Growing with Craft Culture

Brewing up a little friendly competition—literally—the Lincolnwood, Ill.-based Louis Glunz Beer Inc. has been holding a home brew competition among its employees. With beer education at the cornerstone of this leading craft, micro, specialty and import beer distributor, the competition is just one of the incentives Louis Glunz Beer uses to engage its team.

“It’s a fabulous learning tool for our people,” says Janet Bischoff, CFO of the company, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year.

Louis Glunz Beer Inc. is among the oldest beer distributors in the United States. It is a family-owned and operated business led by president Jack Glunz, the grandson of Louis Glunz I, with day-to-day operations led by five of his seven children as members of the fourth generation. Members of the fifth generation are also on staff.

This year, says Bischoff, will mark the most profitable year for the company to date—posting 20-plus percent growth in dollar sales and volume over last year, just in the past eight months. With a portfolio, for now, of more than 800 beers from 175-plus breweries, Louis Glunz Beer Inc. has become a leading wholesaler within its territory of Chicago and surrounding eight counties, and is in the middle of a growth spurt.

The company has partnered with four importers and eight breweries over the past two years, and it has expanded its workforce hiring 17 people across its operations over the past 18 months. Also, it’s in the process of undergoing another office expansion (the company just completed an office renovation/expansion two years ago) and it’s looking to purchase a second warehouse space for, among other things, added cooler space for its growing craft beer portfolio. With a 22 percent increase in draft sales this year, the company’s draft business is booming and temperature-controlled storage for its craft beers is a necessity.

“Our company is expanding at a huge pace and record sales,” notes Jennifer Faulk, director of marketing, and Janet’s sister, “so it really has been a great year for us.”

The “great” year that Louis Glunz Beer Inc. is reporting and its positive impact on the craft beer industry within its territory is why Beverage World has named the company our Beer Distributor of the Year for 2012.

When asked about the company’s staying power Bischoff says that while the company may be turning 125, it doesn’t have an old mindset and isn’t afraid to adapt to a changing beer market. In fact, the company is getting a makeover next year, reinventing its look and feel with the help of a graphic artist to better represent where it plays in the market today.

“We might be 125 years old next year, but we are also 125 years young,” she says, and part of its youthful way of thinking has been keeping up with the changing craft beer trends and making sure that its staff and customers are at the forefront of those trends.
 

“We’ve spent a great deal of  money, time and effort making sure that [our people, our retailers and then our consumers], as much as possible, understand beer, understand how it’s made, understand the different styles and food and beer pairings,” she says. “Educating the Chicagoland consumer has been our biggest edge because people now demand better beers.”

Drawing on a Rich Heritage
Growing from humble beginnings, the business started with Louis Glunz I who left his hometown of Westphalia, Germany in 1871 with friends Oscar Mayer (yes, that Oscar Mayer) and Theo Kochswersmill (Kochs) with the American dream in mind and eventually settled in Chicago. In 1888, Glunz was able to open a wine, spirits and beer shop with a loan where he later sold and bottled Schlitz, bringing the Milwaukee beer to Chicago for the first time, and initiated the sale of beer in bottles, according to the company’s history.

Fast forward to 2012 and the company still has that entrepreneurial spirit where it takes pride in being a leader in its market.

The team of 109 employees at Louis Glunz Beer has a combined 867 years of experience with a handful of people over the age of 70 and 10 who have been with the company for more than 25 years. With a staff that seasoned, the company takes advantage of the knowledge that is has at its disposal and invests in education efforts for its customers, consumers and employees—the home brew competition being one example of that.

“We believe that the more education that we provide, the better it’s going to be for the entire beer community,” says Faulk. “We take it one brewery at a time, one brand at a time, one sip at time.”

Employee training includes formal training sessions on beers in the portfolio done weekly, the opportunity to become a certified Cicerone, informal beer dinners and visits to the breweries of its suppliers. Members of the Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. team recently visited Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg, Austria as well as Hirter, Hofbrau and Augustiner, for example.

On the on- and off-premise the idea is to educate staffers and get them excited about brands to then pass on that energy to their customers. In August, the company welcomed Lincoln Anderson as its craft and specialty brands manager to be a liaison between the wholesaler and its on-premise accounts. Anderson was the sales manager with Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Ind. and also worked in the restaurant industry for a decade.

Faulk says that the company is putting a greater focus on its fine dining accounts as the trend toward chef-inspired beer menus is picking up steam at eateries within the company’s market. “What we are seeing is that beer sales is not just walking through the front door and talking to the manager anymore,” explains Faulk.

Anderson adds: “Not only do chefs see the opportunity with beer and the importance of beer, but beer consumers are walking into restaurants with higher expectations of what will be available…The on-premise is where an individual consumer learns about new products and samples different flavors and expands their palette. The on-premise is also where the whole paradigm shifts across the consumer base where entire new beer styles become popular.”

And what’s trending in the on-premise trickles down into the off-premise where the company reinforces its beer brands with additional training of staff members.

Other educational tools include the “Passport to the World of Beer,” a reference guide first created in 2007 with the Siebel Institute of Technology, and the company’s annual Global Beer Expo, a private event which it hosts, that invites suppliers, customers, consumers and press to sample and learn about different beers. This year marked the 18th event and set record attendance—2,400-plus—and record case sales.

The company also supports local festivals like the German-American Fest, which was held last month in Chicago. “The German-American Fest is a really great example of working with the community…and taking what began as a very small event into an enormous event that is now a cornerstone of the gentrification that occurred in that city,” says Faulk.

The path to reach 125 years wasn’t an easy one. Emigrating to the United States, starting a new business and keeping that business afloat was challenging. But it was the Glunz family’s ability to change with the times that kept the business growing. For example, Faulk says, during Prohibition, Louis Glunz II sold the ingredients to brew beer in his shop and taught his customers how to do the same.

“Home brewing is part of our legacy,” Faulk says, who was on the winning team of this year’s home brew competition where she and her and teammates, Fred Bueltmann, Marina Koulogeorge, Glenn Faulk and Brendan Glunz, came up with their own beer, from ingredients to packaging. The prize was to go to New Holland Brewing Co. in Holland, Mich. to brew the Tall Dark & Handsome Stout, which was served at the pub and barrels were brought back for tapping in Chicago.

Now, at a time when home brewing has become popular again, Louis Glunz Beer intends to stick with tradition while adding a twist. Bischoff hints that there may be a limited edition 125th anniversary brew from the wholesaler next year. Looks like things have come full circle.

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