Last Tuesday, I started my day at 10:30 am at craft beer bar The Meddlesome Moth, entered the official walk-in cooler of a sprits superstore, got a behind-the-scenes tour of a new gastropub, and ended the day with a five-course craft beer pairing dinner. If you’re getting jealous, let me clarify that this isn’t my normal routine – but it was a pretty typical day for Brent Hodgson, the North Texas sales rep for craft can industry giant Oskar Blues. My first in a series of articles in which I spend the day with the men and women behind the craft beer curtain, here’s a glimpse into the life of a beer sales rep and his adventures around the DFW Metroplex.
Like many working in the craft beer business, Brent got sucked in because of an overwhelming appreciation of craft beer, particularly canned craft beer. While living in and exploring the great outdoors of Colorado, Brent’s go-to beers were Oskar Blues cans, which were easy to take no matter where his outdoor excursions would lead him. While working in off-premise sales, Brent met and befriended the Western Slope Oskar Blues rep, who suggested him as her replacement during a brief leave of absence. What started as a part-time gig soon turned into a full-time opportunity when Brent was contacted by Central Region Manager/Texas Sales Leader Nick Lensing about an opening with the company in North Texas. After one visit, Brent and his wife Cassie took a leap of faith and made the move to the Lonestar State this past fall.
While some of you in the Dallas area may have seen Brent running around town in his Oskar Blues work shirt, many of us only interact with beer reps on their best days – out working the crowds at beer festivals, pouring beer at a local market, hosting a beer dinner here or there. From this perspective, we’re all jealously thinking they’ve got to be the luckiest SOBs out there, having landed a job in an industry where doling and drinking craft beer is a job requirement. What you don’t see is the massive amount of hard-working, mile-driving, and glad-handing that it takes to make a name for both yourself and your beer employer.
“People do get the wrong idea that all we do as brewery reps is show up to a festival, pour beer, drink beer, and then go home at the end of the day,” Brent stated. “Obviously that’s a huge misconception. It can be said that good beer sells itself – but not if nobody knows about it. Every day, I’m talking to people who’ve never heard of us, or who have misconceptions about canned beer, and I get to dispel those misconceptions and educate them about the limitless possibilities of beer in a can. You’ve got to be a hard worker, and you really can’t ever be content or satisfied – you’ve got to keep pushing.”
As Brent’s shadow for the day, I now know that for all the benefits working in the craft beer industry can bring, the job of a sales rep is no drunken walk in the park. Our journey started out by visiting several area bars – the Press Box Grill, Anvil Pub, BuzzBrews, and later, Goodfriend and The Common Table. At each account, Brent had a different agenda – some managers were very familiar with Oskar Blues and needed a new keg order or wanted to plan an event; others had tried a few of the brews and were working to see how to position them in their current tap rotation. There’s a certain finesse a beer rep needs when chatting with potential accounts, and Brent has a way of sizing up a bar’s clientele, current offerings, and perceived tap list gaps and working these items into his sales pitch. Although he manages accounts from Waco all across Dallas to Fort Worth, he somehow has the ability to both remember the names of the countless people he needs to interact with and juggle visits to them all. As names and beer flavor profiles rattled around in my head, Brent was deftly guiding us to yet another account for yet another pitch.
Marketing the canned goodness of Oskar Blues is a big part of Brent’s day – and so is the necessary damage control at beer stores and markets. Walking into large spirits warehouse Spec’s, Brent strolled down the beer aisle, analyzing placement, restocking empty spaces, and picking up cans to check the best-by date (Oskar Blues beers have a shelf life of 120 days). At Central Market, he chatted with a manager about a recent victory – getting the Oskar Blues cans off the regular shelf and into the cold storage. Brent is a major factor in making sure those cans are seen by consumers – and, as every distributor and beer seller knows, prominent shelf placement is a hot commodity, where battles are fought and lost daily.
“It’s easier when you love what you’re selling but it’s still a lot of work,” Brent said. “You’ve got to come in knowing you’re going to bust your ass and it’s not all fun and games. We are selling beer – so there’s certainly a fun aspect to it – but it is still business, and there’s competition. It comes down to relationships – you have to make yourself available so that people will know and trust you and the product that you’re selling.”
After a long day on the road, there’s no better ending than with a satisfying dinner and great beer – and the five-course beer pairing dinner at gastropub Park Tavern delivered. Pig’s ear paired with Mama’s Little Yella Pils, G’Knight beside asparagus with parmesan custard, and even a Bolognese course featuring short rib from Oskar Blues very own Hops and Heifers Farm (in other words, we were eating food that once ate the grain that helped make what we were drinking – that’s enough to warp your brain).
All in all, it was a good day for Brent (and a great one for me) – no hiccups with account meetings, relatively painless parking, and mild weather conditions. It’s easy to see why Brent loves his job – it’s exciting and energizing to get people around you to love a product you’re passionate about. But there are days that don’t go so smoothly, and it takes a person with the right commitment and a necessary level of maturity and professionalism balanced with a fun-loving and easy-going attitude to get through them. Your takeaway: if you want to get into this job for the perks, then you only understand about one quarter of what this position entails. But for someone as passionate as Brent is about spreading the fuh-can Oskar Blues love, the ups and downs of the work are all a part of the process.
“It’s really rewarding to see something that you’re passionate about do well,” Brent said. “I really take a lot of pride when I walk into an account and I see our beer there. I love representing Oskar Blues, and it’s easy to get up every day and sell their beer because it’s something I believe in.”
You can continue to stalk Brent, as I will, by following him on Twitter @OskarBluesNTX.