What would Garrett do?

23 October, 2009

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, is a cool guy. I can say this without fear of contradiction. I’ve met him several times, and each time he’s been charming, intelligent, funny and impeccably well dressed. He obviously means it, man, and his integrity is without question. To illustrate his integrity, let me tell you a story he told me.

A bar owner used to call Garrett, asking for free beer, on the basis that it would improve the brewery’s standing to be seen listed in such a cool bar. Every month, the bar owner would call and ask “What have you got for me this month?”. “Great beer at a fair price,” was Garrett’s reply. The bar owner never got any free beer out of the Brooklyn Brewery, despite once having gone a whole month without paying for any beer at all – and it w?as a busy bar.

In light of this, I wonder how some of my recent actions might be perceived by Mr Oliver. A rep of a large drinks company recently got in touch, and we’ve started stocking its beers. There’s nothing untoward there? and, although the beers are big brands, they are ones that we were frequently asked for. The support from the drinks company has been very good. They’ve held in-store tastings for us? and helped find a supply line for the beers, which was a bit harder then anticipated – for a big company, the pseudo-niche brands have struggled a bit to find comprehensive distribution.

As a stop-gap, and just until we sorted out a supply line for a few beers, the rep was letting us have small amounts of free stock – and I mean small – perhaps a couple of dozen bottles at a time.

But I now find myself torn. The beers are steady sellers, and if I could find a supplier for them, I’d probably be happy to stock them. Setting aside the usual problem of getting a supplier to call you back (what’s up guys, too busy to speak to customers?), a few of the beers are proving hard to source. What to do? Should I keep taking the stop-gap stock from the rep, or should I decide that if I can’t get the beers from a regular supplier, and pay for them, then I shouldn’t be stocking them??It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Sell the free stock and keep the money, surely? You can’t beat a mark-up like that, can you? But there’s something about it all that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Does taking free stock oblige me to carry on stocking the beer when a supply line becomes established? Is this really any different to charging a listing fee for shelf space, as some of the supermarkets are alleged to?? Knowing that the beer is giving us a return unmatched by any other, if someone asks what the beer is like, will my response be coloured by this??There will be people reading this who, no doubt, would like, or perhaps even need, some free stock. If times were really hard, then perhaps I wouldn’t think twice about it. But is there an obligation implicit in accepting freebies like this? Does the odd bottle of wine mean I have to keep using a wine supplier, or perhaps should I milk them for all they’re worth and sell free stock rather than use it for tastings? Integrity is an important quality in drinks retailing. What would you do?

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