What I Do: Brian Dix, founder of Craft Republic
If you appreciate the selection of craft brews at your local watering hole, you should certainly thank that business’ bar manager; but you should also salute their distributors, who select the brands from which bars, restaurants and retailers choose. If you’re drinking in St. Louis, chances are high a good portion of those thanks belong to Brian Dix, founder of Craft Republic, a St. Louis-based distribution company specializing in craft beer and other beverages.
Dix describes beer distribution as a three-tiered system in which suppliers (brewers, distillers and other manufacturers) and businesses with licenses to sell liquor (bars, restaurants, retailers, etc.) compose the first and third tiers, with distributors in the middle. In addition to partnering with breweries to sell their products in an assigned geography, distributors also handle the logistics of getting brews from the point of manufacture to point of sale. This means not only coordinating deliveries with anywhere from hundreds to thousands of businesses, but also effectively storing beers while they’re in transit to ensure they retain their freshness and intended characteristics once poured.
Here, Dix reflects on more than 25 years spent working in the beer industry – over 20 of which he’s spent in St. Louis – and how and why he made the leap to the craft scene.
“I grew up in Kansas and, when I went to the University of Kansas, I basically got lucky and got a job through a mutual connection at the Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Lawrence, Kansas. I was 19 and I was working part-time and sweeping the floors and repacking damaged beer and fixing signs and hanging signs and cleaning draft systems.”
“Around 2015 to 2017, a lot of doors were being closed for smaller brands because [of] the natural progression of … beer distributors bringing on a lot of brands early in the craft beer renaissance – say, 2008 to 2013. … [Distributors] had really just got to the point to where they were saturated with what they could represent.”
“You could see and feel, especially in the craft-brewing world from the craft brewery side, this fear of going to a big distributor and getting lost in the mix. You’d hear horror stories of some distributors not even calling small companies back after they signed them to do business with them.”
“I thought, ‘There’s going to be opportunities to bring brands to market. There’s more breweries in Missouri coming online that need access to market.’”
“And there’s all these cool things happening outside of just beer: Distilleries are growing, the non-alcoholic world in beverages is growing like crazy. And I couldn’t see it back then, but CBD seltzers and cannabis seltzers and these kinds of things were all growing as well.”
“There was an opportunity, basically, to refocus on smaller brands, authentic brands, really – from our perspective as a distributor – really focus on customer service. … Like, ‘Oh, you called us? We’ll call you back.’ If you’re a customer of ours and have an issue, tell me about it. Let’s see if we can fix it.”
“It’s daunting to think about competing against [multi-million dollar] companies [...] But the thing I kept thinking about was the opportunity with the brands. I knew there were customers out there that would embrace our portfolio if it came together. And that’s what happened.”
“I think we did business with approximately 1,000 customers last year from Kansas City to St. Louis and in between. But that’s still a tiny distribution company. These other places have thousands of customers; think about every rural convenience store and bar and tavern up and down the street, grocery stores and everything. We’re still small. But the thing is, where we’ve come from, where we started five years [ago], it’s way ahead of where I thought we’d be, which is cool.”
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