Eagle Rock Distributing Company
Beverage distributors across the U.S. provide a means of transportation, refrigerated stage and maintenance of perishable goods, from the time a product leaves the brewery or importer until it arrives at your local restaurant, convenience, grocery or liquor store. However, Eagle Rock Distributing Company (Eagle Rock), a Georgia-based family-owned and –operated company, has been delivering much more than beverages for the past 80 years.
Along with a case of cold craft beers, Eagle Rock delivers unmatched customer service and attention. “We are constantly striving to be the premier beer, wine and spirits distributor in Georgia,” shares Steve Economos, second-generation CEO of Eagle Rock. “We serve more than 5,000 customers a week, and between our sales, delivery and merchandising teams we touch most customers nearly every day of the week, so second-to-none customer service and relationships are extremely important.”
Steve is proud to note that Eagle Rock frequently ranks highest among its competitors. “One of our primary suppliers, Anheuser-Busch, sends out regular surveys to retailers and I’m proud to say that every year I have been at Eagle Rock, we have ranked No. 1 in our market,” he says.
Setting the Beverage bar High with Family Ownership
Eagle Rock has been setting the bar high since the 1930s. The company was originally part of Atlanta Beverage Company (ABC), founded in 1930 by Stuart P. Murray. ABC operated from a small warehouse on Ashby Street in the heart of Atlanta with just a handful of employees. With Prohibition laws in effect at the time, ABC began to make a name by selling non-alcoholic beer and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
Over the following decades, Prohibition was abolished and Anheuser Busch was looking for a distributor. Stuart agreed to give up his current portfolio for the Anheuser Busch Brands; the rest is history. Working as a field marketing manager for Anheuser Busch, John Economos was introduced to ABC and joined the company in 1981.
“Shortly after joining ABC, the original family sold the business to my father and his partners in 1992,” recalls Steve. “My father split off on his own in 2000, establishing Eagle Rock, which was located on the east side of Atlanta.”
Eagle Rock has been in the Economos family ever since. “I officially joined the company in 2001, but I have been unofficially working for Eagle Rock my whole life, pulling up grocery stores with my dad on the weekends when I was a kid,” reveals Steve. “When I first graduated from college I went to work for Suncoast Beverage in Fort Myers, Fla., but through the summers I drove trucks and did merchandising for Eagle Rock, learning my way from the ground-up.”
Steve’s brothers, Nick Economos, president of Eagle Rock, as well as Mike Economos, vice president of sales, are also involved in the company now. “We also have a brother who’s not in the business right now, because he’s in the NFL, playing for the Tampa Bay Bucs,” adds Steve. “We have all been fortunate to have worked with our father and his partner, Steve Craine. We couldn’t have learned the business from two more well-rounded individuals, both having wholesale and brewing experience. They always taught us to be hands-on. I’m here every day, starting at 5:30 a.m. when our trucks leave and stay until the day is done.”
Ramping up for Expansion and Rolling out a Bigger, Better Facility
Steve and his brothers hands-on, customer-first approach has led to some major recent changes for Eagle Rock. “We’re in the midst of consolidating our two current operations in Dalton, Ga., and Stone Mountain Ga., into one larger facility, because we’re simply running out of space,” reveals Steve. “We have recently moved into a new state-of-the-art 730,000-square-foot facility in Norcross, Ga.”
Serving 19 counties throughout the state is no small job. “We serve the northeastern part of the Atlanta-metro area and 14 counties in northwest Georgia,” notes Steve. “We were running out of space and it didn’t make sense to add on to Dalton or Stone Mountain from a logistical standpoint. We needed something, bigger, better and in between both locations.”
Steve says Eagle Rock has always been a pioneer when it comes to utilizing industry-leading technology, but the company’s new facility will propel the operation to the next level. “We were one of the first wholesalers in the country to automate the back of the house,” he reveals. “We partnered with MHT, a Charlotte-based company, to develop a first-of-its-kind automation system spending roughly $4.5 million in automation controls alone. This helps us serve our customers faster and more efficiently.”
A Crafty Move
With expansion in the works, Steve says Eagle Rock has also taken the opportunity to diversify beyond domestic premium beverages. “While we’re proud to have a longstanding wholesaler relationship with Anheuser Busch, a few years ago, we saw the need to diversify and branch out a bit to catch consumer preference in different styles of beer, wine and spirits,” he explains. “That relationship is what has helped us build business over many decades and we wear that as a badge of honor, but we felt a broader portfolio would protect us from the ebbs and flows of consumer preference.”
In 2007, Eagle Rock began breaking into the import and craft beer market like never before. “We’ve been very successful with new brewery partnerships, such as Yuengling and New Belgium,” reveals Steve. “In a short period of time our craft and import section is second-to-none.”
Now Eagle Rock stocks an array of crafty bottled beverages, from Yuengling’s Porter, Black and Tan and Bock to a Widmer Hefeweizen, a golden, unfiltered wheat beer, to Shock Top’s Belgian White and many local craft breweries.
Beyond the Beer Industry
“About 18 months ago, we started a wine and spirits division, as well,” notes Steve. “The goal is to get into more fine wine and local, artisanal spirits. We’ve seen lots of consumers trading up wine and spirits from beer due to image and price. Most of our competition has been wine and spirit distributors that have bought up our competitive beer distributors, so in order to compete we felt we had to jump into that arena with two feet.”
For just entering this market, Eagle Rock has realized impressive growth. “We’ll do $2 million in wine and spirit sales this year, and that’s up 65 percent over last year,” shares Steve. “It may be a blip in the radar for now, but we’re happy with the early success we’ve had.”
Eagle Rock is even stepping outside of the beer and wine industry, seeking new innovative non-alcoholic products. “By diversifying, we’re protecting ourselves,” explains Steve. “When the premium beer market is down, no matter how hard we work, we’re going to have a tough year, so the idea is to transform from a beer company to a total beverage company.”
Steve explains that Eagle Rock has since added non-alcoholic products, including Sparkling Ice, a flavored sparkling water beverage that’s been wildly successful. “Sparkling Ice has even taken over Vitamin Water,” he continues. “It’s all packaging, no calories, no carbs and it’s really fit a niche and taken off. We’ll do more than 300,000 cases of non-alcoholic beverages this year.”
Through expansion and diversification, the company continues to dominate the Georgia beverage distribution market. Grounded in customer-first, hands-on service and family ownership, Eagle Rock Distributing Company is building on decades of success, one bottle at a time.