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Are the Big Stores Good for Craft Beer?

I was at the Total Wine in Boca Raton last night for the wonderful fundraiser that I was advertising last night and I got to thinking.  I thought about a subject that some of my friends and I have talked about before.  It’s sort of a controversial topic because it seems to really get some peoples’ juices flowing.  And that is what I hope by this article.  I want to hear all of your thoughts on this.  And the topic is pretty much are big stores good for craft beer?

Now and days you can go to a lot of large name liquor or grocery stores and find craft beer.  You have your Total Wines, BevMo, Publix, Whole Foods, Wegmans.  The list goes on really.  But some people think that this large expansion and spot light for craft beer isn’t good.  The main argument I always hear is that they put small beer stores out of business.  While I won’t say that has never happened I think it happens far less then some may think.

I know many in South Florida were upset when Case and Keg in Boca closed down at the end of 2009.  Many pointed blame directly at Total Wine in the same city.  People went even as far as calling Total Wine the “Walmart” of alcohol.  I think that is just absolute horseshit (yes I said it).  For the sake of not getting to in depth with my hatred for Walmart you just have to realize based on business ethics they are no where close to the same.  And calling them that is insulting to every man and woman that works for Total Wine.

People say that Total Wine doesn’t care about beer and is just trying to monetize a big movement for craft beer.  I can name a good amount of people that work for Total Wine locally and on the corporate level that care about beer.  I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Tuttle from the corporate offices of Total Wine a few months back and the man loves craft beer.  This is also the same company that gave me free tickets to a Total Wine beer class to give out to my fans.  Yes a small little beer blog like me received notice from a company that “doesn’t care about beer.”

And saying they are monetizing the craft beer movement?  Um yeah so is any number of bars and small beer stores as well.  What better job to have then make money doing something you love, like work in the beer industry.

Lastly one really big thing that I don’t think people realize is that if it weren’t for these big stores coming in and wanting to carry craft beer then the distributors wouldn’t be making as much money.  And if they aren’t making money then they can’t try to bring in new brewers to the area.  And a lack of new brews makes beer lovers sad.

In the past 12 months the always amazing folks at Fresh Beer have brought South Florida Victory, Southern Tier, Cigar City, Jolly Pumpkin, Summit, The Bruery, Magic Hat, Mikkeller, Nogne O, Shiner along with bringing Flying Dog and Terrapin back to the market after absences.  And a lot of that probably wouldn’t have been possible if some bigger stores weren’t around and giving more people the opportunity to buy craft beer.

Plus I thought the craft beer community was about that, community.  Bringing people together through beer.  And the way of doing that is by giving people more of a chance to get their hands on craft beer.  I love the fact that I see Dogfish Head and Rogue in my local Publix now.  It’s awesome to see a great selection of beer in Whole Foods.  Some Winn Dixie stores down here are even starting to carry craft beer.  It’s growing and it needs to be in the masses.

So in conclusion while small stores like BX Beer Depot here are really great that they are small, independently owned places that love their beer I think that your big places having craft beer are great too.  It is easier for a casual drinker to get hooked there.  I don’t want to see people go out of business at all.  Especially those that fight the good fight but I don’t think it is right to blame a bigger store that very well may have the same intentions of expanding craft beer.

What are your thoughts on this?

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  • Reply Amie

    I spent several years working primarily in the liquor store at Publix 435 in Gainesville, FL. I was the craft beer drinker (or so I thought at the time) in that store, and my manager came to me when it was time to expand the craft beer selection we offered. I was selling a lot of Abita Amber, one of two beers by Abita offered in our area of Florida. As our sales of Amber and Purple Haze grew, we were eventually able to get in more and more varieties. This wealth was spread to other nearby beer stores and bars, and they were able to increase their selection. This is just an example. Big stores can increase demand, which can bring more beer into an area. I think that large stores carrying various crafts is a good thing because it forces the suppliers in a given area to carry more craft beer. WIN!. 🙂 That being said, I still go to my local places for my beer first…

    July 2, 2010 at 8:57 am
  • Reply Joel

    Great post, Mike. Personally, I don’t know what I’d do without Total Wine. If it weren’t for Ed Roberts and the Total Wine beer classes I went to last year, I might very well be buying Smirnoff Ice for this holiday weekend. Sure, it’s popular to “hate on” big chain stores, but Total Wine has always delivered the products and service I expect in a business like theirs. I never got to check out Case & Keg, but from what I’ve heard through the grapevine, there were enough bad business decisions made to allow its eventual euthanization by Total Wine, rather than the fatal blow some make it out to be. Unfortunately for me I live in Boca and Total Wine is my only convenient option, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Next month I’ll be in Orlando & Tampa and will have a chance to check out some of the smaller places like Knightly Spirits. With all the advances south Florida has made in the past year, it still seems to lag far behind other states for craft beer availability, and Total Wine can only help bring the good stuff to the masses. I’d like to see more small stores that are focused mainly on beer, but I’ll take what I can get for now.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:17 am
  • Reply Vanessa

    I think you really hit the nail on the head, Mike.

