The legacy of Brewers Distributing is the beer, of course. With an amazing portfolio of suppliers, and a family commitment to being the best in customer service, the Brewers Distributing story is a really good one. However, an equally important legacy emerges through their history, and it turns out the Brewers Distributing employees and the surrounding community do a lot more than drink good beer together. Read on for the real story about how this beer family also doubles as “second first responders” for their town.
In Search of Refrigeration
Brewers Distributing was started in 1934 by the Koch family, owners of local grocery stores. After Prohibition ended, Adolphus Busch III approached them in search of refrigeration for his product. At the time many of the only people with commercial refrigeration were grocers, so the Koch family agreed and distributed Anheuser Busch products until 1974. Walter F. Jacob (“Budd”) moved with his family to Peoria in 1968, where he and Kurth Koch became friends. Kurt didn’t have any family members that wanted to continue the business, which was struggling at the time due to the presence of the Pabst flagship brewery in Peoria Heights. Budd bought in in 1974 and purchased the rest of the shares in 1978 and become the sole owner. When Pabst closed in 1982 there was a large boycott of Pabst products in the area and Brewers Distributing took off, and the rest as they say, is history.
Budd’s Sales Strategy
“My Dad was a trench warfare guy. He knew we needed to win the battle in the on-premise before we could win the war in the off-premise.” Paul Jacob, President
When Budd was first running the business, 70% of sales were on-premise and 30% were off-premise, and today it is completely reversed. His focus and determination on-premise very quickly led to Brewers’ domination in that segment. Once the on-premise segment was developed, he set his sights on the ever growing off-premise of which Brewers had a very low share. Due to his relationship building skills and those of his team, slowly but surely the tides began to shift. Brewers currently holds a 55% share of their off-premise market.
Budd was also a big believer in community involvement, and at any fair, festival, or concert in the area, the portfolio of brands were represented. According to Paul, “My dad was an incredibly hard worker -- he was out there seven days a week. He went face-to-face, and was constantly on the street for those first few years until he got a really good crew around him that he could rely on to continue his relationship building strategy.”
Community Comes First
For the Brewers Distributing team, their focus is being the market leader and the best in service and support with customers and suppliers. The front line people make a huge difference and give the customer the best experience from start to finish. Paul talks about the legacy of community service at the Company as a core value. “We encourage everyone in the company to participate in their local community. Schools, churches, charitable organizations - we have always backed them up and given them the time to get involved and provided financial resources to do that.”
But it goes beyond just volunteering regularly. Brewers Distributing is at the heart of so many community events, and is the first to show up when things get tough. Pauls recounts one such event:
“About five years ago we had a F5 tornado that blew away half the town of Washington. We got a call from one of our employees, and a group of us were out there handing out water and other supplies before the Red Cross showed up. We also acted as the hub for bringing in supplies and donations, and brought the supplies out to first responders as needed. Our entire warehouse was full of canned water, fruit, flashlights, everything. We almost act as a second first responder. We come together as a community to help each other out.”
The beer industry looks a lot different today than it did years ago. According to Paul Jacob, “The Company’s previous President, my brother, George F. Jacob recognized the evolving trends in the marketplace. He began in earnest to acquire new brands both imports and craft.” Today, more people are drinking a wide variety of beers and aren’t always as brand loyal. As a distributor it’s harder because of the increased number of SKU’s, but Paul reminds his team that it’s important to listen to what the consumer wants. And he’s grateful the technology has kept pace with the increase of suppliers. There is still opportunity in the midst of the changing beer culture and the brand portfolio is key. The team at Brewers Distributing is focused on intently listening to consumers as they continue to evolve and discover what they are interested in trying and drinking. “It’s what keeps us successful. The market and consumer tastes change quickly, and you must be able to adjust and go to retail with the knowledge and insights of a rapidly evolving environment.”