Letters to the Editor

Let convenience stores make it more convenient to purchase craft beer

Open letter to the Colorado Craft Brewers Guild:

In our continuing attempt to understand and address craft brewer issues, I would like to make an offer.

We are hearing many fears from your members about our convenience stores’ handling of your product. Apparently, craft brewers are being lead to believe that convenience store employees and owners are somewhat less capable at running their businesses as effectively as liquor stores. I am hearing that our clerks are less trainable, insinuating that they cannot understand the necessity to turn craft beer products due to a limited shelf life. I am hearing that convenience store clerks are less likely to be interested in knowing all the nuances to regional specialty products. And I am hearing the continued mantra that your products will be overlooked by convenience stores in lieu of “red, white and blue” beer.

Obviously, I think all of these issues are refuted in the 44 other states where convenience stores are allowed to sell beer. The attached National Association of Convenience Stores articles extol the benefits of specialty beer in convenience stores calling it the “new frontier” for craft brewers. Indeed, craft brewers are the only beer segment that has grown in convenience stores in 2008 and 2009 with sales jumping 16 percent and 9 percent respectively. The notion that convenience store clerks are not receptive to specialty beer information and training is just not accurate. Providing point of sale material and display material to convenience stores is something they cherish and utilize routinely. Just look around when next in a convenience store. Where on earth is your industry getting this information? It certainly does not reflect reality.

To that end, I am willing to offer to you the ability to hold a craft beer seminar at our annual Colorado/Wyoming trade show and convention this year in Jackson, Wyoming. We will provide the Colorado Craft Brewers Guild primetime speaking and training opportunities to reach the majority of convenience store owners and operators that attend our convention and trade show. And I’ll do this on an annual basis. Our 2011 show will be held in Breckenridge, Colorado. I will also provide two free booths for your guild to educate marketer/convenience store retailers in our two-day trade show. I will even provide your hotel room while you attend and reach out to our members. We are always willing to learn how to improve our sales… and yours!

We continue to be amazed by all of the issues and negativity that is being generated by your members. All that we are interested in doing is selling your beer to our customers in a venue (1300+ locally owned and controlled locations) not previously available to your industry in Colorado. Convenience store employees are every bit as trainable and capable of promoting as liquor store employees. Convenience store owners are businessmen and women just like liquor storeowners and always looking for a quality and novel product to sell that will attract their customers to their stores.

Convenience stores utilize display materials and product information every bit as effectively as liquor stores, maybe more so. Besides, your display material gets lost in liquor stores… not so in our limited cooler door presentation. Convenience stores are already very attuned to turning products like milk, juice, tobacco products and a host of other perishable products. Why would craft beer be any different? And, despite the disconnect with the liquor distributors who refuse to deliver your product to our stores (for whatever reason) should the bill pass, beer distributors are more than willing to carry your products to anyone willing to sell it, like they are doing now for many of your craft brewer members. Again, 44 other states are selling your beer in our convenience stores and doing a great job of it. There is no reason to think this bill will do anything other than expand those markets and create many more of the same opportunities for your craft brewers that they currently enjoy in other states where they are currently doing business.

We might also note that, if as an industry the craft brewers in this state are unwilling to market their products in our stores, then liquor stores will retain the “exclusive rights” that they currently have in selling your members product for off premise consumption. Our way, expanded markets. Your way, exclusive rights for liquor stores. Perhaps that is what craft brewers are really seeking? I would point out again, if this is the case, craft brewers will be missing an incredible opportunity to market to conveniences stores…i.e. missing a national trend.

We appreciate your concern for small businesses in our state and your continued willingness to listen to our proposals. I look forward to your response to this offer. Obviously, if we are not allowed the opportunity to apply for a full beer license —i.e. the bill does not pass — this offer would serve no purpose. Please let me know if there is anything else that I can clarify.

Mark Larson
Executive Director
Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association
Denver