When I was in school, a challenging experience in and of itself, I was an A/B student. I may have some revisionist memory, but that is what I recall.  The further I went in school the better my grades became. I think that I realized that the A/B students got the best teachers, the best class selection and the best options when it came to EVERYTHING. My peers that were C/D/F students, and I am using the term, “peers” loosely, had little options when it came to advancement, curriculum and freedom of choice. I am not here to tell you about my woes academically, I have weekly therapy for that, but rather to share that the best students got the best options in everything.

How does this remotely relate to alcohol beverage selling? Well, the same principle is pervasive today in how the distributor assigns sales support to your off premise/on premise account. I know this from first hand experience, not just Rosen pontificating. When I was CEO of Sam’s in Chicago, we had the best sales guys/gals, and options that the distributor had to send. We had the best deals, the best brands, the best support, and best service.  After selling the business, in a time of limbo, I helped a friend run a 700 SqF liquor store. My early retailer life was a 33,000 SqF store w 10,000 SKU’s. My later life was a 700 SqF store w 200 items and 10 customers a day. My jaw dropped when I saw how the other 99% of retail lived, off premise speaking. I had no idea that all accounts did not get white glove treatment like Sam’s did. We went from the best calling on us to the absolute retirement tour of the exiting old-timers that the distributor sent in. Instead of daily sales calls we received calls or worst texts once a week. No new products were ever sent to us, no deal sheets, no attention and no opportunity. It was school all over again.

So this had me thinking. There are over 400,000 liquor licenses in the USA. There are roughly 17 regional chains, 10 large grocery chains and the rest are the stores like I helped out in. Strength in numbers as the adage goes, but to the distributor and the time management of the sales teams, we are just also rans in the channel. Here are some more scary numbers. A junior sales person from a large wholesaler has roughly 116 accounts. Now let’s assume that each account gets 30 minutes of face time and in-between accounts is 30 minutes of drive time. How on this green Earth can a Jr Salesperson sell into 90 of the 116 accounts? How can a C/D account ever move up the ladder if they do not get the love, attention, and opportunity that the A/B accounts get? It is impossible!

  • A accounts get a weekly visit
  • B accounts get a visit every 7-10 days
  • C accounts, maybe, maybe get a two week visit from the rep and for sure a call
  • D accounts you are on your own. Absolute isolation and island living. You will have zero shot to advance the retail evolution.

I have lived both A account status and D account status. I challenge any of my readers to show me otherwise. I can statistically argue that if we spend time in D/C/B accounts they will jump up a rung on the ladder. Sam’s was a C account for years until it was not! Someone paid attention to us and the rest is retailer adult beverage history and lore.

To my sales reps and distributor friends- look over your D/C accounts, pay attention to them. Devote some time and opportunity to them, and you might be amazed at the success you will have in that account. I do not blame the wholesalers for the hyper focus on large box retail but be careful what you wish for. The attention and sales given to the the “A’s” means that when an A account says NO to a brand or pricing change, you are stuck with that no. There has been no farm system cultivated of lesser retailers to fall back on.

I was a B student, perhaps sometimes even C, and one day a professor paid attention to me. I was an A student from that semester on. I challenge my distributor partners and friends to support the retailers, both on and off premise that are not your bread and butter. What might come out of that is a diamond in the ruff that is both loyal to your brands and a great account in the future.  We all can be A students when we have the support of others.

Brian RosenExpert Editorial
by Brian Rosen,

Brian Rosen is Former CEO of America’s #1 Retailer, Sam’s Wines in Chicago, Former Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Retail and sought after retailer consultant.

He can be reached at @rosenretail or

More information and articles by Brian Rosen



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