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Mother's Towhead, one of the brewery's year-round selections, is among the brews selling in nine southwest Missouri Wal-Mart stores.
Mother's Towhead, one of the brewery's year-round selections, is among the brews selling in nine southwest Missouri Wal-Mart stores.

Mother's nabs Wal-Mart deal

Posted online
Last edited 4:13 p.m., Nov. 4, 2011

With 9,700 retail units across the globe and fiscal 2011 sales of $419 billion, it’s no surprise vendors’ eyes widen at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s potential.

Not every company working with Wal-Mart will strike it big, but the megaretailer’s shelves are still considered golden.

For Springfield-based startup Mother’s Brewing Co., local marketing buzz helped put its bottles in Wal-Mart stores, said Jeremy Wicks, Mother’s director of sales and marketing. According to Steve Eise, off-premise manager for distributor Heart of America Beverage Co., bottled varieties of Mother’s beer have generated more than $20,000 in sales at Wal-Mart sites with roughly 700 cases sold in the three weeks it’s been selling the product.

On Aug. 29, Mother’s Brewing Co. started supplying beer at nine area Wal-Mart stores through Heart of America. Altogether, Eise said Mother’s is selling its bottles at 268 southwest Missouri sites, including grocers, bars and restaurants.

“We were presented with an opportunity with the beer distributor that has their contract, and we were able to get … approval to carry through our home office,” said South Campbell Avenue Store Manager Steve Binam, adding that the liquor-department administrators at the Bentonville, Ark., headquarters gave the go-ahead. “(Mother’s) is available in most establishments in town, and once it was able to be sold by the package, we had had customers requesting it. We are very pleased with having it.”

Up the flagpole
Before Mother’s bottling work started in August, Wicks and Eise visited with Binam on a route run this summer to get the beer ball rolling. Additionally, a co-manager of the East Kearney Street Walmart Supercenter called Mother’s with interest.

“Basically, we got them the UPC codes, pricing … and then (Walmart managers) sent the information up the corporate ladder,” Eise said, adding that he knew being able to scan the products at the individual stores was the first and most critical hurdle. After correcting a minor error in the scanning process, Mother’s Towhead, Lil’ Helper, Three Blind Mice and seasonal varieties were ready to hit the selling floor in about three months.

Eise and Wicks said Wal-Mart stores generally set their alcohol floor plans in March, and they were surprised that the local sites were willing to make room for a new product at midyear.

“People don’t typically create space for a new product. To make room for us, they were working outside of established brands,” said Mother’s Brewing Co. owner Jeff Schrag, who also recognized the efforts of other retailers such as Signal Food Stores and Brown Derby.

Mother’s has only been pouring beer on tap since May 12. The opening of the brewery, 215 S. Grant Ave., was widely reported in local media, Wicks said, and the buzz that the marketing team helped create led to the company being a highly sought product by Wal-Mart managers and others.

Schrag said the bottler has been struggling to keep up with the early demand. Of the company’s 15 employees, five fill part-time positions, and Schrag said he’s looking now at turning those into full-time jobs. He declined to disclose early revenue figures but said Mother’s has exceeded its goal to be on 100 taps at area bars and restaurants by year’s end. Mother’s already is served from more than 150 taps, he said.

In Wal-Mart, where last week Mother’s was featured on an hend cap, the six-packs retail for $7.97.

With Mother’s early success in Wal-Mart, Eise said he’s planning to see if the 11 Joplin-area stores Heart of America distributes to also might have an interest in selling the beer.

Date before marriage
While sales at Wal-Mart stores appear to be off and running for Mother’s, not every company that has broken into the Wal-Mart system has been able to create an ongoing and profitable relationship.

Ozark-based speaker manufacturer SLS International Inc. is a reminder after the bottom fell out of its 2005 pilot deal to sell its products at select Wal-Mart stores. The once publicly traded company unveiled a $1.5 million ad campaign that same year featuring Grammy Award-winning producer Quincy Jones. In April 2005, CEO John Gott said he’d been pitching the Q-Line Silver product to Wal-Mart for seven months, and he expected SLS to be in all Wal-Mart stores by 2006.

SLS’ surround-sound home theater system had entered a second round of sales testing in December 2005, but despite being a featured product on “The Apprentice” in prime time television, Wal-Mart never expanded the SLS line beyond a select number of stores. Later that year, the stock bottomed out at 14 cents per share and fell out of compliance with the American Stock Exchange’s listing standards.

Springfield-based home furnishings manufacturer GuildMaster was selling a collection of works by its painter J. Michael Sandel at 200 Wal-Mart locations in 2006.

GuildMaster CEO Steve Crowder said that relationship, which started after a Wal-Mart representative visited a showroom in North Carolina, has since ended. Founded in 1981, GuildMaster now owns and operates manufacturing facilities in Indonesia and China, where it employs nearly 400 trained artisans, according to GuildMaster.com.

Crowder said Wal-Mart placed an order for roughly 100,000 pieces as a way to pick up market share in the home furnishings market. The launch, which marked down the $199 paintings by half, ultimately was not successful, Crowder said, and he’s glad now that the company didn’t count on a long-term relationship.

“We decided to date before we got married, so we suggested measuring the sell-through before we proceeded with any other projects,” Crowder said via e-mail while traveling overseas. “We knew enough not to jump in with both feet and get our team and shareholders all jazzed up about the millions of dollars possible selling to a big box such as Wal-Mart.”

Calls to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for comment on this story were not returned by press time.[[In-content Ad]]

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