30 years in business for LaMonica Beverages, located in Loves Park, IL, means celebrating and getting back to their roots as a company. Even with the rapid increase in the number of products, increased technology in the business, and the dominance of craft beer, the critical foundation remains the same - building lasting relationships with people. It’s how the business was founded, how it weathered the inevitable ups and downs, and how LaMonica Beverages thrives today.
It’s Still All About The People
Michael LaMonica Sr. worked for Anheuser-Busch as VP of Sales and Marketing when he took over Bell Beverage and became the owner of the distributor that continues to carry his name. Michael Sr. took the opportunity in 1988, and today, Rick LaMonica, Merchandise Manager, and Mike LaMonica Jr., President, own the business and carry on the family tradition. Michael Sr. brought to the business the Anheuser-Busch way after having been so deeply involved in the company culture. The distributor became more corporate feeling, in sync with being an AB distributor, which helped put critical structures in place. But Michael Sr. was smart enough to keep the business local and invested in the community. He sent local bankers to St. Louis to pitch investing in their business instead of just using St. Louis banks, and that sense of re-investing locally was important to him. That tradition continues today.
While other distributor and business owners disappeared after they took over, Michael Sr. became very visible around town. He hopped on the truck and met everyone, and it made a difference. He got out, saw the market, learned the market, and his sons did the same as they joined the business. There has been a lot of consolidation in the industry, but they have stayed put. Mike Jr. says, “We aren’t just present in the community through charitable giving or local support - we actually live here, we see it, we feel it, and we are actually local.”
Carefully Growing Their Portfolio
At the heart of the business, LaMonica Beverages is a loyal Anheuser-Busch distributorship. In the 90’s, they brought in the Corona brands. LaMonica Beverages is extremely proud of the teamwork between Constellation and LBI to grow brands like Modelo Especial, Corona Familiar and Corona Premier. Our partnerships with ABI and Constellation are crucial to our success. There was a real explosion of the Goose Island brands when AB bought them, and it opened their eyes to the potential power of craft beer. Now, they carry a range of craft brands including Bells Brewery, Founders Brewing, Shiner Bock, Ballast Point, Alaskan Brewing, SweetWater Brewery, and Breckenridge Brewery, to name a few. The balancing act with craft is the impulse to increase choice, and the leadership at LaMonica strongly believes that too many choices can actually be a detriment to the consumer, the brewers, and the distributor. It’s important as a craft brand to differentiate your IPA from the crowd, and make sure it’s really good. The tension for the distributor, and their challenge now, is to make savvy choices about how many and which products to carry in order to keep the product fresh and selling. “We are great at saying yes to brands, but we aren’t very good at saying no, but then you walk through the warehouse and there are 800 types of seasonal beers, and it’s too much. A priority for us is local, and that’s high value because there is an important story to tell.”
Predicting the Future
The LaMonica Beverages leadership emphasized that they don’t see a lot of potential survival in the industry if portfolios don’t include beer as well as hard seltzers, wine and spirits, and non-alcoholic. To put it bluntly, if distributors don’t find a way to maximize deliveries when their trucks are going to stores anyway, Mike and Rick predicted they would be losing. Beer distributors need to evolve to be beverage distributors. Rick summed it up nicely: “We have to diversify, and the old model of just being a beer distributor is gone.”