By John Holl
When you’ve been around as long as Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. it’s hard not to learn a thing or two, to adapt and to make sure you know your territory better than the competition. It also helps to have a strong sense of business and relationships ingrained in the company culture. Louis Glunz was a German immigrant who came to Chicago in the late 1800s when Schlitz ruled the local beer scene not only with its suds but its tied houses. Glunz would help a local businessman—Charles Wacker—deal with a family medical problem and was rewarded with a loan, funds that would kickstart Louis Glunz Beer, Inc., “Wholesale Dealer in Wines, Table Beer & Mineral Water.”
While many would get into the business and take what they can get, Glunz went right for the top and visited the Schlitz Brewery in person where he convinced the brewery to let him bottle its beers—a first for Chicago. Within months, the public was clamoring for more and more bottles and soon accounts were lining up outside his door to pick up orders, thus the beginning of the realized wholesale business.
Being around for as long as it has, Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. has seen its fleets change over time. In the early 1900s horse-drawn wagons, emblazoned with the company name became a familiar sight on the city’s cobblestone streets. In 1918 the company would add its first motorized vehicle. The horses would finally be retired in 1930. Other transportation innovations would come on line with the changing times. (Glunz would survive Prohibition by selling soda and distributing sacramental wine.)
Still in the family’s hands, Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. has grown by leaps and bounds and now covers nine counties in the northeast corner of Illinois. And when you cover a territory like that—and because customers are no longer lining up outside to pick up orders—you need a fleet that is not only large, but diverse.
General Manager Jerry Glunz needs to take several breaths when he talks of the company’s vehicles: six 10-bay trucks, four 12-bay trucks, three tractor trailers, two 8-bay trucks, a 6-bay truck, two refrigerated box trucks, one refrigerated trailer, two Sprinter vans and a box truck.
“We customize our fleet with what we need,” he says. “A lot of the big guys get a lot of the same trucks. For us, that would make it impossible to move around, especially in a city. There is no rubber stamp of how our fleet is going to look.”
In many cases the Sprinter vans have made business easier, allowing drivers to get in and out of crowded areas all while saving gas for delivering just a few hundred cases. These have become even more popular with the exploding growth of craft beer where new brands seem to come available each month and more retailers reach out to get a hold of them—albeit in smaller quantities than some of the larger breweries.
On the craft beer front, Louis Glunz Beer was an early adopter.
“When we started there was no craft brew craze,” Glunz says. “We’ve been part of the explosion, educating people because they wouldn’t be able to push the beers without it.”
The education includes putting employees through Cicerone certification (a course similar to a wine sommelier) and giving retailers detailed descriptions on the beers that now stock their shelves and the best way to get it out the door. These brands include Dogfish Head Craft Ales, New Hollandalrigh Brewing Co., Arcadia Brewery and others.
“The more we can get an account behind a brand the better it does,” says Gluntz. “We don’t want to give them a brand they don’t get enough of.”
It seems that more and more they are holding these education components and in areas that a decade ago wouldn’t have shown an interest in craft. “We try to have an ‘ambassador of beer’ in every account and then they can further train their people.”
Non-craft beer is also doing quite well for Glunz with 60 percent of Rolling Rock sold in the state coming from the company.
With an ever-growing roster of accounts—from convenience stores to restaurants—Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. is relying on the principles that has guided it from the beginning. Being nimble, taking chances and looking for the next innovation.