Laura Markstein has taken an opportunity from her family and run with it to expand Markstein Sales Company. She has positioned the company to be able to distribute more than 4 million cases of beer each year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“It’s an honor to be the Bud Girl, the Corona Girl, the Sierra Girl, the Deschutes Girl, the Stella Girl and all my favorite suppliers,” said Markstein who is now the 4th generation owner of the company that was started in 1919 with just a horse, a wagon and six cases of beer.
On Saturday, National Drink Beer Day, the company celebrated 100 years of business and their growth as a distributor to more than 1,500 retailers in the Bay Area.
“It’s always fun to walk into a room and be the person that brings with her some amazing products and beers,” said Markstein who admits that while she is picky, she has tasted around 200 beers in her life with her favorite being a good lager—a Budweiser, Pacifico or Stella. She will even try an IPA or a Hazy.
Although Markstein has seen them many times, she admits her feelings about the Clydesdales have never changed and she always thinks they are incredible.
“It hasn’t changed from the first time I saw them to right now. When you see that incredible trailer rolling up and you know the Clydesdales are on it, it just touches your heart,” says Markstein. “It’s a very emotional experience because they are iconic, beautiful animals. They were here when we had our grand opening, and they were here for our 80th anniversary, and now they’re back for our 100th anniversary. I remember thinking years ago, ‘I can’t wait to have these animals here to celebrate our 100th, and here they are today. When you see them in person, they’re so magnificent and it just touches you because they are a part of history and are truly iconic.”
Markstein added that the Clydesdales are a part of world history because they have become an iconic symbol.
“They are a part of history. They go back to Adolphus Busch, and Germany and Budweiser. Think about how old that beer is. When you think about Budweiser, you think about the Clydesdales. You think about all the amazing commercials Budweiser has created and the respect the Clydesdales have,” explained Markstein. “People wait for those Super Bowl commercials because they are hoping to see a Budweiser Clydesdale with a puppy and a Dalmatian. Think about the tribute to 9/11 that the Clydesdales did. It’s unforgettable. It’s absolutely beautiful. When you think Budweiser, you think Clydesdales. They go hand in hand.”
Markstein shares that her favorite Budweiser commercial is the most recent one where the golden retriever puppy was with the Clydesdales and they were making sure he was protected.
“When you really think about it, how many commercials can you remember going back 50-years or 20-years or 10-years? You can probably remember all of the Budweiser commercials. You can remember Ed McMahon or pick a pair, the frogs and the lizards and the Wassup? guys, then finally, the Clydesdales,” explained Markstein. “It sticks in your mind and all of their commercials are great.”
She called running a company that has grown to 100-years-old, and is now employing more than 160 employees, pretty amazing.
“If you think about it, there are very few businesses in the United States, and very few family owned businesses, that have the opportunity to celebrate 100 years. It’s incredible, says Markstein”
Markstein, who has been in the industry for 28-years, shared some of her first memories of the company.
“My first memory of the business was probably in the early eighties. The family had decided that it was time to branch out and separate the businesses. I know that it was a challenging time, but it was the right thing to do,” explained Markstein. “Our great-grandfather had three sons and they each had sons. And then those sons had sons and a daughter. The family agreed it was probably time to separate the companies so each one of the great-grandchildren could take a piece of history with them.”
What Markstein Sales Company did was divide the territories and each family member took a different territory which include Sacramento, the Bay Area, and San Marcos near San Diego. But, it’s the history of how they used to distribute that is remarkable.
“Going way back to when we first started, Grandpa was a young boy and his family was living in Kensington, which is right outside of Berkeley. Great-grandpa Markstein was running the Pullman Hotel and Mr. Raspillar, who owned Raspiller Brewing Company came to him and said, ‘Would you consider actually taking my beer to market?’ And Grandpa thought, ‘Well, this would be an incredible opportunity.’ He had three young sons he was raising so he said yes. And all it took was a handshake. He started the business with a horse, a carriage and six cases of beer,” explained Markstein. “I remember another story my Grandpa told me. They were distributing in the late 1930s and early 1940s and the beer companies said, ‘Hey, would you mind taking our beer to this little tiny place called Contra Costa County?’ And Grandpa told me that he had no idea how he was going to get beer to Contra Costa County from the Kensington, Richmond area. And I asked him why. And he said, ‘Well, there was no call to Caldecott Tunnel. There was no way to get there. You had to go over the mountains and literally down a dirt road that ran through Orinda and Lafayette.’ It was pretty tough to get the beer over here to Contra Costa County.”
Over the years, Markstein has gone from delivering a modest six cases of beer to now more than 4 million annually. A few years ago, they reached a milestone with the Constellation Brands and sold 1 million cases of the Corona family.
According to Markstein, people in Contra Costa County drink a variety of beers from Bud Light to Budweiser. There is also a huge Modelo following and a huge influx of craft beers. Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, Seismic,Stone, and now seltzers are all becoming very popular.
