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National Beverage Brokers

Posted by on in August 2015 Editions
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Increasing the Diversity of Drink Choices

Maryland is definitely a diverse state.  The population is diverse, the geography is diverse, and the drinking preferences are most definitely diverse. The Hagerstown-based National Beverage Brokers (NBB) knows this and seeks to cater to that diversity. For a company that specializes in finding boutique to mid-sized importers, producers, and distributors seeking access to both the Maryland and Washington, D.C. beverage markets, that means representing everyone from the small Bordeleau Winery in Eden, Md., on the Eastern Shore to France's Original Gangster XO Brandy, which is fronted by rapper/"Law & Order SVU" star Ice-T.

At NBB's helm is owner Alan Emery, who has been in the sales business for nearly 10 years.  "Our company is a group of salespeople -- eight of us total -- who represent several small distributors," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "The concept behind this is a salesperson has a difficult time working for a small company.  There is just not enough product to sell usually.  What we've done is gotten some small companies together and we represent them in the state of Maryland and in D.C., as well.  We also help them find new products that we think will work well."

NBB's top seller is the Amore Frutti line of sparkling flavored Moscatos.  There are currently 16 flavors in all.  Another line that NBB has had much success with is Grand Moscato.  "There is a red and a white, and they are 16 percent alcohol," Emery noted.  "Later this summer, they will come out with a sparkling Grand Moscato that will also be 16 percent alcohol.  Then, in about three months or so, we're going to start receiving flavors of the Grand Moscato.  We also sell the Old Barrel Vodka, which is a highly unique vodka in that it has been aged in cognac casks.  It has a similar flavor profile to cognac.  It's very nice, very drinkable, with just a hint of sweet."

According to Emery, the most challenging part of the job for him and his sales force is getting the buyers to understand that NBB represents more than one company and that the companies they do represent ship separately, invoice separately, and so forth.  "Once people understand what we do and why we do it," he said, "they all say it makes a lot of sense and that it's great having one person representing four companies as opposed to four different sales reps taking up a lot of their time.  But it is initially a bit confusing to people, so we make sure to explain our role properly."

Emery continued, "It's a whole lot of fun building brands.  It's been a great experience seeing the Amore Frutti line go from a couple of flavors to 16.  This is a product that is distributed by Red Ink Imports [in Kensington, Md.] that we represent.  They're now to a point where they are direct importing it as opposed to buying it from an importer in the States."

Having been in sales and the beverage business for the better part of a decade now, Emery said the biggest change has been people shifting their buying preferences to less expensive wine.  He says this is a lingering effect of the economy going south in 2008 and the ensuing recession.  "Suddenly," he recalled, "people weren't spending as much money on wine.  They were still buying as much wine, but they started looking for less expensive wine.  I think it was a great thing for the industry, in a sense.  Obviously, nobody likes a downturn in the economy.  But people became a lot more aware of less expensive products out there that are fabulous.  You can find wine in Spain and Portugal and Chile and Argentina that is just an incredible value."

For the foreseeable future, Emery says NBB is not interested in representing any more companies.  The firm's philosophy is to stay focused on its small number of clients in order to do the best job possible for them.  In addition to Red Ink Imports and Bordeleau Winery, these companies include Stefano Selections and Dog Beverage Company, a small craft brewery out of Westminster, Md. 

Emery concluded, "The most important thing in this industry is building relationships.  Proving yourself to be trustworthy to the buyers and the different stores and restaurants is of the utmost significance.  And it's so important to sell them wines that are going to succeed.  There's nothing worse than bringing a wine into a store and it not selling.  You can't control everything.  But it's important to show wines, liquors, or beers that you believe are good quality.  Your most important goal should be to help their business." 

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Teddy is a graduate of UMBC. In additional to his Beverage Journal writing duties, he is an entertainment reviewer.