5 Ways to Manage Distillery and Distributors Relations
It doesn’t matter whether your distillery is beholden to the three-tier monopoly, or free from those shackles. Your distillery still needs a healthy relationship with distributors to survive as a business. They are the gatekeepers, and the only way to open that gate is to keep them happy. What keeps them happy is simple. Money. Keep the money coming in for them, and they will swing those doors wide open. Making money goes beyond raw sales though. A distillery needs to be a well-oiled cog in the distribution machine. The squeaky wheel may get the grease in the adage, but in the distribution game, it gets dropped. Don't be the squeaky wheel. Be the one that keeps everything running smooth.
1. Keep in Touch
But don't badger them. Working with a distributor is a relationship. Always be easy to reach, and check in every so often if you don't hear from them for a while. Let them know about any changes or shifts in your inventory, production, or marketing plans. Also, keep things friendly, but professional. Distributors get slammed with vendor and supplier requests on a daily basis. Don’t drone on and on and on about your vacation or the weather.
2. Your Rep is a Person
It is sometimes easy to let our frustrations with the three-tier system, or whatever bureaucracies we deal with, get the better of us to the point where it becomes easy to place all the blame on the person in front of you. Almost all the reps and people you interact with on the distribution side of things are working stiffs who have no real say in how things are handled. Chances are, they are just as frustrated as you, or more so. After all, they are still working in distribution when you hang up the phone. You get to go back to distilling spirits. Don’t forget that.
3. Be Realistic and Honest
Every distillery wants to be successful, and make everyone who could be a customer into
a customer. That is easier said than done, especially when first starting out. Don’t let your hopes and dreams muddle your mind to the point they interfere with the reality of what you and your distillery can do. Keep your promises, and meet your obligations. As tempting as it can be to take on a big order, don’t do it unless you are sure you can fill it. If your distillery flakes too many times, it can ruin your professional reputation and doom you to failure.
4. Know Your Market
No one knows your brand better than you. Make sure you communicate what your market is to your distributor. That way they can help make sure that your hooch doesn’t just make it on store shelves, but the right store shelves where it will move better.
5. Stable Inventory
Distributors want what they need when they need it. If they build a channel for your product, they want you to keep that product coming. A distillery that can't meet orders loses money, and the distributor also loses money. They don't like that. Keep up the numbers you promised. Let your distributor know if there is going to be any change in how many bottles you will be producing in a given time. Also, let them know if there is a planned product shift. For example, if your distillery decides to produce more flavored whiskeys, let them know beforehand.