Time was when Jim Koch of The Boston Beer Co. went door-to-door selling Samuel Adams beer to local taverns ("Portrait of the CEO as Salesman," March 1988). These days, customers are knocking on his door, and they aren't exactly from the corner bar.
Koch had been turning away foreign distribution deals at the rate of one per week when Fujisankei Communications Inc. made a unique pitch. The proposal: to introduce Samuel Adams beer to Japan via a hit television show Fuji produces there. The show is sort of a cross between "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "Home Shopping Network," offering viewers the chance to see and buy an eclectic mix of luxury goods, such as upscale doghouses, yachts, New York City police uniforms, and California wines. Koch was intrigued. "We would have good access to a rich market, something other deals couldn't provide," he says. Moreover, Fuji agreed to handle all the details. "We just sold [the beer] to them on the docks, and they took care of the rest," says Koch, who signed the deal last fall. "The rest" included expediting shipment cross-country to Los Angeles and on to Tokyo, so that the first load arrived the day before the segment aired, guaranteeing the beer's freshness.
As for the segment, it was fairly predictable up to the final scene. After 10 minutes of Bostonia and beer drinking, the screen was filled with pairs of Samuel Adams six-packs, bearing a 4,300-yen price tag -- about $30. "And I thought $5.69 a six-pack was high!" says Koch, who sold the beer at the usual wholesale rate. The price did not deter viewers, however: 3,000 calls poured in during the next three hours. Now, Fuji is trying to build a Samuel Adams following by featuring the beer in thousands of its mail-order catalogs, reaching many more doors than Koch could ever knock on himself.
-- Teri Lammers