Markstein explained that the popularity of seltzers came out of nowhere as it appears to be a nice transition from vodka soda due to the fantastic flavors, the fact that it’s gluten free, has fewer calories and is an easy drink.
She also said they now distribute BANG Energy drinks which she calls “on fire”. They are also distributing waters as they continue to diversify their portfolio.
“It was just a natural fit for us to take some of these non-alcoholic products, waters and energy drinks because we are going to locations that desire them. When you walk into a liquor store or grocery store, there are all kinds of beverages available. Sowe’re there to service and deliver,” said Markstein.
In the last 20-years, Markstein explained that the industry has changed a lot. One of the biggest changes was when Anheuser Busch went from being a family owned and operated business for hundreds of years to now being owned by a Brazilian company. In addition, the Modelo Brewery is now owned by Constellation in the United States and is selling one of the top beers.
“The craft beer market was a crazy explosion and has grown from 500-to-800 small craft breweries to upwards of 6000,” said Markstein.
With so many companies trying to enter the market with their products, she explained that there is an interview process to see if the company is a good fit for Markstein. The interview includes questions about the company’s plans, how their beer tastes, if they have a sales team and financial backing.
“We would love to take on more breweries, but we really want to do the best we can to get the beers out to the market because that is what it is all about – getting beers into the hands of consumers,” said Markstein who said they try and do what is best for the small breweries.
Still, with all the changes in the industry and technology, her 160 employees remain a top priority which is why she has implemented a health and wellness program into their company culture.
“I have always thought it is incredibly important to take care of my team that is working so hard out in the trade for us every single day. It’s hard work. It really is. It’s a lot of lifting and moving and bending and it can be tough on the body,” explained Markstein. “Years ago, I saw that individuals may not have been doing their best when it comes to stretching and taking care of their bodies, or maybe they didn’t know how. So, I started bringing in massage therapists and some employees looked at me like I was absolutely insane. I convinced them to just try it and they absolutely loved it. They had never experienced something so incredible.”
Now part of the Markstein company culture, they have massage therapy twice a week along with chiropractic care to keep employee bodies aligned. They have also started walking groups, as well as workout bootcamps.
“I love that they are always working out, but I think it’s just part of the culture. It’s really important to take care of the people that make up your team and really do a lot of hard work day in and day out to make us successful,” said Markstein.
She explained that by taking care of their employees, they have encouraged long-lasting employment and created a better company culture.
“It’s so important, when you have 160 people earning a living and supporting their families and making our company what it is, you’ve got to create an environment where they feel appreciated and are well taken care of. I think that’s why they stay,” said Markstein. “Plus, we sell beer. It’s a fun industry.”
Even with the business expansion and new products, and the opportunities of serving on state association boards, Markstein said she was most proud of the team around her.
“At the end of the day, I am really proud of my employees and the reputation we have out in the marketplace as being the top distributor out there,” explained Markstein. “My team has developed a tremendous amount of trust from our retailers and our suppliers, and they know that they have a really good team supporting them. So, I’m most proud of my team. I really am.”
When asked why and how they ended up in the City of Antioch 11-years ago on a 15-acre facility as opposed to other areas within Contra Costa County, she said it was the right fit and Antioch made it easy for them.
“We looked at both Concord and Pittsburg as well as surrounding areas, but there was this nice empty plot of land in Antioch and they were very welcoming,” explained Markstein.
Markstein explained that with moving the business to Antioch, it was important to give back which is something her grandfather taught her. She is thankful her company is able to give back to the many community programs in the area.
One organization Markstein is passionate about helping is the Hispanic Community Affairs Council, Albert & Bertha Markstein Scholarship which started in the early 80’s. They provide scholarships to Hispanic young adults so they can fulfill their college career.
“I’ve attended most for the last 20 years and it’s, it’s incredible because these are our young Hispanic adults that this is the first person in their family to attend college and it gives them an opportunity,” said Markstein. “Grandma and grandpa made sure that their foundation, that the company would continue to contribute to the scholarship even after they were gone.”
She continued by highlighting she has a few community groups that she is passionate about supporting which include New Day for Children, Bay Area Crisis Nursery and the Nephrotic Syndrome Foundation.
When looking to build out her team, Markstein says she can tell pretty quickly who will be a good employee due to certain traits. She admits she can tell right away in an interview, while also taking into consideration some people can be nervous.
“You have to see the passion and drive in somebody. Know where they want to go and find that reason why. Why they are here and want to be here. I can usually tell if they are going to be a good fit,” says Markstein. “I know that all sounds cliché, but it’s true.”
The types of employees she is looking for are people who strive to be the best, who are honest, dedicated, have a great personality, but also have a lot of energy.
“Our company wants to be the best out there and provide top-notch service and sales to our retailers and community. Potential employees must have that inner drive and be a strong service individual,” said Markstein.
For more on Markstein Sales Company, visit them at: www.marksteinsalescompany.com
Editors Note: Hadn’t plan to take video during the event, but here is a quick 5-minute recap with some comments from Laura, Antioch Mayor Sean Wright, and General Manager Jennifer Grant.