Louis Glunz Beer Inc.

Beer is not just that fizzy yellow liquid anymore, says Jerry Glunz, vice president of sales and general manager for regional distributor Louis Glunz Beer Inc. “This is an exciting time to be in the beer business, because everybody is tasting,” he says. “It used to be the cheapest you could buy, but now there’s a lot of excitement. People are looking for better beers, and they want that unique style.”

The Glunz Beer website – www.glunzbeers.com – celebrates the variety of beer, from lagers and pale ales all the way to barley wines and barrel-aged stouts, even though as a distributor, Glunz does not sell directly to customers. But the company knows consumers visit the website, so Glunz uses it to educate people about the brands it carries.

“We try to be an educational website and a jump station,” Glunz explains. “More and more in this day and age, the consumer wants to find out about something. People want that instant information, so we try to put up as much information about the brewing process and different things – basic education.”

Brands Galore
At last count, Glunz Beers represented 827 brands and 172 domestic, imported, micro and craft breweries in eight counties of northeastern Illinois – Cook, Will, Lake, DuPage, McHenry, Kane, Kendall and Kankakee. It distributes approximately 1.5 million case equivalents (CEs) of beer annually. A case equivalent equals 24 12-ounce bottles or 2.25 gallons. The company also distributes brandies, spirits, wine, soda and water out of a single 60,000-square-foot warehouse, of which approximately one-third is refrigerated.

“Years ago, you had your boundaries, and everybody lived in their boundaries,” Glunz recalls. “What you’re seeing is you have distributors breaking out of those boundaries. We were always just the north side of Cook County, but as things progressed, we needed to keep things going. As brands started catching on, we had to add more routes and people. Now we’re delivering to a lot of these counties five days a week. We used to have only 10 to 12 trucks, but now we’ve got plans to add three more routes to our company.”

Glunz Beers now has 22 trucks in its fleet, 28 salespeople, three merchandisers and four managers. With transportation so key to the business, rising fuel prices hit the company hard, but Glunz has never made customers pay a fuel surcharge. “When fuel prices go up, we suffer a little,” Glunz concedes. “We never put in fuel surcharges. We just never really thought that was the way to go. We’re willing to take that little bit of a hit until prices come back down.”

Crafty Business
The craft brewing boom has helped diversify Glunz’s beer offerings. “We’ve got approximately 30-some craft breweries, and the way these guys are growing, we’re really starting to see these guys climb the ladder,” Glunz points out. “We’re always looking for good brands we could help build. We’re always looking to add that next exciting brand. Our managers go out and recruit new brands. You never know what the next brand will be. There’s no shortage of people trying to sell brands; everybody is trying to do it. No one wants to be left out of that next top brand.”

Years ago, distributors were wary of small start-up businesses. But now, no one wants to be left out of the growing craft beer category, he says. For example, a mini-boom of microbrewing has hit Chicago. Four new microbreweries and three new brewpubs have sprung up in Chicago over the last few years and all are prospering. So many have opened that Glunz is not distributing all of them. “We take a lot of brands just to help out these little guys,” he says.

“A lot of these guys are working very diligently to try to get the breweries up and running to the point that they can supply the market,” he reports. “I love to see these guys growing bigger and bigger – that’s a lot of what I see with these microbreweries. They’re working to get it going where they can buy another tank. When you do another tank, that’s a lot of investment for those guys. It’s good to see them taking the time to invest and doing all that stuff. The important thing is not to over-invest.”

That tank must pay for itself, Glunz insists. “The biggest thing we ask is, ‘Are you ready?’” he says. “Because if you start getting some sales out there, it’s no good selling empty shelves.”