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Field Sales

Beer Sales And Merchandising Tips From an Industry Expert

Selling beer is easier said than done - you know that. Your team works hard to brew delicious beer and build a unique brand image. Your sales reps fight tooth and nail to get your cases in as many stores as they can. Unfortunately, that’s only half the battle. To actually get your beer into the hands of consumers, your brand has to outperform your competitors at the point of sale - the liquor store. Unless they can succeed in the store, even the best beer companies will struggle to stay afloat. 

To help your brand fly off the shelves, we reached out to John Ellsessar, a Sales Manager at Narragansett Brewing and beer industry veteran. He shared with us 10 secrets that help him maximize sales wherever ‘Gansett is on the shelf. 


Meet the Expert

John Ellsessar, sales manager for Narragansett Brewing, and previous market manager for Johnson Brothers Liquor Company, has worked in the alcohol beverage industry for 36 years. 

John began his career in the alcohol industry with a college job managing a package store, then as an Anheuser-Busch college rep. He then began working in beverage distribution at Atlas Distributing, and has since worked for brands like Mike’s Hard and Mackenzie’s Hard Cider. 

John has accumulated a unique perspective on the industry through his experience working in all levels of beverage merchandising, from managing mobile teams and negotiating with beer distributors to purchasing beer as a retailer.


Secret #1: “A good merchandiser is worth his weight in gold.”

While you might naturally emphasize sales and marketing when trying to boost in-store sales, merchandising is actually the core driver of purchase behavior. As Ellsessar puts it: “A good merchandiser is worth his weight in gold, because if you don’t effectively merchandise your products they aren’t going to sell.” 

That’s because no matter how many facings your sales team secures or how compelling your logo and packaging design may be, shoppers simply aren’t going to reach for your beer if it’s not easy to find and presented well on the shelf. Ultimately, your brand’s merchandising activity is what will set it apart from your competitors. 


Secret #2: “Teach your merchandisers the ‘Stoplight Rule.’”

  • Red Light: A red light makes a customer stop and look at your product. While you cannot guarantee your beer is the right fit for any particular shopper, a red light display gives you the best chance at making it into the cart.
  • Yellow Light: A yellow light causes a customer to pause and look. While yellow light displays are effective at getting your brand on customers’ radar, they do not offer enough draw so that shoppers will con------
  • Green Light: Green means “go.” A green light means your display isn’t eye catching enough, and will be entirely ignored by customers as they walk by.




Secret #3: “You can’t create a red light without having your price posted and visible.” 


Secret #4: The 5 Spot Rule of Beer Merchandising 

Neon Signs

“When reps pull up to a liquor store, they park and look at the outside of the store. They should ask: Do we have neon signs in the windows? Do we have more or less than our competitors?”


Window Banners

“The rep needs to ask: are we advertising products in the windows with banners? Are we advertising for beer, liquor, or both? What are our competitors advertising for?”


First Impact Areas

“The first impact area is what customers see when they first enter the store. The rep should ask: Do we have anything in eyesight from the door? Do our competitors?”



“The coolers organize competing products side by side, so your brand needs to have a good showing. The rep should take note of: How many doors do we have? How many do our competitors have?”


Checkout Area

“While customers wait in line, they are going to look around. Reps need to focus on displays and promotions that can be seen from the counter or the checkout line.”




Secret #5: “If your brand isn’t winning at the cooler, your sales are going to suffer.”

“The cooler is of huge importance. Whether the retail location is a tiny convenience store or a huge liquor store, the most beer is sold cold out of the cooler. If your brand isn’t winning at the cooler, your sales are going to suffer. 

When a field rep finds a situation where their brand is losing at the cooler, the area manager needs to meet with the rep and put a program together to increase cooler effectiveness. This program could focus on working to improve the retailer relationship or bargaining for more cooler space.”


Secret #6: Create a Pricing Hierarchy

For beer, there are generally three levels: high end craft and import beer, premium beer, and budget beer. You want your price, your product, and the way you market that product to all line up. 

Demographics play into which level of beer you want to sell to which retailer. If a retailer is in a college town or a low-income neighborhood, you want to mostly stock them with your budget beer. Retailers in wealthier areas should be stocked with more of the high end and premium beers.


Secret #7: “Lay out a goal for sales with each retailer, and lay out a plan to reach that goal.”


Secret #8: “Winning the summer comes down to planning and forecasting.”

  • Autumn “In October, you want to have the previous summer wrapped up and analyzed for improvement.”
  • Winter: “As you reach January and February, you should spend time getting your coolers reset and running through your inventory.”
  • Summer: “Winning the summer comes down to planning and forecasting during the slower fall and winter months.” 


Secret #9: “If you’re looking for a quick return on your investment, this is the wrong business for you.”

After you make your product, you need to put substantial effort into developing relationships with your distributors and your retailers in order to reach success.  


Secret #10: “Above all else, quality and consistency are key.”

Download the exclusive eBook

81% of brands are frustrated with their ability to drive execution in the store. In this guide we show you how to find the execution opportunities that move the needle on sales.

Melissa Sonntag

Melissa is a recent graduate of Northeastern University and a content marketing specialist at Repsly, Inc. She is committed to applying her skills in order to bring value to Repsly readers and customers. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, making music, and anything dog-related.

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