Bill Dunman, who founded Hank's Beverage Co. in 1995 with four partners, says his sweet, frosty brew goes down easy in the company's hometown of Philadelphia, the birthplace of commercial root beer. What can be sticky is finding someone to bring the soda to people beyond those city limits.
When Hank's was launched, a number of distributors called to ask if they could carry the root beer. But in the past 5 to 10 years, those distributors consolidated. Now the few remaining ones carry so many brands that they are loath to add new ones. "There are literally hundreds of new beverage products that the average consumer will never see," Dunman says.
To extend his market reach, Dunman changed his distribution strategy. Instead of wrangling with stubborn distributors, he goes right to the stores that sell his soda. He asks retail outlets to help him find space on trucks that are already delivering other products to their stores. One Philadelphia-area grocer -- Genuardi's Family Markets, a 34-store chain -- referred him to a snack distributor that was willing to carry cases of Hank's. "Many of the smaller beverage companies are looking for alternate routes to market," says John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, a newsletter based in Bedford Hills, N.Y. "Sometimes that can be successful. The question is, Can someone who doesn't primarily do beverages get adequate shelf space?"
So far, so good. As of November 2000, the snack trucks were delivering 500 cases of Hank's a month to Genuardi's stores.