When we last left this seemingly never ending series of posts we examined some of the better ways to get people to try your beers (I note that Moondog had a ‘showcase’ pack in stores last week, perhaps they have been reading the blog, would have thought they had better things to do, like changing the face of the Australian beer industry) but hell everyone loves free/cheap beer so how do you covert the trial into sales?
Now although this chapter is called – ‘Getting people to buy’ it could more correctly be called ‘distribution’. As with all the other areas we have looked at there are a lot of things to consider.
Let’s start with the obvious: On premise vs off premise, or in consumer speak on tap vs bottles. The approaches to these are different by brewery, some will decide to be keg only, some bottle only and some a mixture of the two.
Tap only seems to be the approach of smaller breweries, I’m going to postulate for three main reasons 1. Beer geeks who make up a large portion of the nano-breweries market drink in pubs more often that the regular person, and they will always, and I do mean always, try every new beer they see. 2. Kegs mean you don’t have to spend money on bottling lines or a huge amount of time hand bottling. 3. If you brew say 800L batches that’s ‘only’ 16 kegs, say if each adventurous pub is willing to take one then you only need to find 16 pubs – by the time you’ve done the rounds of the normal suspects in Melbourne The Local Taphouse, Beer Deluxe, Penny Blue, Great Northern, Dejavu, the Royston, the Courthouse and Mrs Parma’s then all you need to do is convince a couple of mates who no doubt work in pubs somewhere to take a keg and you’re done, see how easy I made that sound!
It is mandatory that whenever I’m discussing the industry at large I discuss Thunder Road, so let’s get it out of the way. These guys aren’t small players and yet they are on premise only. Why? I’m sure there is a range of business reasons but let’s think about the marketing. What I think is one of the most interesting elements of on premise drinking is the social nature of it. Chances are you are not drinking alone in a pub, chances are you are discussing your beer with your drinking buddies, chances are someone you know has answered ‘Whatever you’re having’ when you ask what beer they want as you head to the bar for your shout. This is why on premise is so important for the visibility of the brand and in building communities of brand fans.
Of course I think this strategy works best if it is backed up with being available in bottles as well. How much more popular would Thunder Road be if they had the extensive tap presence they currently have (at least in their home market Melbourne) as well as being available in Uncle Dan’s as well, although given their combative nature towards CUB, signing a major packaged liquor chain might be difficult.
You have to also consider how your choice of venues to be distributed in affects your brand image. Fat Yak from Matilda Bay is available widely in pubs and mainstream bottle shops and I think this makes some people (okay beer geeks) seem to think that this somehow makes it a lesser product. On the flip side if you are available in the handful of great craft beer venues then there is some expectation that the beer is going to blow your mind. Again I come back to Thunder Road, if I walked into the Burvale Hotel I would be excited to find Thunder Road on tap, but when I walk into the Royston and see it, it annoys me. Although I have to admit I am constantly astounded to see how many people at the Local Taphouse will be drinking a Trumers Pils, Pilsener Urquell or some other light lager.
This brings us to geography. How far do you want to distribute? Now there are some clear operational issues here as well, beer is heavy and a bugger to ship anywhere. Any brewery that can make a living only distributing within a close radius of the brewery would be very happy, and setting themselves up for an easier workday spent brewing rather than delivering kegs across town. But again let’s look at it from a marketing point of view.
It is significantly better to concentrate on a smaller geographic area than trying to appease every person on your facebook page whinging that you don’t send your beer from Perth to Melbourne or vice versa. As much as people claim to have a local that ‘they always drink at’ that’s generally not true, they might have four or five venues around their home and another three or four around their work where they drink/eat/socialise. What builds real loyalty is making sure your beer is in all the pubs in the area, not just one, this is when a beer can become a regular choice.
This makes me wonder why breweries don’t aggressively go after areas. 2Brothers do a nice job of this down in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne near their brewery. But why aren’t people trying to really ‘own’ an area, why not go after Bendigo or Ballarat? It’s got to be easier than trying to compete for tap space in North Fitzroy.
Of course all of this implies that breweries can control their distribution, and let’s face it that’s not true. Unfortunately most breweries don’t sell directly to the public, they are relying on pubs willing to but their beer on, not being tied to a major brewery through tap contracts and of course don’t have capacity issues. But hey this is a blog not a business, I don’t have to deal with commercial realities.