The End of the Beginning… Kind of

First 5 months of training… check. Three locations, 10 flights, 9 sporting events, 6 states, 5 rental cars, 3 cell phones, a couple of nights of karaoke and 1 turkey dinner later… I am back in Connecticut to celebrate the Holidays.

Atlanta

Our field commercial training started in Atlanta on the 15th of November and it started with a bang going to the Georgia State Communication Meeting, where all the wholesalers in the state of Georgia came into Atlanta.  We discussed our plans for 2011 and answered any questions that the independent wholesalers had for us. As soon as the meeting was over, we were on a plane to Tampa, Florida (which was awesome because it was 85 degrees there) to hold the Florida State Communication Meeting with all the Florida wholesalers. This meeting was held at the A-B wholesaler in Tampa, Pepin Distributing, this place is a palace. Here are some pictures from it.

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I wouldn’t mind working in Tampa with Mr. Pepin and his team. After Florida, it was back to Atlanta to ride with some district managers and key account managers. We were also able to go to Wal-Mart University (a class that we teach for the distributors to show them how to sell to Wal-Mart’s and their store managers) down in Columbus, Georgia (not Columbus, Ohio). We were able to see what the execution on premise at a NBA basketball game takes when we went to the Atlanta Hawks v. Boston Celtics game and I was able to see my first NBA game (with a little bit of luck my last as well).

Hawks v. Celtics

After a couple of weeks in the Region 3 Sales Office (Southeast Region – GA, AL, MS, FL) we were able to take a few days off and go home for Thanksgiving. That was my first time back in CT since we started in July and it was great to see family and friends, especially my mom and brother (big ABI supporters).

After Thanksgiving was over it was off to our WOD (Wholesale Operations Division… the wholesalers that ABI owns) training. Since there is no WOD in Atlanta, Riley, Nancy and I were able to experience two of the craziest beer markets in the country, New York City and Metro New Jersey (Jersey City & Newark). We worked at the branch distributors that ABI owns in each area. We were able to live in Manhattan (I like to say we were living in Harlem but everyone would correct me and say that we lived in the Upper East Side… ok maybe Spanish Harlem) for the last month or so while working in these two places.

NYC Branch

We had some great bosses there in Ed, Bobby and Dennis; they made sure we were busy all the time. Looking back on all the different areas of the distributor that we touched, it is crazy to think that we were able to do it in such a small amount of time. We were able to go around with sales reps on their daily routes calling on their accounts, from a deli/Bodega rep, chain pharmacy/grocery rep, and an on-premise/bar rep. Seeing the different channels which beer is sold through in NYC and how the pricing, customer base and products differ so much between the channels. Seeing how one store uses their beer sales as a loss leader to get traffic into their stores, while others markup their beer sometimes to around 100%, where a store on 3rd Ave could have 18 packs for $22.99 and two avenues over on 1st Ave could have the same 18 packs for $12.99.

One of the coolest parts about being in NYC was being able to go over to NJ for three days and seeing how different the markets are even though they are less than 3 miles apart, with Bud light being the largest selling beer in NYC while Bud Ice 24oz cans are the highest volume SKU in Metro NJ. Also in NJ, we were able to go see the bars in Hoboken, NJ which is the home of some bake shop called Carla or Carlos’s Bakery that Nancy wanted to go see, some TV show is filmed there or something, who knows. All I know is that they made Eli Manning’s birthday cake and their cookies aren’t even that good.

Bake Shop

We also were able to see a WEA (Wholesaler Equity Agreement – making sure the wholesaler is playing by our rules) assessment & business review at the NJ WOD. It was funny to hear them go through every account one by one seeing what new import brands could be placed in them, turns out Stella Artois doesn’t sell well in accounts that have bullet proof glass between the customer and cashier (even though the software we paid for told us that it should be there).

Back in NY, we were able to do even more than see many days in the lives of ABI sales reps. We were able to sit in on a sales meeting where the people from Monster came in to talk to our sales reps about their incentives and priorities for their brands were going into the new year. We were able to work a night in the operations department and pick orders and load trucks for deliveries for the next day (took me back to my days at TFI slinging boxes, instead of bags of flour it was now kegs of beer and a lot lets SKUs). We were also able to go around with a delivery truck one day delivering to bars down on the lower east side (a few that we were able to frequent, frequently), which was wild seeing how tough it is to take two/three kegs at a time down 15 stairs on a hand truck and also seeing at how many kegs some bars get delivered in a week (we delivered 28 kegs to one bar, a day after they received 25 the day before — some thirsty people in Manhattan).

Lots of kegs at the Pour House

One thing that is different in NY that is only present in one other place in the U.S. (I believe, don’t quote me on it) is the fourth tier system where they have liquor licenses that are for both wholesale and retail (PA is the only other place). We all went around with these “Home Distributor” reps for a day and I was able to see what had to be one of our largest retail accounts in the country (they do $60 Million in revenue a year… and they only accept one form of payment… Straight Cash Homie!), Flair Beverage. I was able to go out to lunch with the sales rep I was with Isidro and the owner of Flair, Mr. Paul Gagliardi (nice guy). We talked business and he had a lot to teach me being that he has been in the business for something like 30 years.

Inside Flair Beverage

Another fun day that I had been the day that I went around with the sales supervisor for the South Bronx, Tony. After we were done collecting some overdue A/R from a deli/Bodega, a man on the other side of the street asked me what I was doing in the hood? And the sales guys I was with told him that I was doing research. That was the funniest encounter I had on the mean streets.

The most tiresome day I had in NY was my day working with one of the “pack-out” guys, Raffy, going around to chain stores (mostly pharmacy’s and grocery store) stocking the shelves and putting away deliveries. It is wild how much we service these chain stores. From what I gather, the only other companies besides beer companies that service the stores they sell to are Coke, Pepsi and Frito Lay.

One of best-selling beers in NYC is Stella Artois and we put a lot of money behind it there. While we were there we went out one day/into the night going to a number of bars teaching the bar tenders how to do the Stella 9 step pouring ritual, making sure they were using the correct glassware. It was fun seeing the push back from mostly Irish stubborn bartenders. We were also able to go to the movie premiere for “All Good Things” a movie with Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling, because we were sponsoring the after party with Stella (we didn’t fit in too well with all the posh movie people and it was weird seeing Kirsten Dunst naked on the movie screen knowing she was 6 rows behind us).

Stella Ad in NY

The last thing I did in New York was going on a buyer call with the head chain rep at the distributor and the region AB sales manager, at a grocery store chain that is mainly in NYC, Gristedes. This was cool considering we did the whole sales call with three buyers for Gristedes while the owner was in the room the whole time messing around on his computer. Apparently Mr. John Catsimatidis is kind of a big deal since only 615 people in the world have more cash than him.

After our time in New York was over, I was able to go back to CT for Christmas and see the family and I was also able to go to Pittsburgh for New Years and visit my girl friend and all of my college teammates. After making it through New Year’s Eve, we were able to make it to the Winter Classic on the 1st of the year to watch the Caps beat the Pens 3-1.

C-A-P-S Caps Caps Caps

Now vacation is over and it is back to the grind in Atlanta. Check out the photo gallery for more NYC pictures. Talk to you soon Chuckleheads.

Cheers,

SL I