Sound Beverage Distributors Inc.

65 years of locally owned beer and wine distribution in Whatcom County, Washington
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Sean Barr

In Bellingham, a small city in the northernmost corner of Washington State, Sound Beverage Distributors Inc. has been a locally owned, trusted name in beer and wine distribution since the early 1950s. The company caters to all retail-beverage segments — grocery, convenience, restaurants and more — offering superior service by maintaining close proximity to customers and the added flexibility of local ownership.

“If there’s a problem, we can solve it quickly,” says Craig Mullarky, vice president and general manager of Sound Beverage for the last 18 years. “Our larger competitors are much more regimented in what they can and cannot do.”

Staying local, offering superb service

Over the course of the last 65 years, Sound Beverage has focused on building customer and vendor relationships and managed to avoid widespread industry consolidation. “We’re still a small business, competing with major billion-dollar companies in this industry,” explains Mullarky. “Most distributors of our size have consolidated, but we’ve weathered the storm and remain locally owned. When I entered this company after working with the Gallo Winery for many years, there were 80 to 90 beer distributors in Washington — now there are 15. The value of our local business has grown immensely.”

Sound Beverage was incorporated in April 1950 by Dale and Elaine Shintaffer with a modest down payment on a bottling company that was soon to be out of business and two trucks. With next to nothing in the beginning, the couple managed to turn the business around. Today, their son, Dean Shintaffer, is majority owner at Sound Beverage. “Without Dean’s guidance and leadership we wouldn’t be where we are today,” says Mullarky.

Today, Sound Beverage has 100 dedicated employees, serving customers throughout the Puget Sound and specifically Whatcom County. “We don’t go outside of Washington,” says Mullarky. “In terms of our territory, the bulk of beer and wine in Bellingham and greater Whatcom County comes from us.”

“It’s our local-level service that really makes the difference,” he continues. “We’re able to better serve our customers one, because of our close proximity and two, because we’re locally owned and able to take action faster.”

Burgeoning craft brew business

Sound Beverage has been building relationships with some of the biggest names in the business since its inception. The company sells most major domestic and imported beer and wine brands. “Our longest running relationship is with Anheuser-Busch,” says Mullarky.

But Mullarky says he’s seen budding business in the craft beer sector in the last few years. “Our core brands — through longstanding relationships, such as our partnership with Anheuser-Busch — are still central to business, but our craft beer portfolio is driving most of our current growth,” he notes.

The company sources from craft breweries both large and small all over the Pacific Northwest. “This portfolio is driven by leading brands, such as Sierra Nevada, Elysian and Ninkasi Brewing and there’s also Kulshan Brewing, which is brewed right here in Bellingham,” says Mullarky.

Sound Beverage’s extensive craft portfolio also extends to hard ciders, another category Mullarky says is moving strong. “Angry Orchard is still the No. 1-selling cider brand, but other small names are becoming very popular,” he adds.

The company offers a broad wine portfolio, including a range of leading Pacific Northwest and California brands. “If there’s one thing that remains true in this business it’s that consumer preferences are continuously changing,” says Mullarky. “But we can change and adapt and bring on the right products to meet the demand, being a smaller company.”

Reinvesting in the community

In keeping with its small, local focus, Sound Beverage is a big believer in contributing to the Bellingham community. “We’re a leader in local community outreach and support in numerous ways,” says Mullarky. “The Shintaffer family has always made this a focal point of business.”

Sound Beverage supports Western Washington University through scholarships, athletic support, event sponsorship and involvement. Many of the company’s employees are also longstanding members of the local Rotary and Lions Clubs, Kiwanis International, Chamber of Commerce and other various organizations.

“Our team continues to be one of the best and hardest working, in and out of the office,” says Mullarky. “We’re proud to remain local and offer good, quality jobs that support so many families in this community. Our industry has seen massive consolidation in the last 15 years, like most, but we’ve been able to continuously change and adapt and we’re not ready for that kind of consolidation. I think we have a plan and direction in mind to maintain our strong local business.”

With a local focus, Sound Beverage Distributors Inc. remains a trusted name in beer and wine distribution in a close knit corner of Washington.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
MarkAnthony Group