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By Tyler Turek
Recently two people I’d never met were put in touch with me to talk money. Not mine, of course. They had upcoming interviews at different breweries. Each knew they wanted to work as a beer sales rep, but didn’t quite know how much compensation they should ask for.
The short answer is that brewery jobs and incomes vary widely. Typical salary/commission models will get you from $20k to $70k+ in lucrative markets. Most of us end up in the $38k-$50k range.
These are estimates. Few reps talk openly about their earnings (myself included), and every brewery does things a bit differently. From my experience, it’s a livable wage for fair and fun work. The views expressed below are my own. In any case, I advised each of these men and they both got jobs. Take that for what you will.
Where to start?
If you’re serious about becoming a full-time rep, I’d try to spend at least six months working with a big professional brewery with experienced sales managers that can show you the ropes. A smaller brewery might not know how to guide you and you may struggle at the beginning.
Then again, you might fit in better at a local or regional brewery where you know the staff and products well. You may have greater schedule flexibility, and you get to grow with the brewery. Just be aware of the skills and assets you can offer to any employer.
Unless you’re an “inside sales” person — calling from within the brewery — you’ll likely be on the road 2–4 days a week. Have a reliable vehicle with cargo space. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your boss provides you with one.
In the end, what matters is that you like the brand, the beer, and your team. Oh, and that you can pay your bills.
Salary vs. commission
Your sales targets and commissions range from 0 to 100 per cent. Salary range for a sales position depends on hours, territory, and sales volume. Some jobs are part-time and rely heavily on commission. I’d avoid these if possible since competition with 180+ brewers in Ontario limits your ability to make stable income. (For instance, you’ll pay out of pocket for gas weeks before you land your first cheque.) However, if you play it right, commission-based pay could be very profitable.
It’s realistic to approach a smaller brewery if you’re willing to take a smaller salary and a modest commission. Make sure that you negotiate car + sampling expenses — gas, parking, insurance, food items for beer pairing are the day-to-day expenses you should have reimbursed. A new brewery may not be aware how much it costs to keep someone ‘on the road.’
How do you make yourself valuable?
Do you have skills that can grow the brewery’s business? For instance:
If you can show your interviewer that you can make them money and build their brand, they may be willing to boost your earnings. Play these up as much as possible in your resume and interview.
New vs. experienced
If you’re new to the industry, don’t settle for less than $35k for a full-time job (commission included). Anything about 40k is worthwhile.
A word of caution: breweries can be suspect of unknown people walking in offering to work (if the job is not already posted). It’s nothing personal, but they get many offers from all sorts of people. Please introduce yourself, just don’t be a creep about it.
One way to boost your appeal is to start with some volunteer or casual work with a brewery — a foot in the door. This could mean working a festival for a brewery, tap room, or even starting a beer blog. These allow you to interact with industry professionals, make connections, and learn to sell the product in new ways. You’ll meet people that can offer opportunities or vouch for you when your dream job comes up.
Also, do you have friends working at great craft beer bars? Ask them to introduce you to their favourite brewery reps. Tell them you’re interested in making the shift and they may point you in the right direction.
Experienced reps can make $60k+ with a large chunk as bonuses or commission. At this point, your deep knowledge and business connections should sustain your income.