Selling beer in the summer ought to be easy. It’s hot ‘ no matter where you are ‘ and people take vacations and have parties while their kids are out of school. It’s baseball season, and that takes a lot of beer. The 4th of July is a huge holiday for take-home beer sales, and just the increase in summer activities like boating, hiking, swimming, and softball means more occasions for a cold one at home. Your customers are hot and thirsty, you have beer and they have money: how hard can it be?
Selling beer in the summer ought to be easy’¦but you’ve got to do some work to sell more beer; more than last year, more than your competitors, more profitable beers. You’ve got to have the right beers in the right place, at the right time, in the right quantities and packages, at the right price’¦and it doesn’t hurt to have a little sizzle with it, too. Let’s get some ideas going.
Light Is King
The right beers in the summer are lighter beers. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the bigs or the crafts, no one’s looking for a big fat heavy beer in the summer. Give them what they want, and plenty of it: stock up on 30-packs, says Adam Tolsma, the senior Atlanta-area beer buyer for the Columbia, SC-based Green’s Beverages chain. ‘The light beers aren’t our focus, but we sell more of them in cans, and 30-packs in general: Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Coors. They really took the 24-packs off at the knees. The brewers would probably like to get people back buying 24-pack cases, but what’s been done can’t be undone.’
This is Bud Light Lime season, and time for the return of Corona. ‘My Corona numbers over Memorial Day went through the roof; I sold over 200 cases over the weekend. As soon as the weather turns, customers gravitate to the summer beers,’ notes Greg Ramirez, owner of Exton Beverage in Exton, PA.
It’s true in the crafts as well; summer beers are coming on strong this year after spending time in the shadow of Samuel Adams Summer Ale, and they’re a lighter, more refreshing breed. ‘Things go to the lighter styles of beer, blondes and saisons, rather than the darker,’ notes Matt Link, the beer buyer for Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa, CA. All those new beers make great material for a Facebook page or store Twitter feed.
Tom Welton, the operations manager at Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, MA, sees more variety in summer crafts this year, and has a local angle to leverage on it. ‘The summer beers are expanding,’ he says, and speculates, ‘I think it goes with the whole movement to more sessionable [i.e., lower alcohol] beers, and people want more than just wheat beer with a slice of lemon in it. We have a local brewery, Element, doing an oat pilsner; Mayflower has their Summer Rye.’ Welton makes sure to prominently display his locals; like session beers, local breweries are back in fashion.
Display is important, and an organized display is key. Ramirez likes to keep it tight. ‘We have our seasonal beers out front, and we rotate those through,’ he notes. ‘It’s challenging finding floor space for the additional seasonal beers, but otherwise it’s just clutter. Seasonal samplings are popular, too. The companies don’t focus just on the seasonal, they sell flagships as well, and they’ll move 25, 30 cases in a couple hours.’
Craft Can Explosion
But probably the biggest trend in craft beer ‘ and simultaneously the hot wave to ride in summer beer sales ‘ isn’t a style or flavor, it’s a package: cans. Adam Tolsma, the senior beer buyer in Atlanta for the Green’s Beverages chain, notes that craft can availability ‘ and sales ‘ are exploding.
‘Craft beer in cans has just taken off,’ he says. ‘The portability of it is incredible. You can do your summer events and have good beer along. 21st Amendment, out of San Francisco, has their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat in the summer, and we’re just killing with that.’
Jack Stoakes, who owns Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colo., sees a lot of recreational business with the craft beer in cans. ‘People have been bootlegging bottles of craft beer into the national parks for years, which of course isn’t allowed,’ he laughs, ‘and now that they can get good beer in cans’¦oh my.’
He’s taking advantage of the variety and the interest it’s sparked by putting together his own package. ‘We bought our own 12-pack rings,’ he says, ‘and we pre-package a selection of 12 different micros in cans. We sell it for $15, and it doesn’t walk out, it flies out. The breweries love it; they’re in with other breweries’ beers, sure, but people get a chance to try their beer.’
Welton notes that there may be education needed. ‘We have a couple huge displays of craft cans,’ he says. ‘There are still some old school guys who think it can’t be good. But if they get it in their hands and try it’¦I’ve got ‘em, and the 12-packs are flying.’
Ramirez thinks cans might move the whole craft market past the summer season. ‘Craft is changing because they have this alternative package,’ he says. ‘It’s travel-friendly, easier to get rid of once it’s empty, it’s a great package. And it seems like there’s a new craft can out every week; we got four new ones in the past month.’
Blocking and Tackling
Still, new packages, new emphasis on summer styles, and on ‘sessionability’ aside, summer beer sales to some extent run on the same thing they always have: higher piles on all the aisles. ‘Most of the beer companies have their summer campaigns going on, so we go with that,’ Ramirez confirms. ‘Corona has a big giveaway going on. They come in and put up palm trees, that kind of thing.’
Stoakes goes big for the summer. ‘We have plans for a big truckload beer sale the week before 4th of July,’ he says, and laughs, because while last year he had an actual truck’¦he didn’t get his license paperwork done in time this year. ‘So we’re going to promote it as ‘The Truck is Inside The Store.’ Rolling Rock and Keystone both have a gorgeous promotional in the image of an actual sideloader truck. Out of one side we’ll have a display of cases of beer pouring out; the other side will be wine and pop.’
One last thing: summer’s bigger for draft. ‘We do the logs, the sixtels, for the home-system guys,’ Welton says. ‘But it expands in the summer, we do more halves and quarters.’ Have your stock ready, get the word out with signs and up-to-date website lists, and be sure to have gas and equipment available for last-minute customer beer emergencies.
That’s how you make selling beer in the summer easy: a lot of hard work. Preparation makes all the difference. But do the work, and your customers are going to have a great summer.