It looks like Wirtz Beverage is taking this craft beer thing seriously.
In the last two years the wholesaler, who was previously tied to just wine and spirits, built a fancy, state-of-the-art warehouse in Cicero, landed the distribution rights to Ballast Point, BuckleDown, Deschutes, Greenbush and entered into a partnership with Belgian beer importer Vanberg and DeWulf.
This summer the distributor extended its footprint into central Illinois announcing plans to open a downstate distribution hub that will eventually replace a pair of satellite offices and streamline Wirtz’s distribution efforts.
The 50,000-square-foot “Heartland Headquarters” will be situated in Lexington, near Bloomington, and will service accounts in central and southern Illinois. The facility will feature a 35,000-square-foot warehouse and 15,000-square-feet of office space and is expected to open early next year.
We caught up with Julian Burzynski, Executive Vice President of Wirtz Beverage Group, to find out what this means for the company’s current and future suppliers, craft beer drinkers downstate and Wirtz Beverage as a whole.
Guys Drinking Beer: What does this new distribution hub mean for craft beer drinkers of the brands distributed by Wirtz in central and southern Illinois?
Julian Burzynski: Our craft beer team is already working statewide and the new distribution hub is a great opportunity to increase availability of specialty brands for consumers throughout the state. With a new modern facility we can accommodate growth and new supplier partners, bring efficiency to our operations and delivery while also protecting the quality of the product which is very critical to craft brands.
GDB: What is the current logistical setup in terms of getting beer to central and southern Illinois and how will that change when the new hub opens?
Burzynski: We’ve been executing our current beer portfolio through our state-of-the-art Cicero facility and using our legacy/satellite locations in Peoria and Belleville to augment this effort where needed. The new, centralized facility will bring those efforts closer to our central and southern Illinois customers, provide greater efficiencies and match our Metro processes, systems and controls. In addition to improved efficiency, our customers will benefit from reduced shortages and errors and improve customer service.
GDB: The release mentions plans to “consolidate smaller facilities.” Which facilities will be consolidated? Will they outright close? And what will happen to the employees at those facilities?
Burzynski: Ultimately yes Peoria and Belleville will be brought together in Lexington. We expect many current employees to transfer with us.
GDB: Let’s talk jobs, both permanent and temporary, for this facility. How many jobs will be created by the construction project? And how many people will be based there once the distribution center opens?
Burzynski: The new facility will be home to all our Heartland Division employees – sales, warehouse and delivery which is currently about 200 people, though our sales force is regularly in the field. We expect construction to contribute 125 new jobs.
GDB: Why Lexington, both in terms of logistics and flexibility (tax breaks, land available, willingness to work together with Wirtz, etc)?
Burzynski: Lexington provided us an ideal location with prime access to the state’s major highways, namely Interstate 55, as well as an opportunity for growth as we consider the future of Wirtz Beverage. Lexington had incentives built in for infrastructure development and along with our Wirtz Realty colleagues, have been great to work with.
GDB: Overall, what does this say about Wirtz’s commitment to it’s still relatively new craft beer division?
Burzynski: This is yet another investment we are making to bring quality craft beers statewide. We are excited to continue expanding our craft beer division, moving strategically with the right partners. You can expect our efforts to continue.