While attending the University of Vermont from 2004 to 2007, Andy Jones took notice of the impact that craft beer was having on the U.S. market. However, when he returned home to Washington, D.C., the presence of brands was inconsistent to what he had been accustomed to in Vermont.
“As a resident in Washington, D.C., I began to wonder why there weren’t offerings of fantastic products, found in other markets, here in our nation’s capital,” he says.
This experience led to his founding of True Craft Holdings, a wholesaler that specializes in craft beer. Because the wholesaler operates independently, Jones worked to develop partnerships that were in tune with his clients’ wants and needs.
“The key is to find a symbiotic relationship: understand what their production levels are like and what their goals are,” he explains. “Some businesses never want to expand out of the market or the state that they serve; others want to become regional or national players. There is no singular approach to working with a brewery.
“Instead, it’s to get the feel of their business and try to see mutually beneficial goals,” he continues. “Additionally, since we are an independent house, the focus is really on each one of our portfolio companies and what they bring and what we bring.”
Beginning operations in 2014, True Craft originally serviced clients in the craft beer and wine industries. However, an introduction to Greg Roberts, managing partner of Washington, D.C.-based Madidus LLC, brought a new focus to the wholesaler.
“We both realized that we wanted to grow in this market and in order to really build confidence with our current and future producers/suppliers, we needed to project strength in our current portfolio, sales and logistics,” Jones says. “A mutual friend of ours introduced us since he knew we were both in similar situations, and within three weeks, we had moved forward with the merger.”
In January, the two distributors announced they were merging their business operations and portfolios. Under the agreement, Madidus, a wine and spirits wholesaler that was founded in 2013, will serve as the parent company. True Craft will focus on craft beer, while Madidus will continue to offer wine and spirits. Jones also was named a partner of Madidus and oversees the craft beer portfolio for the company.
“Since the merger, things have taken off and we have grown rather quickly,” Jones says. “We represent several craft beer and wine distributors, including Three Notch’d and Honor Brewing. We also brought on board two really seasoned sales pros. One came from RNDC, and another was formerly with Hop and Wine.
“They have really taken our sales strategy and brand placement to a new level,” he continues. “In addition, we added a person in operations to handle the day-to-day logistics of the company, and this has really allowed us to focus on developing relationships within the craft beer market to bring on new brands and products for this area.”
These steps have greatly benefited the company’s craft beer clients, Jones notes. The expansion of its portfolio has allowed True Craft to expedite brand owners’ expansion into the D.C. market, while maintaining set expectations, he adds.
“The portfolio expansion has allowed us to introduce their products into accounts that weren’t realized before when it was just a beer focus,” Jones says. “Additionally, streamlining these operations has aided our ability into becoming a growing player in the D.C. market.”
However, two things have not changed since the merger and that is True Craft’s attitude and outlook. “We always knew we were representing some quality craft beers from some amazing breweries, and we knew that they would take off in this market,” Jones says. “That outlook remains the same. In addition, our attitudes stay positive. Our team is like a family, and we all believe in the company and the craft beer that we are selling.”
Understanding the market
In order to continue to deliver that same quality to its partners, the company realizes how important it is to remain connected to the trends impacting craft beer.
“The craft beer segment has some great product out there,” Jones says. “We are seeing younger operations have amazing success and growth. At the same time, established operations are beginning to expand their reach, which may have not been the focus a few years ago.
“For us, it’s trying to understand the balance of what consumers are looking for and what we can provide,” he continues. “At the same time, when we see craft acquisitions in the market, we have to look ahead and see how this will impact the brands we carry.”
Although it can be easy to get caught up in general craft beer trends, True Craft is staying tapped into what is driving the D.C. market. “The market for D.C. consumption is around 6 million or so barrels; there is a growing increase in the craft beer segment in that number,” Jones says. “We know that consumers appreciate a quality product and that is what we intend to deliver every day.”
One trend flourishing in Washington, D.C., is hyperlocal, Jones adds. “To be able to go to that brewery for an afternoon and then be able to see it out later that night has become a big focus in the area,” he says. “Collaborations are another interesting segment. There are some great Virginia breweries that are working on releases together and it’s been great to see.”
But no matter what the trends are, Madidus and True Craft are ready to serve its customers and ultimately the consumers. “We are looking at aggressive expansion in the D.C. market, while bringing on a few more brands to our portfolio,” Jones says. “We want a balanced portfolio, but one that speaks volumes about our company.”