BevMo! Chief: We Love Local Beer

He’s a former executive at Hoyt Cinemas and Disney, among other places, but if you ask BevMo! CEO Alan Johnson where the big show is these days he’s happy to tell you that it’s in the beer aisles of his stores.

The company recently announced it was opening its 119thoutlet in City of Industry, California on Aug. 31. Along with a Goleta, Calif., store, it will be the first since a change in liquor wholesaling laws to the north, in Washington, allowed BevMo!—also called Beverages & More — to push into that state.

Johnson: Craft Beer Focused recently spoke with Johnson after the opening of its stores in Tacoma and Silverdale, Wash. about the way that the company — a massive warehouse-style store stocked to the gills with booze, wine, and beer — sees its role in the craft beer universe.

According to Johnson, the West Coast’s leadership in craft brewing combines with the chain’s footprint — mostly California, also Washington and Arizona — to make an emphasis on having local craft beer a necessity — and that in the stores “all the excitement is around craft beer,” where “you can never have enough local.”

“The innovation is kind of through the roof,” he said, in describing the reason he’s enthusiastic about craft beer. The native of Australia added that the company has been known to stock as many as 1,000 different beer types at its stores, but that it strives to balance that breadth via a hard push to make sure that local beer is featured.

Johnson, who joined BevMo! in 2009, said that despite the astronomical number of wine, beer, liquor, and mixer SKUs in each store — around 8,000, give or take, depending on store size — there’s a push on to try to turn every store into “your neighborhood specialty beverage retailer.”

That means that local buyers try to determine the key local craft companies to stock, just as they do wines that are popular in a given area. He cited the buyer at his new Tacoma store as an example:

“Our market merchandise manager lives in Walla Walla, works in Seattle, he has lived all of his life in the Pacific Northwest,” Johnson said. “Nobody will care more about what’s happening in a local neighborhood than local buyers. Look, Washington is the second-biggest state in the wine business in the U.S. Being closer to that ‘mother ship,’ the local wines, beers, will be specifically called out in the store, with specific signage.”

All BevMo! stores use the DSD system to get beer, but have beer specialists who run their departments and try to stock according to local needs. Those specialists are able to arrange tastings and approve new products, Johnson added, and put a priority on being as current with their lineups as possible. He encourages beverage entrepreneurs — both beer and non-alcohol makers — to pitch to their local BevMo buyer.

“There’s no such thing at BevMo! as one size fits all,” Johnson said. “We think local, we buy local, we live local and we hire local.”