people by giving them the resources they need to earn that certification. “We’ll do a training class, for example, around German beers at an authentic German restaurant in Chicago, pairing the beers with German food and talking about the water characteristics that make it unique to that region, or the different hops, malts and yeast strains used in the beer.”

This certification is no laughing matter — it’s an incredibly difficult test that requires its takers to know the deepest ins and outs of the beer they’re selling. “I like to brag that because
our sales territory is so compact” says Jim Doney, “that we have more Level 2 Cicerone’s per square mile than any other distributor in the country. And no one’s been able to prove me wrong on that so far!” 

FROM CHICAGO, FOR CHICAGO.

Chicago Beverage System’s Chicago sales territory is compact and highly concentrated. As a result, the company puts a premium on understanding the needs of their customers, and works with their supplier partners to design programming that works for the city. VP of Marketing, Jim Vogel explains, “Some of the things that might work at a Walmart in downstate Illinois, won’t fit in a small store in Chicago. We work with our suppliers to help them develop pieces that work here. We’re local experts and try and coach our suppliers on what’s going to work in our market.” They employ technologies and constant communication with their brand teams and suppliers to ensure the needs of the suppliers are being met, and balanced with the needs of the customers. 

THE FUTURE OF THE BEER INDUSTRY

Chicago Beverage System’s focus on improvement means that they’re constantly looking to the future. They’re doing today what they know will help them win tomorrow. We asked team members what they saw as the future of the beer industry, and here’s what they said: 

BLAKE YANICS
“I’d say first and foremost, we want to maintain a strong three tier system in the state of Illinois. We’ve got to continue to work closely with brewers of all sizes to keep that system strong.”

Mary Lou Polycyn
“A comittment to being green is going to continue to be a big part of our industry, whether it’s with biodiesel fuel, the way we run our equipment, our suppliers, or our buildings and materials.”

Mike Skully
“Shelf space isn’t getting any bigger, but breweries continue to open up daily. At the end of the day local beer will continue to be big, but quality beer will become more important. In the next 5-10 years the variety will continue but if a brewery isn’t making good product, it’s not going to survive.”

Chris Ashby
“I think innovation is going to continue to be critical in the brewing industry — that we have products in the years to come that are able to capture the minds and wallets of millennial consumers and can get people to look at beer as they’re first choice in beverage.”