Calendar says early December. Calendar says that there are two week before holiday and an additional week for bubbles. That is what the calendar says, you are correct. There are a few other points of view.
If you are a distributor your year is over for all practical purposes. There are no more new brands being introduced. Your big sales were made into mass merch retailers, grocery and regional chains a month ago. You have sales people on the street, but they are now just making sure that retailers continue to order and shelves remain full. If you are a retailer your sole job is to not over buy and sell the hell out of your inventory, so when the bills come due, you have the funds to remain “off the list” and can continue to order at the start of 2018.
So when I say the year is over from a back office perspective, I am deadly serious, and now is the time for 2018.
As I write this piece I am flying to LA to have final meetings with West Coast based suppliers on closing 2017 and starting 2018 correctly, the same for the East Coast next week.
No matter how you finished 2017, whether it was a success, failure or somewhere in between as suppliers you will always strive to sell more and be better operators.
That is human nature, and the reality is the industry is going through seismic changes, and how you start 2018 will have a large impact on how you finish the year. Feels weird to be pushing 2018 now, but the reality is that it is here, and how you adjust will be the difference between a good selling year and an average selling year.
Look Back with a Critical Eye
As suppliers we are very dependent on our distributors. End – Stop. But as I often speak about, there are only 300-400 brands that really matter to distributors and the rest of us are left to “feed off the land.” Especially with distributor consolidation the shrinking sell-ability of your brand diminishes weekly. That said, while the current situation plays out it is critical to continue to push your distributor, broker, sales teams or even our company. Cases matter, excuses do not. We at BevStrat get calls every January from suppliers recanting with the horror of the post year recap that use phrases like, “sorry about your lack of depletions” or “we cannot support your brand” or “the sales teams cannot sell this with success.” It happens EVERY year, and this year will be worse because of the redundancies created by BTB/ RNDC merger. Knowing this is the landscape, hold yourself and your distributor accountable. If we all know this is the landscape, let’s find another path to take for 2018.
Superficial Is OK
I tell my kids that superficial is a horrible word and you never want to be classified as that. In our business the outside matters a lot, and in many cases more than the inside. For 2018 take a look at what your bottle, marketing, slicks, deal sheets, web, and social properties all look like. DO NOT look at them from the lens of a brand owner, but rather from a consumer. We tell our clients that customers shop visually and then with their pallet. Make sure your outward facing brand is on point with trends, colors, fonts, messaging and current. It happens once a week that a supplier calls us and asks us to goto the web for more info and the site pulled up is 2014 or the social properties do not have a post since Halloween. The outside matters very much.
When we make a marketing and sales plan for a client we dog ear all the major session-able holidays on a calendar and work backwards into a selling program. The most silly, insignificant events on a calendar have a following, and if we do not plan for them someone else will. When you approach your marketing and selling year this way you will be surprised to find that there are really only 2-4 weeks in an entire year that do not have something happening where there is not a session-able occasion associated to it.
Read the Tea Leaves
Regular readers of my column know that I fear for the little guy and the independent retailer. The tea leaves tell me that if you are a <30,000 case brand you will need to field your own sales force. Distributors will blow sunshine up your arse, but the reality is that it is your brand and your responsibility. Getting into the Big 3 network is not the hard part, it is getting off the shelf that matters. Being sold when you ARE NOT on a work with. Getting sold as a reorder not just an initial buy in. The tea leaves tell us and should tell you that 2018 is really the year to manage your distributor and not the other way around. The winds of change are blowing, we need to decide the direction.
December 17 is the busiest retail day of the year for adult beverage, that is 11 days away. That day will come and go as it does every year, and 2018 will shortly follow. Are you ready?
Look at 2017 and every previous year and take away key learnings and build on that going forward. I never write about what is in the bottle, that is not our area of expertise, but if the consumer does not buy the outside, the inside does not matter at all.