beer still a second-class citizen?

I had an interesting experience yesterday that I would like to share. In my never-ending quest to gain knowledge and enhance my beer experience, I went into a wine and beer store yesterday to see if they needed a “beer guy” to add to their arsenal of help.

I’m always looking for a good opportunity and like to keep myself flexible for such things when they come up, so I thought this might be a good avenue to get into the business, since I don’t have any “job” experience in beer. (That’s why blogs are awesome, because no one asks you how long you’ve been a doing so and so before you can start one. Then again, maybe that’s why blogs aren’t good. Either way, I digress…)

On with my story. So I go in and ask if they are looking for help on their sales team, and the general manager first asks me how much wine experience I have. Now, having none, I figured this could be a sticking point. I didn’t think, “Well, I’ve drank wine before,” would be a good answer. I simply answered that I did not have much, but I was very much into beer and I felt that with training, perhaps I could acquire similar skills with wine.

The GM went on to say (he was very nice) that they look for top-level wine people in their hires, and that from day 1 they need to be able to handle customers and make recommendations based on food pairings, etc. I wasn’t going to pretend I could do that right off the bat, so I asked, “What about beer?”

His response to this is what floored me so much. He more or less said that they really don’t care about their beer inventory. They have a wide selection of macro and craft beer, but the margins are so small it isn’t worth it for them to allocate resources to provide customer service for their beer selection. He said they “give away their beer” and they were much better off using all their resources to sell wine, which is where they made all their profit.

He went on to say that they consciously do not want their associates dedicated to that area, and “as long as they know the basic styles and the difference between an ale and a lager, that’s enough.” Maybe it’s because I love beer, but I could not imagine that a store that held such high standards of knowledge and expertise of wine for their employees would have such a low standard for craft beer.

I’m not advocating they reconfigure their store to add more beer inventory and hire a slew of beer fanatics. I understand that retailers survive by selling the most of their high margin items. However, if they do make at least some profit on beer, why not have at least one person on staff that is an expert on that area? If nothing else, it could help draw in craft beer lovers, and I’m sure they would cross sell wine when those customers come into the store.

As much as I love beer, I do like to enjoy the occasional bottle of wine. If I had a good relationship with that retailer, I would be more inclined to buy my beer and wine from them, rather than just picking up a bottle from Publix while I’m grocery shopping. Maybe my market segment isn’t big enough to justify the expense of one employee.

It all seemed a little short-sighted to me. Then again, I am a little biased. And what do I know? I’ve never worked retail.


About Brian

I like beer.
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5 Responses to beer still a second-class citizen?

  1. Steve says:

    Hi Brian, wish you could name names!

    There’s a certain “discount” beer and wine location that I will never go back to due to a lack of customer service that created an very frustrating situation for me. That being said, they did have a few folks that seemed to know about the beer.

    I recently went by Whole Foods out on Woodruff Road. They have expanded their beer selection and I was approached by a fellow that offered to answer questions and seemed to have a good bit of knowledge!



  2. Evans says:

    Man, even with the haircut, no luck.

    They just have people in there to sucker buyers into buying more expensive bottles of wine because they taste “better” with their tofu. No offense to your wine drinking readers :)

    You should market your beer as the wine of beers, complete with high price and see if you can change the culture.

  3. Fred says:

    Keeps the beer prices down, we get quality, w/o rediculous markup.

    Went to Spartanburg Spring Fling last weekend, and there were beer stands set up, but only AB was represented. Last time I checked, RJ Rockers is the local brewery. So, how the #$%#%#$Q! does this happen.

    Someone do some investigating and find out. It would make a VERY interesting story.

    In Greenville, on Fridays, for the jazz nights, there used to be an independent stand that had a large selection of hand crafted beers. Now in the same spot, is a big AB truck–conveniently parked right in front of Blue Ridge Brewing.

    So, does anyone know what happened to the independent truck with the large selction of beers?

    Visit a winery, and they sell the product out of their farm. Visit a microbrewery, and we go through the 3-tier law—hardly seems fair. No chance at a pico-brewery in that scheme.

    So wine vs beer is interesting, but it is BEER vs beer that is so troubling.

    I did some research about 6 years ago, and AB had in their online strategic plans, that they in fact insured that the distributors sold a certain % of their product. This is in a 3-tier system, where the distributor is independent from the brewery (or wholesaler). So, explain why people say, oh down there by the AB distributor. Hmm, no such thing in SC. Those AB distributors are supposed to be distributors of a variety of products.

    AB also had in the strategy that the AB products had to be in direct line of site to the door of a convenince store, pushing the other beers off to the sides. Once again, these are distributors, and in this SHAM system, they are supposed to be independent. No one entity can occupy more than 1 tier simultaneously. But in reality they own the top 2.

    Sorry, beer vs wine, I forgot.

    Anti-trust was created to stop what AB now does with the free support of laws which entrench their product.

    Budweiser sucks, so given the choice between BEER and wine, I’ll chose wine, because in most public events, I’m damn sure not chosing Bud, because Budweiser Sucks–and that is my pathetic choices.

    Now with beer vs wine, I’ll choose beer.

    • Brian says:


      I totally agree, the 3-tier system needs work. On certain levels, it’s good, but as with anything, I think it’s become slightly corrupted over the years and the original intent is often lost. Such as, a brewery not having direct control over the distributor.

      As for RJ Rockers lack of presence at the Spring Fling, I asked Mark Johnsen, the brewmaster at RJR, what the deal was. He said that A-B owns Spring Fling, so that would explain the lack of any other products available. Having lots of money can have its advantages.

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