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Impact Seminar: Binstein On The Retail Scene, Bulleit On American Whiskey

March 14, 2019

Michael Binstein, owner of Chicago-based Binny’s Beverage Depot, doesn’t shy away from controversy, and his speech at last week’s 43rd Annual Impact Marketing Seminar was no exception. While his address was titled “Trends in Beverage Alcohol Retailing in America,” his remarks cast a much wider net, musing on the future of the three-tier system and suppliers’ relentless push for premiumization.

“We share a common destiny,” said Binstein, of the three-tier system. “But each tier is facing its own survival of the fittest.” Two challenges he cited were Amazon’s threat to traditional retail and suppliers’ efforts to maintain consumer interest. Though he acknowledged the relative security of the wholesale tier (especially for larger wholesalers), Binstein highlighted direct-to-consumer sales as a serious threat to distributors.

“The three-tier regulatory framework is a living, breathing document that should adapt to changing technology, changing times, and the changing economy,” he said. Binstein advocated for a fairly applied set of rules, without “loopholes and double standards.” As examples of the latter, he mentioned the ability of wholesalers to invest in alcohol delivery apps like Drizly, and the ability of suppliers to ship directly to consumers.

Binstein implored retailers to remember less affluent consumers in the race toward achieving luxury status. “For working class families, a $9 bottle of wine is a luxury,” he said, repositioning every Binny’s sale as a luxury purchase for someone.

Later in the program, Bulleit whiskey founder Tom Bulleit walked Seminar attendees through the history of the Diageo-owned brand in his presentation, “The Trials and Joys of Creating Bulleit.” In a speech that was part biography and part business history, Bulleit started by recognizing the brand’s recent success and the March 2017 opening of the Bulleit Distilling Co. on the 30th anniversary of his wedding, as well as the 30th anniversary of the resurrection of the Bulleit brand.

In 1987, Bulleit launched the modern iteration of his family’s brand and spent the next decade working as a lawyer and moonlighting as a whiskey salesman. “I sold Bulleit by hand, walking into bars or stores and asking if they had heard of it,” he said. His hard work was rewarded in 2005, when Diageo acquired the brand. Since then, Bulleit has been at the forefront of the whiskey revival—rising 11% to nearly 900,000 cases in the U.S. last year, excluding its rye variant—and is prominently featured in the on-premise across the U.S. With Diageo’s substantial investments, Bulleit’s distillery is up and running, and its tourism facility will open this summer.—Shane English

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