Whether it’s a commercial enterprise or a backyard garden, agriculture aficionados understand that cultivating the soil is the key initial step to supporting a successful harvest. In business, many experts will tout that their company culture and employees are “the soil” and what cultivates their success. For Reyes Beer Division, a business unit of Reyes Holdings, L.L.C., based in Rosemont, Ill., it’s the emphasis on employee engagement that it credits for fostering the “succeed as one” culture that it values so much.
“We believe maintaining a great employee culture is critical to a successful business,” says Tom Day, CEO of Reyes Beer Division. “We’ve been fortunate to achieve and nurture excellent scores regarding employee engagement and employee culture for the past several consecutive years. We like to call it our ‘secret sauce.’ We’ve earned and gained trust with our employees over the years, but we know it can easily change [or] be taken away, so we treat it with care every day at every location.”
With more than 7,800 employees across its 18 individual wholesale operating units working out of warehouses, Reyes Beer Division’s employees and entrepreneurial mindset have helped build the 46-year-old company to where it is today as one the leading beer wholesalers in the United States. And those employees have the experience to match with the company frequently celebrating milestone anniversaries.
“Our employees make us who we are, so we are continually looking for more ways to engage our team and build an unwavering culture. Just last week, we had almost 30 employees celebrate special work anniversaries, reaching the 20-30-year milestone,” Day says as part of this mid-August interview. “That’s a big deal as collectively, these employees have over 670 years of knowledge. Our experience in the industry is unmatched and it’s all thanks to our incredible workforce.”
Throughout this pandemic, Reyes Beer Division has kept their employees a top priority, serving as reminder that this business is all about people and relationships, Day explains.
“They were the ones on the frontlines keeping everything in motion and it is important to recognize and celebrate their resilience throughout the pandemic,” he says. “We’ve adapted to be more flexible for our workforce and find ways to make it easier for them to show up and do great work every day. Our #RBDJOY program is a great example. We have Joy Ambassadors across all our locations dedicated to celebrating our employees and helping bring to life the beauty of this business.”
These dedicated, talented and resilient employees are the backbone that helps Reyes Beer Division deliver more than 280 million cases annually to its approximately 100,000 retail accounts across the nation and build upon the company’s legacy.
“When we look back through our 46-year history and what got us to where we are today, it always comes back to our people, relationships and an unwavering commitment to running a good business,” say Chris and Jude Reyes, founders and co-chairmen of Reyes Holdings. “We employ talented, passionate people who proudly distribute our brands to communities around the world. We’ve built incredible relationships throughout the years, many of which have led to acquisitions where we are entrusted to continue the legacy of businesses started by families just like ours.”
“And no matter whether it’s Reyes Beer Division, or one of our other companies, we always lead with doing the right thing and running a good business,” they continue. “A lot has changed in 46 years, but those three things have remained consistent.”
For these reasons and many more, Beverage Industry is pleased to honor Reyes Beer Division with its 2022 Wholesaler of the Year award.
The dynamics of beer
With more than four decades operating within the beer space, Reyes Beer Division has seen a myriad of evolutions throughout the market. Although the beer market of today looks different than even five years ago, Day highlights that the novelty trend is making operating in the space a very exciting time.
“The current U.S. beer market is dynamic,” Day explains. “The industry is changing and moving at an accelerated pace, an environment where Reyes Beer Division thrives. The growth in new categories, innovation, core SKUs, etc. is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Consumer preferences are evolving in every category and our industry is competing for consumers’ choices.
“Not only do you have non-alcoholic brands getting involved in the beverage alcohol industry, but you have it happening vice versa too,” he continues. “It’s a world where both big and small companies can compete because of all the players involved. While the beer market has always been a fun industry to work in, there’s never been a more exciting time than now, and we’re excited to partner with our suppliers on whatever comes next.”
As Day noted, the non-alcohol ascension as well as innovations around flavored adult beverages (FABs) and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages have expanded portfolios beyond traditional beer aisles, prompting a shift for how Reyes Beer Division structures its teams and go-to-market strategies.
“Our relationships have only gotten deeper as this category and our supplier partners have grown, which now include Gallo in our Chicago and Southern California markets, Sazerac in California, as well as Diageo’s spirits portfolio in Virginia,” he says. “We’ve hired specialists in these categories to help us better understand market execution, merchandising, and training. Speaking of training, we’ve put a heightened focus in this area, including experiential Beyond Beer Expos and in-trade education, to help expand our product knowledge and be the consultants of choice for our customers.”
Within beer, Reyes Beer Division’s 18 wholesalers have relationships with some of the top brewers in the industry, including Constellation Brands, Molson Coors, Heineken, Diageo, Mark Anthony Brands, Boston Beer, New Belgium, Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada.
“Our companies are dedicated to ensuring consumer access and choice by bringing to market hundreds of brands from brewers of all types and sizes,” Day says. “As mentioned before, we’re seeing a lot of expansion across the board and through acquisitions we’re often introduced to new suppliers locally.”
