Jim LaRose is president and chief operating officer of The House of LaRose, a beer distributor based in Brecksville in Cuyahoga County. The company employs about 305 workers and serves more than 5,200 customers in eight counties in Northeast Ohio. Its brands include Anheuser-Busch InBev, Yuengling, Goose Island, Corona and Mike's Hard Lemonade.
Question: How did you get into the beer distributing business?
Answer: I am very fortunate to have grown up in the business and began working for my father and uncle with my brothers, my sister and cousin in the '70s. My grandfather and great uncles started the business in the 1930s. After saving money for years, they bought a bus. The bus transported folks from Akron to Portage Lakes. The Akron Brewing Co. was a stop on their bus line. My grandfather was hired by one of the managers of the brewery that took a liking to him and over time my grandfather became their sales manager. He and his brothers wisely determined that delivering beer for the brewery would be a good business and better business model than running the bus. The rest as they say …..
Q: Craft beer has seen phenomenal growth over the last several years. Has the popularity of craft beer – even though it’s still a tiny share of the overall beer market -- affected the distributing industry? If so, how?
A: Absolutely. The demand for craft beer styles has exploded and that has encouraged retailers to provide more space in stores and more taps in bars for the brands. Wholesalers have become much more skilled and sophisticated in their knowledge of craft styles and their knowledge of the breweries that have developed craft beers. Wholesalers like ours have set up selling departments that are dedicated to high end, craft and import styles. We have dedicated more space in our warehouse to the different styles and packages that have grown in demand. Our operation has made sure the craft styles can maintain their quality and stability with refrigeration on the trucks and warehouse.
Q: How competitive is the distributing industry? And can you share any examples?
A: It’s very competitive. We face excellent competitors. The local competition is made up of distributors that service the market with mega brewer’s brands, craft beer, imported beer, wine and non alcohol beverages. There a couple of craft only distributors in the state. There are a couple of distributors that carry wine primarily but also service the market with craft and imported beers. All said we all compete every day to make sure our retail customers get the best products they can carry to satisfy our consumers. Our managers, sales reps, breweries and suppliers make sure we maximize our performance every day.
Q: Yuengling swept into the state last year and Ohioans gobbled up the beer. Many people wondered whether the shine would last long term and who Yuengling would snatch market share from. So how is Yuengling doing in Ohio today?
A: Yuengling has sold tremendously well in Ohio. The market had amazing pent up demand for the brands, likely after consumers were forced to travel to Pennsylvania or other states in order to buy them. There has been some drop off from the introductory period as expected. The Yuengling brands are still selling at a market share level that is more than twice the level expected and the brands are selling at a rate much greater than states that have previously introduced Yuengling. Our retailers have given The House of LaRose and Yuengling a tremendous red carpet. The consumers in our area have taken a liking to not only Yuengling Lager, but also loves Yuengling Light Lager, Black and Tan and other labels. Our folks and the brewery did a great job in working these brands into a market that far exceeded our expectations.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented and why?
A: That’s a tough one for a distributor. There are a lot of outstanding brands out there. I have sampled a great range of wonderful craft and import styles, especially in the last few years. Our local craft brewers are some of the best in the nation and I admire what they have created. I would have to say, though, that I am amazed at how the iconic brands have stood the test of time for decades and centuries. I have had the great fortune to represent tremendous brands from great brewers that have stood the test of time across centuries, generations and geographies. I’ll just say I love beer, for personal and professional reasons. I’m grateful that they all have been invented and that we all can enjoy fantastic beers, some that have been around for centuries, some great ones that are newer and it’s great to know there will be great beers brought out in our future …Cheers!