Dos and Don’ts: A Beer Buyer’s Decree to Consumers

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By Clarence Boddicker

Everyone approaches the world of craft beer differently. Most come at it from the customer’s point of view, and in last issue, we saw an interesting look from the perspective of the brewer.


How about a glance at beer from the off-premise world? I manage a beer store in suburban Chicago, and I thought it might be informative to throw some light on my world.


The best way to show you the day-to-day of my world is to help inform those coming into any store about what one should do, and more importantly, not do when beer shopping.


Do: Establish a relationship with your beer person. We are a local store and want to take care of our regulars. We will do nice things for people who are nice to us. Be friendly. Ok, friendly might be too far. I would settle for neighborly. Just acknowledge that we saw each other in aisles, say hello and go about our day. That buys a lot of equity with me. But not as much as a plate of brownies would.


Don’t: Have a hissy fit if we don’t have the hot release of the week. There will never be enough beer for everyone. You need to come to grips with that. I told you we didn’t have a specific beer, I didn’t give you a terminal diagnosis. Don’t stomp your feet, roll your eyes and groan at the sky. Please don’t act like a petulant child. I don’t want to be put in a position where I wished that I did give you a terminal diagnosis. Somehow, that ends up making me look bad.


Do: Engage us. We want to help you with your weirdly random but still very precise questions. We don’t want every interaction to be reduced to monosyllabic grunts and pointing, we happily leave those exchanges to the gentlemen in the liquor department. I always perk up when someone is attending a theme party and needs an incredibly specific beer. It keeps us sharp and on our toes, and I appreciate that.


Don’t: Be rude. Real basic stuff here. If I’m helping someone else and you walk right into our conversation and start talking at me, the quality of service you will receive will reflect that. It is just as easy to, hypothetically, tell you we are sold out of the beer in question and turn around sell it to someone polite the minute you walk away. Less is always more, and that includes your presence.


Do: Show me pictures. Of the beer label, please, not of your embarrassing birthmark. “Yeah, I guess it does kind of look like Nevada…” The new technology is a great time saver for all parties involved. It gets trying when he/she come in, and says, “I had this beer in a bar last night, I can’t remember what it was, but it starts with a “J.” Later on, when you tell me it was Bell’s Oberon, I grimly realize I will never get a moment of that time back. You have a camera in your pocket, use it.


Don’t: Expect me to read minds. This scenario happens a few times every week. A customer will walk up and say “Yeah, I want to try something I haven’t had before,” and then look expectantly and impatiently at me for 30 seconds. Fortunately, that is about of time it takes me to wrap my head in a turban and offer suggestions. How on God’s green earth do you expect me to summon the powers to ascertain which beers you might have had recently without you verbalizing it? Imagine, after looking at the menu, asking a waiter at a restaurant that same question? His mouth would eventually go dry from all the time spent spitting in your food. How about flushing out that question in your mind a little bit first? And, trust me, if I could read minds, I sure as hell wouldn’t be standing here talking to you. And for what’s its worth, I do look pretty good in a turban.


Do: Ask how we are doing, or even overextend the social barriers of our interaction and say, “Thanks,” or “Have a good day.” We might be the help, but we still like to be treated with respect. This one gentleman once asked a question, quickly interrupted me, stated he was looking for something else and quickly walked away. He came over a few moments later and apologized to me for being rude. That was well over 3 years ago and I still vividly remember him doing that. He didn’t have to, but it was nice that he did. We deal with so many people, and well over 90% of them are great. However, we only remember the great interactions and the bad ones. Act like a good person, and you will be remembered as one.


Bonus insight for the Industry Side:


Do: Express gratitude. This is a business, and I get that. Everyone wants space in the cooler, a prime spot on the shelf or an end cap. It helps sales, I get that. But I am more likely to give that real estate to someone who takes a moment to let me know they appreciate the things we do for them. Nothing draws my ire more than the new sales rep who storms in and starts to tell me that I need to carry more of his/her product. If you start by thanking me for helping your brand, I will listen, because that means you value our relationship. I like that, beer managers enjoy the sensation of being validated.

I always remember the people who show simple, common courtesy. Any other approach will cause my eyes to gloss over and make me wish you were pinned under something heavy with many ill-tempered fire ants nearby. I will ask you to leave, but not before I have you take all of your product out the cooler and set it up in a nice display over there, in that dark corner, by the bathroom. Or I just might yell at you for wasting my time. I’m a man of many whims.


Don’t: Just walk in. I am a very busy person, and if I’m not ordering beer, I’m checking it in, or filling the shelves and/or the cooler, or organizing the back room or cleaning or most importantly, helping the customer. If you call me to set up an appointment, that would be great. Don’t just stop by. Because you have time, doesn’t mean I do. And no, I don’t give a shit about meeting your new regional manager. All you are showing me, and your new regional manager, is that you have been unable to form a relationship with me. Is me being very brusque, waving you off and saying, “No, I don’t have time right now,” the kind of relationship you want to showcase to your new regional manager? I really, genuinely don’t care about your job. All you are really doing is slowing me down here. Leave.


This is basic human interaction stuff going on here. Craft beer has exploded and it understand that is has now become your passion and hobby. One would think I wouldn’t have to bring it up, but I deal with these things every day. Just use your brain and remember you are participating in the ancient tradition of interacting with other human beings. You will be fine.


If anything is going to be produced in small batches, let’s make it bad social interaction. Now if you will excuse me, I am going turban shopping.


Clarence Boddicker is a part-time writer and a full-time beer manager. He appreciates you taking the time to look at this. Now move along, there is nothing else for you to see here. This appeared in our sister publication, Mash Tun Journal.


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