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"It is a industry that is endlessly exciting because it is ever-changing and no two days are the same. I've been in this business 37 years, and I bet I am going to learn something new today about the business that I didn't know yesterday!"
The industry Bill Burrill is speaking of is, of course, our beloved beverage biz. And Burrill indeed speaks from nearly four decades of experience. He started right out of college in June 1977. Early on, this University of Baltimore graduate worked for Carlton Importing. "When I was there," he recalled, "it was owned by McKesson. Back then, McKesson was the largest wine and spirits distributor in the country and they also owned suppliers. So, I got some experience on the supplier side. But after two years, I came back to the wholesaler side and have been in it ever since. I've represented pretty much every major supplier, every major winery, and every major importer as well as many smaller ones. I've worked in mostly Maryland, but also in South Carolina, Boston, and upstate New York. I've always been transferred back here. I'm like that bad penny. I keep turning back up!"
Today, he is manager of Republic National Distributing Co.'s Chesapeake Division, which encompasses off-premise accounts throughout the entire state of Maryland. In that post, he represents such major suppliers as Pernod Ricard, Heineken, and Bombay Imports, among others. He was brought aboard RNDC earlier this year after selling his interest in the Prestige Beverage Group.
"The three years at Prestige with my partner Joey Smith were just incredible," Burrill remarked. "They were a lot of fun and very challenging. We got Prestige to the point where it was becoming very successful, and I was looking for a new challenge. So, I just moved down Route 1 a little bit. Instead of being competitors, it's exciting to now be working with Republic National."
Burrill continued, "What drives me is that I just love developing brands. I've had the pleasure of starting brands from scratch, and I've also been involved in developing mature brands. That challenge is what wakes me up in the morning. I've also been so blessed that, in Maryland, we have the best group of retailers and restaurateurs anywhere. They're outstanding, and I have developed some very good friendships from Cecil County to Southern Maryland to Ocean City."
And in his 37 years in the industry, he has seen some incredible changes. "When I started in the wine business," he stated, with a slight chuckle, "it was all jug wines, Chablis, Burgundy. I can still remember representing Gallo as a distributor, and I remember the Gallo people coming in and saying, 'One day, varietal wines are going to sell.' Today, it's all varietal wines and the jugs are, for the most part, gone! For the wine business, it has been the change in the consumer that has been the most dramatic."
Some of the biggest changes have happened in Maryland itself. "Back in the 1970s, you filed pricing with the state," he recalled. "You couldn't change a price during the month. Prices were set three weeks to a month prior, they were written in stone, and everything was case wine. Today, there is no price filing. You can change a price whenever you want to change a price. You also have quantity discounts, which have dramatically changed the way business is done in the past five years throughout the marketplace."
From a geographic standpoint, he added, "When you are dealing with an Ocean City, you're dealing with a market that is very seasonal. So, that has its challenges. When you're dealing with Cecil County, you're dealing with competition from out of state. Cecil County will take a look at the pricing that is in Pennsylvania and Delaware, because that's their competition. They don't care what is going on in Baltimore. Then, when you deal with Prince George's County and some of Southern Maryland, their competition is Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. It's very different from market to market."
Looking ahead, Burrill says he is particularly excited about consumer preferences veering more towards flavored whiskeys. He just marvels at all of the selections now available, from maple-flavored whiskey to honey-flavored whiskey. "It's going to be exciting to see where that [niche] goes and develops in 2014," he said. "It is THE new innovation brand in the business."
FAVORITE MOVIES: The "Rocky" series
CAN'T MISS TV SHOWS:
"60 Minutes" and "Two and a Half Men"
WHAT HE IS READING:
"Do the Right Thing" by Mike Huckabee
"I'm a long-time Heineken drinker."
GO-TO MIXED DRINK: Jameson and soda
PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO BUY A DRINK FOR (living or dead):
SIDE INTERESTS: "I've been involved in the martial arts my entire adult life. I am a second-degree black belt in Kembo karate and am part of the American Self Defense Association."