COVID-19 Update: Bale Breaker Brewing Company’s taproom is temporarily closed to the public, but we are running weekly 12-5pm Saturday Drive-Thrus. Visit our blog for this week’s menu.
By Marguerite Washut, BBBC Marketing & Events Coordinator
Life around the brewery lately has sometimes felt like the wild, wild west – a desolate stretch of concrete surrounded by lush hop fields and sparse human interaction. While our crew has been adjusting to this new normal of life and social liberties pretty well, it still has been hard to only be able to see coworkers and patrons from eye-level and a safe 6-foot distance away. But alas, the show must go on and the beer keep a’flowin’.
Though I can see that all of the boots on the ground here at the brewery are adjusting well, the biggest mystery to me is how our sales team has been holding up. Afterall, they are the most social of us here at Bale Breaker. How are they surviving staying at home and not out in the field shmoozin’ and boozin’ with clients and patrons alike? What are they doing to still get the good word out to our fans and distributors, old and new? I know Quinn mentioned they’ve been attending continuing-education webinars from home, but sales folks are born to be social. What are they doing to keep sane and productive?
So, speaking of the wild, wild west – I chose to phone in our Western Sales Manager Sara Verdiek to answer all of my burning questions. Sara has been with the brewery since 2017 and before joining the team, she was slangin’ beer for our friends over at Sierra Nevada. If anyone is qualified to answer my questions about how this pandemic has affected the industry, it’s Sara.
Sara, first and foremost – how’re you doing?
All things considered; I’m doing really well. No major complaints over here!
What has been the greatest change for you since the state shutdown back in March?
(Laughs) Staying home a lot more than I have in the 17 years I’ve been in the beer business. I know we’re all staying home a lot more, however, in this industry we have really long hours, late nights, weekend festivals, overnight stays in markets that are far from home – so it’s even more extreme for folks like us to be stuck at home.
Where have you seen the biggest disruption in sales trends since the pandemic hit?
Obviously the on-premise shut down of restaurants and bars which has ultimately led to the limited on-premise capacity has been our biggest disruption. Due to this, there is either absolutely no on-premise or a limited amount leading to wasted kegs and an influx of can sales. Since the majority of accounts haven’t even reopened, where a typical day for me used to be seeing around 15 different bars and restaurants, popping in to say thank you for their business and catch up over a beer at the end of the day, it’s been more behind-the-scenes ensuring grocery store shelves are stocked and monitoring inventory from a computer to make sure we don’t run out of anything at our distributors’ warehouses.
Due to draft sales going dry and canning now becoming king – how have you responded to this new sales trend through your sales tactics?
As a collective Bale Breaker family, our top priority has been and always will be quality. Therefore, we made the decision to make sure the quality of beer on any on-premise account would be eligible to swap out for a fresh keg upon reopening. Of course, it was a huge hit to see so many kegs having to be dumped but we also did everything and anything to rehome unused kegs via selling them to outlet stores and promoting kegs-to-go for consumers to continue to enjoy fresh beer at home in order to avoid unnecessary waste.
How has this affected your relationship with accounts and distributors? Do you think it’s been for the better or worse? Why?
Definitely not better. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction (without masks) and bellying up to a bar, having those relaxed conversations. I’m used to seeing so many people throughout the week and now I communicate more virtually than I ever have; texts, phone calls, emails. I didn’t even know what Zoom was before COVID! But the beer industry is a really tight-knit group. It’s like a family. So, it would be like going through these hard times with family where maybe you’re distant for a while or like your friend is dating a girl and you don’t hear from him in three months. It’s awkward at first, you’ve got some tension to work through, but you eventually come back around, and your relationship becomes stronger because of it.
So with that said, do you think the industry will bounce back the same after all of this even though we’re seeing thousands of breweries, restaurants, and bars close its doors?
While I’m confident relationships will remain stronger than ever before, unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the industry. I don’t have a crystal ball to say where the industry will go or how people will fare after all of this, but it’s really sad to see these bars/restaurants and other breweries suffer. I think it’s going to take the industry a very long time to recover and for people to feel confident venturing out of their homes to socialize. A big part of the beer industry revolves around festivals, concerts, sporting venues. It’s going to really affect people’s comfort level.
As far as people involved in the beer industry, the focus is even more on local now than ever. So, I believe the local brewing community will come together to help their fellow comrades rise from the ashes. It’ll continue to further develop a stronger community. Fellow brewery reps and I have already gotten together for socially distanced happy hours in the parks to bond and discuss ways to persevere through this together. Again, we’re family. While it may not be the same as it once was, we’ll find a way to get back to a new normal.
What have you appreciated most through this pandemic?
While we are lucky to be a part of all that history, it has also been great to be a part of a team that’s been built to weather this storm; Meg, Quinn, and Smitty have been incredible leaders through all of this. In so much uncertainty, they have made us feel that everything is going to be ok, but we know for most people – it won’t be ok. The confidence our leadership has instilled in us makes me really optimistic for this new wave of change.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from the pandemic? What sales behaviors have you been forced to adjust that you will take with you moving forward?
After all is said and done, it’s just really reinforced the importance of quality and consistency – customers are looking for that great beer that they know they’re going to get every time they purchase it. More bang for their buck, so to speak, and since we’ve truly established that pre-pandemic, our flagship beer like Topcutter and Field 41 have been the shining stars pulling us through.
As far as what sales behaviors that have changed the industry for the better, well, I guess I’d say it’s been nice that everyone has been getting used to virtual meetings – which saves a lot of time driving back and forth. Other than that, I can’t wait to get back in the field and see my industry friends!
In the meantime, mask up so we can open up! We’re all in this together and we can only get through this together.
Girl Meets Hops: A monthly column highlighting what really goes on behind the buzz at Bale Breaker
Posted July 24, 2020