On the Keg Seeker app, beer buyers may browse current brewery offerings by style.
Back in the fall of 2019, O’Brien’s Pub co-owner and general manager Tyson Blake was manning the bar, catching up with a regular customer. O’Brien’s is well known as one of the city’s oldest and best craft beer destinations, and as the two spoke, a parade of sales reps came through, one after another, each hoping to sell Blake bottles and kegs for the bar.
4646 Convoy Street, San Diego
After something like the tenth rep left, the customer expressed surprise that so many in-person sales calls would happen in a single afternoon. Blake’s response? “That happens to me every day.”
Although customers are now accustomed to finding and even buying beer through web sites and apps, wholesale deals have remained relatively low-tech, person-to-person affairs. In normal times, small armies of brewery and distributor reps prowl the county’s bars, shops, and restaurants. They provide samples and forge relationships with beer buyers, who order off sales sheets or via email. For a bar such as O’Brien’s, that means daily sales calls and ordering beer from dozens of sources.
“Wouldn’t it be awesome to have this all in one place?” Blake’s customer asked.
Except it wasn’t an idle question. This customer happens to be a senior engineer at a prominent local tech company, and has the skills needed to bring wholesale beer business online. Since that 2019 conversation, he and Blake have partnered up to develop the app Keg Seeker, a sales platform that allows breweries and distributors to list their updated keg, can, and bottle inventories.
It’s not an entirely new idea. Several of the larger beer distributors, such as AB InBev, have developed apps that service their brands. However, by offering a more egalitarian platform, Keg Seeker provides visibility for breweries and distributors, regardless of their resources.
“Most local breweries are distributing for themselves,” Blake points out, “So it’s a place for them to be on an even playing field with the big boys.”
Keg Seeker launched a year ago, and 30 local breweries signed on within the first two weeks, most of them self-distributing. Of course, coronavirus restrictions shut down bars almost right away, which put a serious crimp in its first year in operation. However, Blake says the app did generate $200,000 in sales despite these challenges. Meanwhile, the pandemic provided for a soft launch period, wherein he and his partners converted buyer and seller feedback into upgrades for what is now a more streamlined app.
“I actually use it five times a week,” note Blake, “Within 30 seconds I’ve placed my order.”
Because it’s working with so many different sales entities, orders made through the app generate emails to the appropriate sale reps, allowing business to function as usual. However, Blake explains that most sales sheets list only the name and price of a given beer. Each beer is just another row on a spreadsheet, which may not even mention whether it’s an IPA, lager, or stout. “Missing on a lot of sales sheets or emails,” Blake says, “was brand visibility and clarity.”
To remedy this, Keg Seeker allows breweries to provide detailed descriptions for the beers, say which hops are featured in a specific IPA. “You can put together a story behind the beer,” Blake says, noting, “Those are the things that sell the product, not just to beer buyers, but from the bartender or server to the table.”
With breweries’ brands and products clearly visible, Keg Seeker allows beer buyers to browse by brand, quickly viewing which beers are available and in which format and at what price. A single brew might be available in 15.5-gallon kegs, 5-gallon sixtels, bottles, or cases, for example. Buyers may view beer lists sorted by style (distinguishing IPAs from double IPAs, for example), and can quickly peruse which beers are New or Popular.
Keg Seeker is free for buyers and will remain so for sellers until June. Currently, it mostly features around 40, mostly self-distributed San Diego breweries. As the world starts to open back up, Blake and company are working to bring more buyers, breweries, and distributors to the platform.
One local distributor, Brown Bag Beverage, and its clients are already on Keg Seeker. Brown Bag owner Susie Bags cautions, “I don’t think it will replace good old fashioned sales calls.” However, she adds that if more buyers start using Keg Seeker, the app could become a useful tool for both sides. “I imagine in the future we might be able to access accounts that we didn’t previously have a relationship with.”