An example of this includes when its Indiana distributor, Monarch Distributing, welcomed Bell’s Brewery to its territory, explains Stephen Reyes, president of RBD East.
“We work to fulfill our company’s purpose of connecting customers, consumers and brands every day, everywhere we operate,” Reyes says. “The Bell’s portfolio is just one example of that. When we got the news, we were excited to expand our offerings to include their portfolio in Indiana and several of our other markets.”
Like many beer wholesalers today, the craft beer business has such a significant impact on Reyes Beer Division.
Jessica Muskey, vice president of national craft brands and innovation at Reyes Beer Division, harkens synergies to the company’s owners when they “put it all on the line when they started,” to how its craft beer partners entered their ventures.
“We have a very high level of respect for our brewery partners as business owners and essential community members,” Muskey says. “Traditionally, craft has been dominant in the On-Premise. Now that bars and restaurants are opening up again, it allows us to celebrate with our teams and brewer partners, all while supporting our customers.”
“Promoting the local craft community is a big deal to us,” she continues. “While we are a large company with a number of operations, our craft distributors are local, and we love supporting members of the communities in which we operate.”
Additional trends impacting the wholesale community are premiumization and convenience, Day notes.
“Consumers have demonstrated consistent willingness to pay for great tasting products,” he explains. “It’s always been our goal to partner with our customers to identify what that means locally in their markets. Our team takes great pride in our retailer relationships. By leveraging the power of our analytics, understanding DSD (direct-store-delivery), utilizing our best-in-class route-to-market and service levels, these all come together to ensure that the assortment at the individual sales outlet level is exactly what our customer and their consumer is looking for.”
Yet, veterans of the business know that as fast as some trends come into fashion they quickly can fade.
Muskey returns attention to the dynamics of the beer market and its ability to innovate around consumers’ evolving interests.
“The ever-changing environment keeps the category interesting and necessitates that we be nimble and maintain a continuous improvement mindset,” Muskey says. “Through our decades-long experience and witness to these changes, we are always committed to ensuring the placements we make are suitable for the customer and responsive to what the consumer wants. We work closely with our suppliers to lead in innovation and leverage our data to carefully monitor SKU level performance with the goal of these brands flourishing and thriving.”
“As consumer interest shifts, we listen to our customers, review trends with them and make the necessary adjustments,” she continues.
To ensure that it remains in lockstep with those shifts, Reyes Beer Division’s team members are encouraged to make adjustments in real-time.
“For us, it’s about maintaining an agile approach, where our culture allows our teams the freedom to learn and adjust in real-time to make better informed decisions based on market insights,” Day explains. “SKU optimization is incredibly important for wholesalers and suppliers alike. Additionally, it’s about expanding the industry’s skillset by adding specialists to brand teams, using data to pinpoint opportunities from other beverage and consumer packaged goods categories to try and predict consumer trends, taking big bets on new innovations, partnering closer than ever with suppliers, and advancing operations with tools and technology.”
Succeeding as one
For a company the size of Reyes Beer Division, ensuring success can be a layered goal. However, its approach as being a single entity, but still with individualized identities has helped bond the company.
“For us it’s about balancing our ‘succeed as one’ approach with the local expertise of each of our distributors,” say Tom and Stephen Reyes, presidents of RBD West and East respectively. “It’s that local involvement and knowledge of their communities that makes our companies successful.”
“Because of our structure, we are able to work together as a team to share best practices, learnings, efficiencies, etc.,” they continue. “We also hold each other accountable for ensuring operations are being done the right way ― for the benefit of our customers, consumers and our people. We spend a lot of time integrating our distributors into our go-to-market strategy and operational efficiencies. By having standardized processes across our warehouses, we can use the same metrics, technology and shared service functions to support our overall business.”
Carlos Gutierrez, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer at Reyes Beer Division, highlights that the local distributors always are eager to share best practices and insights for the betterment of the entire organization.
“For example, we have improved and standardized our warehouse layout and slotting plan functions through the use of our proprietary slotting algorithm,” he says. “While we consider unique market conditions and the actual building size and shape, our facilities are organized similarly, maximizing our productivity and reducing congestion.
“The exact process is being utilized in locations we acquire; we transition the new operation very quickly and effectively, helping the new team members adapt to our processes and increase their productivity within the first 90 days,” Gutierrez continues. “This helps when we have employees promoted and transferred across our locations. When they walk into any one of our buildings, they know it’s a Reyes Beer Division warehouse and can get right to work.”
Duke Reyes, CEO of Reyes Holdings, adds that the wholesalers’ insights sharing remain a key advantage of being part of the Reyes Family of Businesses.
“While each of our businesses is unique and operates independently, they share many similarities,” he says. “If one of them has a significant learning, whether it be a way to operate more efficiently, improve safety or develop our people, they share it with the others. We look to win together.”
As Gutierrez notes earlier, these best practices come in handy during merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. A process that Reyes Beer Division has been no stranger to over the years.
Most recently the company finalized an acquisition of the Northern California business from Columbia Distributing, with these properties now operating under their Golden Brands distributor.
