You know you are talking to Texas when Del Papa’s Vice President of Corporate Relations & Communication Peter Williamson comes on the phone. There is no mistaking that Lone-Star accent. “A focused and targeted sense of urgency is our theme,” he says.
“That’s the call to action we share with our employees to motivate and inspire them to share our vision for the future,” says Williamson. The future began to arrive in 2012 when the company’s cutting-edge, state of the art 155,000 square foot distribution center opened on 27 acres in Texas City, moving from its home of 102 years in nearby Galveston, Texas.
In addition to corporate offices and warehouse space, Del Papa’s new Texas City facility houses a print shop for graphic artists to design advertising and point-of-sale banners – a workshop where neon signs for the various beer brands are stored and repaired – and a spacious hospitality center for employees and clients.
“Technology is key to the company’s mission,” was a theme Williamson emphasized more than once. “We make these investments in sales and operational areas of our business to better serve and provide information to our employees. Our employees who interact with our retailers on a daily basis are then able to provide their customers the information they need to be able to make better decisions about their businesses,” he explained.
“We’re also launching a newly re-designed website for Del Papa Distributing. The goal was to provide our visitors with an easier way to learn about our Company’s history, community service and products. It’s an important communication asset for us as visitors to our website can learn about things like upcoming special events, on premise sampling activations or new brand and package introductions. In the social media realm we’re still learning but we’re certainly using social media more than we were three years ago and we see that it’s going to be a big platform moving forward, giving us a chance to connect directly with our consumers.”
You would be forgiven for thinking things were a little simpler for Omero Del Papa in 1910 when he began a wholesale grocery business on Galveston Island. “Omero became affiliated with Anheuser-Busch during prohibition in 1930,” Williamson explained. “At that time Anheuser-Busch was trying to stay in business by selling things like baker’s yeast and malt. In 1933 with the repeal of prohibition he began to distribute Anheuser-Busch beers.” The rest, as well as the “great experiment” of prohibition itself, is history.
“One of the things that has changed over the years is the consolidation that has taken place in the distributor tier of the industry. At one time a small town like Galveston, Texas may have had a half dozen or more independent beer distributors. Today in most markets you have two large distributors with maybe a couple of smaller distributors handling craft brands,” he said.
“I always come back to some of our core values – people, quality, honesty, integrity and work ethic,” said Williamson. Sustained competitive advantage is what the famed money man Warren Buffet looks for in an investment, and Del Papa’s advantages come from experience, technology and earning the trust of its supplier and retail partners. The bottom line, however, hinges on its 375 employees. “We really believe in our people and that their success is going to lead to our success. We provide good training; we’re really focused on our strategic workforce planning effort. We believe if we provide our employees with the right kind of leadership development and the right training they’re going to enjoy their job, they’re going to be able to provide value to our customers, and they’re going to want to stay long-term and make us their career.”
Del Papa continues to grow despite the obstacle of many Texans choosing wine and spirits over beer to celebrate or simply quench their thirst. “There’s always the challenge of the overall health of beer versus wine and spirits,” explained Williamson. “How do we get that share of mind with new consumers, those new drinkers that are entering the marketplace? Our focus is on building brands and making our best efforts on behalf of our supplier partners.”
The explosion of the craft beer industry represents one of the biggest opportunities for growth and Del Papa is at the leading edge. “A few years ago Del Papa Distributing created 2-Row Distributing, a strictly craft beer focused division to provide its suppliers and retail partners with the necessary focus, expertise and category management skills required for this exciting and growing category. Our craft supplier partners are happy and gratified to know we have a group of dedicated salespeople whose sole focus is selling, sampling and educating folks about their brands.”
Certainly, craft beer is taking off on the local, regional and national levels, creating a new set of both logistical challenges and marketing opportunities for Del Papa when it comes to connecting suppliers, retailers and consumers. “That’s a value added role a distributor like ourselves can provide to suppliers or a buyer at a retail chain. We see what’s happening in the marketplace and we can bring that type of street level information back to a supplier or retail decision maker and let them know what we’re seeing, trends we see developing, and make sure we’ve got the right product in the right account at the right price point.”
Relationships with its employees, suppliers and retailers are not the only ones nurtured by Del Papa; the company contributes generously to many civic, religious and charitable organizations throughout its marketing territory. “Being a good and conscientious corporate citizen is high on our list or priorities,” said Williamson. And to that end for over a century the men and women of Del Papa have shared in an extraordinary record of civic achievement – from relief efforts following the Texas City disaster of 1947 (which remains to this day the worst man-made calamity in American history) to blood drives in the wake of 9/11. Organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts to name just a few have grown to rely on Del Papa Distributing for donations of time, talent and resources. Over time a dynamic and caring company has become part of the fabric of the communities it serves.
To be sure, Texas is hot and Texans live outside – working, playing and socializing under the relentless southern sun. Beer is as much a part of Texas life as cowboys and cowgirls and today, the economy is strong and the population growing. The market is growing but getting a greater share is the name of the game and “share of mind” is where the game begins.
“Our job is to continue to build share in our marketing territory, said Williamson. There will always be challenges along the way but with our team and the portfolio of suppliers and brands we represent we’re confident we’ll be able to achieve our Company’s strategic growth and share goals.”