Wes Alexander spent a recent weekday touring Little Rock, Ark., all the while pecking emails about beer sales strategy on his smartphone.
Alexander, the director of sales and marketing for Tulsa's Marshall Brewing Co., has spent a lot of time in Little Rock over the past couple of years. And Fayetteville. And Hot Springs. And Wichita, Lawrence, Joplin and Springfield.
It's part of the job for Alexander and others in Oklahoma's ever-growing craft brewing industry as they find there is only so much beer that can be sold in-state. More and more, Oklahoma's brewers are looking to out of state to increase sales.
Alexander's recent stop in Little Rock included a planning meeting at the offices of Arkansas Craft Distributors, Marshall's Arkansas wholesaler.
“We knew starting Marshall that we would have to expand to additional states and markets to reach our goals for sales,” Alexander said. “While Oklahoma is a great market and we enjoy continued growth in the home market, our success is dependent on regional growth.”
Marshall sells its beer in four Kansas cities (Wichita, Pittsburg, Lawrence and Manhattan), two in Missouri (Springfield and Joplin) and three in Arkansas (Fayetteville, Little Rock and Hot Springs), plus the northwest Arkansas area.
That strategy of reaching past state lines is being embraced by the Oklahoma's flagship craft breweries.
Choc Beer Co. President Zach Prichard said roughly 11 percent of the company's beer sales consisted of out-of-state transactions in 2012. Prichard said he expects that number to increase to about 15 percent in 2013.
Choc, which is based in Krebs, sells its beers in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and the Nashville, Tenn., area, with plans to add more states — and countries — to its sales portfolio.
“Opening in new geographic markets is exciting and necessary,” Prichard said. “As our brewery has developed we have shifted toward even more experimental and progressive styles.
“There are many beer fans who enjoy these beers; at the same time, there are not a lot in any one given market. To get our beer to these drinkers, we must be in many markets.”
Marshall plans to be even more aggressive in non-Oklahoma markets. Alexander said the plan for 2013 is to derive 34 percent of sales from out of state — a significant jump over 2012 when about 12 percent of sales came from out of state markets as Marshall worked to ramp up that side of its business.
That type of aggressiveness is part of the plan for Oklahoma City's Mustang Brewing Co., as well.
Mustang President Tim Schoelen said his company is three years along in a five-year plan to sell its beer in all of Oklahoma's bordering states. So far, the list includes Kansas and Arkansas, with expansion into southwest Missouri planned for later this year.
Schoelen, who recently purchased the OKCity Brewing cooperative as a home base for his brewing operations, said seeking new markets is vital to success.
“Increased distribution is a business strategy, not about vanity,” Schoelen said. “As much fun as it is to brew and sell beer, at the end of the day we are running a business.”
Schoelen said less than 5 percent of Mustang sales were outside Oklahoma in 2012. He expects that number to increase to as much as 20 percent by 2014.
“Growth in other states is integral for our volume/profitability equation,” he said.
While that bottom-line thinking is stressed, there is still some room for state pride, Alexander said.
“It is intensely gratifying to go to other markets and see your beer on shelves,” he said.
That sense of pride hits home for Chase Healey, who along with his younger brother, Colin Healey, make up Prairie Artisan Ales.
Last year, the Healeys inked a distributorship deal with Shelton Bros., a Massachusetts-based fine beer importer with clients around the country and globe. That arrangement will see Prairie distributed in roughly a dozen states this year, including New York and California, and in Denmark as well.
The arrangement with Shelton was a coup for the Healeys. Chase Healey served as brewmaster for two Oklahoma beer companies — COOP Ale Works and Redbud Brewing Co. — before joining up with his brother to launch Prairie last year. Prairie's beer is brewed by Chase Healey at Choc's brewhouse in Krebs, an arrangement known as gypsy brewing.
Scoring a deal with Shelton Bros. was a result of self-promotion through beer samples and the “cool factor” of Prairie, with its twenty-something brother team (Chase Healey is 28 and Colin Healey is 23) and boundary-pushing label designs, Chase Healey said.
“The timing with Prairie just seemed to work out,” he said. “I've wanted to work with (Shelton) for years as I am very inspired by their other brewers.”
Chase Healey said the idea that the product he makes in Oklahoma will have a national and international reach is something to be proud of.
“It's an honor, really,” he said. “I'm no more talented a brewer than anyone else in the state, so to give people that ‘This came from Oklahoma?' moment is pretty awesome.”