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Inspired by family, fun and beer: Get to Know Mike

November 22, 2023

This is part of an ongoing interview series that spotlights coworkers who make Bell’s the brewery it is. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

As we continued our coworker interview series, we sat down with Mike, Bell’s sales rep for the Kalamazoo area. We talked about the relationship between the city and the brewery, misconceptions about being in craft beer sales, and what inspires him.

Tell me how you got involved with Bell’s and the craft beer industry.

I worked for distributors for about 12 years, starting at a macro beer distributor in New Orleans. In 2010, I moved back to Michigan and miraculously found a job with a local distributor in Kalamazoo doing grocery store sales. I had always admired Bell’s and what they were doing in the market. My previous brand’s beers were always number one in the market… except Kalamazoo, that was Bell’s. We were not used to ever coming in second place to anybody.

I remember in 2010, I was pitching grocery store on a display of our main brand, and I couldn’t fathom why they wouldn’t have it. They had a display for this beer – Two Hearted – and I was like, there’s no way they’re selling that much of it, they would sell so much more of our beer if they just gave us the space. Oh no, they said, that’s our number one selling item in the whole store. No way, I thought, but I pulled the scan data, and sure enough, it was. Two Hearted!

Fast forward to early 2020, the previous Bell’s sales rep for Kalamazoo moved on, so I applied for the role. And I thought I maybe had an outside chance of it, but honestly, I wasn’t super optimistic about getting it. But a phone interview turned into a second interview, and I ultimately was offered the position. I used my experience working with data and analytics to put together a sales pitch during my interview. I think that resonated because data is so important in sales these days.

So, what do you do as a sales rep? All you do is drink beer all day, right? What are some misconceptions people have about your job?

It’s just not drinking beer . It’s a lot of building and maintaining relationships with our distributor and retail partners, making sure our beer is being featured in the best light possible, and helping solve any problems that might arise. So yeah, most people think that I have the best job in the world, and a lot of ’em aren’t wrong most days. But every day is not always the best ever, like any job. There’s days that are long that you’re away from your family or you’re have late nights and some early mornings during Oberon Release Week. A good example: I’m closing down a bar at two o’clock in the morning, and then I’m building displays at grocery stores seven o’clock in the morning. So those days are grinds, but they’re also a lot of fun.

What’s it like selling Bell’s beer in our hometown market of Kalamazoo?

So, Kalamazoo is kind of a weird town , and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. Kalamazoo is a very generous town as far as having the Promise and having a lot of businesses that give back and invest in the local community. I think Bell’s is kind of a reflection of that.

It’s really special to sell beer here. There are so many stories people have about their connections to Bell’s after almost 40 years in business. I also meet people who come to Kalamazoo specifically for Bell’s. The bars and stores here don’t view us as competition – we’re an asset that brings great beer and customers to them. I appreciate this even more when I travel and meet people who haven’t heard of Two Hearted or Oberon.

As a Kalamazoo native, Bell’s has always been a part of our community. But it wouldn’t have become what it is today if the beer wasn’t world-class. How do you see the balance existing between that?

You can sell someone something once based on novelty or hype, but to maintain relationships, you need a quality product. We are passionate about making the highest quality beer. Having that local connection helps get the beer in the door, but the world-class beer keeps it flowing and brings customers coming back for more.

Are you from the area originally?

No, I’m from Midland on the east side of the state, and this side of Michigan is way better . This is the place to be. My wife is from Galesburg, growing up about four or five miles away from where the brewery is today.

So, from an outsider’s perspective, what role does Bell’s play in the Kalamazoo community?

There’s a lot of pride here about Bell’s and the relationship between the company and the city. We’re seen as part of the community, not just a business. We give back through charity and sponsoring community events like Kalamazoo Pride, Adopt a Highway, and Snow Jog, which benefits Loaves and Fishes, as well as programs to support clean water. Bell’s does a lot for the local area here. I think that it’s really important that we’re viewed as a part of the community and not just a business here to make money off of it.

When people ask about the connection between the city and the company, I always point to Oberon Day, a day unlike any other day in Kalamazoo. What has it been like for you to introduce Oberon Eclipse this fall? Oberon carries a special meaning to so many here.

So far, the reception that we’ve had on that one has just been phenomenal. And honestly, I was a little worried about including the name Oberon on there, but it’s absolutely working out there right now. People are loving that brand and they’re getting after it. I’m so glad that Eclipse is a different beer than what Oberon is. It’s not an Oberon variant. It’s definitely a different beer. And I think that was important. We want to maintain the specialty and the uniqueness of what Oberon: something to enjoy in the summer. In the winter months, you’re probably spending a little bit more time at home, so a beer with a little bit higher ABV with a more full body beer is appropriate for the season.

For you, what does “Inspired Brewing” mean?

It means a lot, but for me, Inspired Brewing means we have a clear “why” behind what we do – bringing world-class beer to people while being responsible to our customers, employees, and environment. We can enjoy great beer while still being kind and courteous. Inspired Brewing means we have passion and purpose behind our work.

What inspires you every day, both at work and personally?

My family is my foundation and the most important thing. But I’m also inspired to enjoy life as much as I can. To be able to have a job that’s fun and that I enjoy is such a blessing. I don’t take that lightly. It’s a great opportunity for me to go out every day and have a legitimate good time. Whether that’s stocking shelves at a grocery store, or rotating product at a liquor store, or buying rounds of beer for people at the bar, what inspires me is I know that there’s only a finite amount of time that we have here, and I want to enjoy it as much as possible, and I get to do that at work too. That’s really cool.

Thanks, Mike! Appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.

No problem! Glad I could participate.

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