    The bigger stores are there to expand people’s palates, so to speak. They reach out to an audience that BX for example is rarely going to have a chance to be exposed to; partially because of their off-the-beaten-path location, but also because they are a very niche business. The person who just happens to walk up the “craft beer” aisle at Total to get to the Shiner or (worse) the MGD 64, might have some cool packaging catch their eye, and bingo! You have someone picking up something they wouldn’t normally…and a craft beer drinker is born! 🙂

    I frequent BX and the little guys whenever I can, and I split a good portion (I think) of my homebrew supply purchases between them and the cheaper online stores. I want to see them succeed and would love to purchase local all the time, but alas, I am not yet a millionaire… 🙂

    July 2, 2010 at 9:28 am
  • Reply Mike

    Thanks guys. I love that you understand my point that they are helping spread the word of craft beer to new people. This isn’t about keeping beer all to yourself. While some places may not have all the best knowledge about the beer (grocery stores) people at Total Wine seem to love beer and seem to care about it’s growth.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:51 am
  • Reply Casey

    You got it spot on man. Places like Total Wine have got me hooked on many different types of beers which in turn has allowed me to meet many people in South Florida beer community. I like going to Total Wine, but I also enjoy spending time at the small places as well. I don’t want to see any store go out of business/get pushed out by the bigger guy, I just want to see more people get into craft beer.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm
  • Reply Big Tex

    I don’t begrudge the bigs to sell craft beer. I say let them. More craft beer for all as explained by others above.

    Yet, one point that I’d like to touch on regarding the little stores being pushed out of business by the likes of say Walmart (convenient bogeyman). There a good number of folks, myself included, that prefer to support small, local businesses whenever I can. Yet, economic forces can wreak havoc on them since their leverage is not nearly what the box stores have. The key, in my opinion, for their survival is to bring something to the table/market that the big box stores don’t. Case in point, there is a small grocer where my grandparents live (small town, pop. ~1500). Despite Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, and Tom Thumb being about 10 miles away (all of which are cheaper), they survive in part due to their meat market, which features German style sausages and cheeses. The recipe is their own. Additionally, they will butcher your kills during dear season. Bringing this back to beer, a local store here in Seattle has some kegs on tap… a tasting room of sorts. More over, they specialize in hard-to-find beers not found typically at the grocery store. They do well… they found a niche in which other businesses can’t compete.

    Simple message for the smaller stores: carve your niche!

    July 2, 2010 at 2:05 pm
  • Reply Dosbeerigos


    I thought about posting a followup for my blog about this topic tomorrow since it seems to be a “hot button” locally.

    1st of all let me say that I graduated with an entrepreneurship degree from FAU, I have started my own business, and gone through the ups and downs of owning a business. I also currently form companies for a living. I would like to think I understand the little guys approach to business.

    This said. Anyone that blames “big box retailers” for their business going under is ignorant. Small business should embrace large business and use their weaknesses as selling points. Customized and friendly service should top the list of things that keep the lights on for the little guys. While the small business does not have the purchasing power of the big boys, they still need to attempt to keep prices competitive. Mainly price items that are common in the larger stores as close as possible and then raise the price of the rare-er items to make up the difference.

    If it wasn’t for the Total Wines and the Bevmo’s of the world a large amount of people would not have had the opportunity to get into this wonderful community. I can honestly say Total Wine had a lot to do with my passion with the craft industry.

    At the end of the day we all need to find out niches to sell our products. Rather its customer service or selection, focusing on the strong points of business will help grow the entire community. There is nothing better than finding a small craft beer store, its like finding a diamond in the rough.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:22 pm
  • Reply Mike

    @Big Tex, absolute great point. There is a small place I mentioned, BX Beer Depot, and they are a home brew supply store as well as beer store. They put on beer events as well and that is their niche that makes them standout.

    @Phil, you’re right and are expanding a bit on what Big Tex said about finding a niche to make yourself stand out.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm
  • Reply Ryan

    Great post. Anyone that denies that stores like total only help the craft beer movement is extremely off base. The bottom line is these stores only increase awareness and sales and therefor help us down here in what use to be a craft beer wasteland bring down more great beers. I will, however, have to respectfully disagree with dosbeerigos. These large stores whether it be home depot against the mom and pop hardware store or total wine vs. case and keg severely effect these small businesses. These larger stores can survive off of low margins knowing they have huge volume as well as other items (their own brands for instance) with a significant markup. Yes there are often ways to combat this, case in point made by others about carving a niche, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Believe me, if BX had a total wine that also happened to sell home brew supplies open up right next to them, it wouldn’t be long before they went under. Yes, several people would remain loyal (as some did with businesses like case and keg) and pay an extra few dollars to help support the little guy, but many would not. Even losing 30% of your business would cripple most. Is this Total Wine’s fault? Is this Home Depot’s fault? No, of course not. And the argument can be made that these large businesses do a lot more for our local economy as well. It is just unfortunate to see good people and good businesses suffer. Again, however, it is the nature of the business.

    July 4, 2010 at 10:03 am
  • Reply nate

    Good article Mike.
    To be honest, it is hard for me to answer because I lack the experience. See, here in Toledo, OH, we are not cultured enough to be blessed with a big chain store like Whole Foods. There is a LOCAL chain called the Anderson’s that started to bring craft beer into the area. They actually were a grain and feed, farm supplies company, but following the fancies of the owners in the 60’s started offering finer food, wine, and beer. Besides them, there are only a handful of small committed beer purveyors in the area.

    If a whole foods or box store entered the market, I doubt I’d shop there. Why? All the folks at the local beer stores will get me a beer if I want it. I value small ma and pop businesses, and the old school american values they usually represent. Kind of like the show “Cheers.” Given a choice, I’d hit up “Cheers” over “Buffalo Wild Wings,” because everybody there knows my name.

    July 7, 2010 at 7:46 am
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