Tom Reyes shares the acquisition of the people as the biggest benefit.
“Keeping jobs in the local community is a huge priority for us,” he says. “These employees have the local knowledge and customer rapport that we need to continue running a successful business. When we grow, our teams grow too. With growth comes opportunities for career development and advancement, new tools and technology and an award-winning culture.
“We firmly believe in the value of reinvesting in our people and businesses to ensure our teams have the resources, facilities and fleet they need to succeed,” Tom Reyes continues. “This is particularly true with our Golden Brands and Northern California business. With the expansive growth the team has seen over the last three years, the culture, teamwork and investments drive our operations forward and allow us to continue providing great service to our valued customers and supplier partners.”
Reyes Beer Division’s M&A activity even helps the company enter new markets. In late 2021, Reyes Beer Division acquired Powers Distributing (now Premium Distributors of Michigan). Stephen Reyes notes that entering a new state does come with a unique set of challenges, but also is filled with opportunities.
“As an example, wholesale alcohol distribution laws vary from state to state,” he says. “We are fortunate to have a national director of ABC compliance that specializes in state distribution laws and regulations to ensure we do things the right way ― always. In the case of Michigan, we also secured local representation that specializes in Michigan Liquor Control regulations. With their help, we’re educating our employees during monthly department exercises and regular legal trainings ensuring we go to market the right way.”
As Reyes Beer Division has grown its geographic footprint, Day notes that the wholesaler has perfected its dedicated acquisition teams, which help to support these newly acquired operations before, during and after the transitions.
“We deploy our teams (from our Center of Excellence and our other distributors), processes and systems to help integrate the new operations with nominal interruption to the market and our customers,” he says. “The months-long preparation helps ensure a smooth transition. But, more often than not, credit for a smooth transition goes to the legacy employees.”
“We do our best to provide thorough support, excellent communication and two-way dialogue, but the reality is that a smooth transition isn’t possible without them,” Day continues. “We need them. They have the local relationships, know-how and intuitional knowledge, which provide our accounts a comfort level that only comes from people whom they know and trust.”
Delivering toward the future
To ensure the employees within Reyes Beer Division have all the tools they need to succeed, the wholesaler has invested in the technology and programs that will accomplish those goals, particularly in the sales function.
Amy Nichols, senior vice president of sales operations at Reyes Beer Division, notes how the company is “driven by innovative technology and advanced analytics that help steer our business and our customers’ business forward.”
“We have invested heavily in proprietary technology platforms to assist both our sales staff and retailer partners,” she explains. “By implementing our E360 (Salesforce) platform that was built by us, for us, we are able to provide a toolbox to our representatives to manage the retailer relationship easily.
“Leveraging IRi insights database, our sales representatives become true consultants of choice, identifying opportunities with fact-based data to support recommendations that help our retailers grow their business,” Nichols continues. “Our eCommerce platform, Beerline.com, allows our retailers access to real-time pricing and inventory, access to product information to research our portfolio, instant access to invoices, and neighborhood analytics and trend reporting.”
She notes that its data science team developed a Suggested Platform, which utilizes data-driven insights that can recommend orders. Meanwhile the versatility of its propriety technology allows it to be used across all sales channels ― verbal, virtual and physical ― delivering a true omnichannel approach for its retail partners.
“They have access to the same information if they are calling our call center, visiting our Beerline.com eCommerce platform, or working directly with their sales representative,” she says.
In the warehouse and delivery operations, Reyes Beer Division remains just as vanguard. For warehouse operations, the future of automation is on the company’s mind.
“While we are always looking at innovative new solutions and ideas for our future warehouse systems, some of our warehouses currently use the Vertique operations system, and we recently began utilizing the HOPS system following our acquisition in Michigan,” Gutierrez says.
In terms of delivery, the company’s vanguard vision is not just about improving operations, but taking a holistic approach with its sustainability goals.
“We recently established our sustainability goals, in which we have committed to achieving a 60% reduction in carbon emissions and zero waste to landfill by 2030,” Gutierrez explains. “Transportation emissions reduction is one of the main activities included in our sustainability roadmap. We are looking to reduce our idle time, installing employee electric vehicle (EV) chargers and deploying EV in multiple areas of our operations.
“We are also currently deploying sprinter vans for draft tech operations, considering EV light trucks for our express routes and have tested electric tractors in our delivery fleet,” he continues. “As this is an area that is rapidly evolving, we are constantly evaluating different options to invest in EV, especially where there is infrastructure to support it.”
When looking toward the future, Chris and Jude Reyes remain focused on continual growth and improvement. “Walking through any of our warehouses, we feel incredibly grateful and proud,” they say. “Our team is the very best in the business. They’ve helped us build something special and they help us to get better every day. As we look toward the future, we’re excited to work alongside them to continue growing and making Reyes Beer Division the very best it can be.”
The commitment by Reyes Beer Division to its employees, supplier partners, customers, and communities, as well as a more sustainable future, exemplify why it truly is deserving of being named the 2022 Wholesaler of the Year.