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of new small labels, she feels like it would be a disservice to a supplier to accept their brand without being able to represent them properly. Other distributors agreed, and several emphasized the importance of the supplier-distributor relationship. Huston and others said they are looking for long-term partnerships with every brand they represent, and that brand must be willing to provide support by going on ride-alongs, working in-market, etc. If the brand is not able to do that, there are plenty of others that can. “It’s really about creating value that a distributor sees in you,” added Henry Preiss of Preiss Imports. “If you’re going to be in the best of the specialty distributors, the bottom line is they have to want you.” Scott Winters of the American Spirits Exchange has worked with thousands of brands, and he said that while finding distribution can be a big challenge, it also “presupposes you’ve gotten to a certain level in your business development, and are looking to expand into multiple states.” Winters says brands typically fail for reasons other than a lack of distribution, and those reasons often fall into three categories:

“But the problem is yes, we can present this material, but you can’t make somebody learn it.”

MAKING IT ON THE SHELF Binny’s Beverage Depot’s spirits buyer Brett Pontoni said they bet on craft spirits early in the game and he is glad they did: “Quite frankly from a big box retail perspective it made no sense whatsoever, from space allocation to everything else that was going on. It turns out in that case we made the big bet.” With so many new spirits on the market though, getting the bottles from the distillery to retail shelves is becoming more complicated for both suppliers and distributors. Even so, Pontoni says distributors that commit the extra time and effort to work with numerous small producers are often rewarded for it. “There’s margin in craft, and if I were a big distributor I would very seriously consider taking on a very solid craft spirits book,” he said. While craft may mean more work per tonnage sold, Pontoni said the margins are often better. Distillers on the panel agreed that their greatest challenge is often finding good distributors. The number of new products is crowding shelf space, and that is creating a lot of congestion for suppliers, retailers, and distributors — especially specialty distributors. “I probably have to turn down one to three portfolios a day at this point,” shared Winebow spirits buyer Monique Huston. She says it’s tough to do because many of the new products are very good, but since her sales representatives are already marketing lots

1. They don’t understand their product and who will buy it repeatedly.

2. They don’t understand the regulatory landscape of their state and the states they want to move into.

3. They get very excited about their product but don’t

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Profile for Artisan Spirit Magazine

Artisan Spirit: Winter 2016  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Winter 2016  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.