Ronchetti Distributing Company roots run deep, all the way back to the turn of the century in southern Illinois. The founder, Felix Ronchetti worked in the coal mines, and he got into the beer business on the side with Pabst. He saw the need for beer in the area, and slowly grew the business while still working in the mines. When Felix moved to Nokomis, IL in 1914 he went to Budweiser, and soon after the business really started taking off and he was able to work full time at the distributorship. Ronchetti Distributing Company has been with Anheuser-Busch since 1914 and current President, Robert Ronchetti, is the third generation of this family legacy.
Customer Service From Day One
In the early days, it was the one-on-one relationship with people that grew the business. Felix took care of people, especially other people in the business. Tavern owners often told Robert and his father later that they were in the bar business because of him. Felix took care of the local people through his success with Budweiser.
“What most people care about today is beer and the bottom line, and that customer service has been lost.” A key to their success today in a more rural area is making sure their personal relationships are strong. However, Robert also believes that 51% of the business is good product. Fortunately, their commitment to Anheuser-Busch has ensured they have a quality product base, which is their foundation even in the midst of the proliferation of SKUs and the growth of craft beer. Ultimately, Robert reminds us, “It still comes down to what the customer likes and wants.”
Beer vs. Beverage
When Ronchetti Distributing Company first started there was an opportunity to expand into liquor and wine, but they decided to focus on beer as that part of the business took off. This was a common decision at the time, and for many decades following. It remained a successful strategy for many years, but what’s old is new again, and beer distributors are becoming beverage distributors once again. Robert reminds us of the customer presence in these portfolio decisions. “Ultimately, distributing water and seltzer is being driven by customer interests and trends.”
For most of Ronchetti Distributing Company’s history, they have been focused on commonly available Anheuser-Busch products. As customer interest has evolved, their portfolio has expanded as well. They are now selling some of the Anheuser-Busch craft brands and have expanded other offerings too, including a local brewery and imports like Stella Artois. Robert says, “Our role with the small craft brand is to get the word out, celebrate the story, and raise awareness of the local product. We oftentimes talk about Riggs Brewery, and their goal of growing a large portion of ingredients on their farm.”
Innovating to Adapt
Robert still has a sales ticket from 1973, which included three brands of beer for a total of three SKUs. For a small distributor like Ronchetti, they are now sitting with 60-70 brands and 300 SKUs, and are learning how to succeed in this new reality. They handle this growth by continuing to watch sales and adjusting routes weekly. This constant adjustment has pushed Robert to consider some innovative solutions to ensure the sustainability of the distributorship. One such idea is considering going to four day work week, with 10 hour days to maximize efficiency of the routes. However, one thing that will never change for Ronchetti Distributing Company is the legacy and commitment to customer service. Robert wisely reminds us that there is no better replacement for a face-to-face meeting with a customer, and that will always live alongside the push to constantly evaluate and innovate.