Despite being a young wholesaler in a niche market, BJS Beverage in Wichita, Kansas is making a name for itself. Founded in 2014 by Brad Steven, BJS specializes in organic, sustainably farmed and natural wines, mostly supplied by small, family producers. According to VP of Wine & Spirits, Keith Spreckels, Jr., the company “is a short story with hopes of becoming a long story.”
“Our owner is a serial entrepreneur who owns small businesses throughout Wichita,” Spreckels says. “He started this company because of his sons, who wanted to buy wines that weren’t available in this area because distributors weren’t carrying them. So he started his own distribution company, as someone who loves wine and who likes people that take care of their communities.”
BJS is expanding its spirit portfolio, which currently includes 20 spirits, which is one reason Spreckels was recently hired. He was previously Wine Manager at The Fridge, a wholesaler/retailer in Manhattan, Kansas.
“We’re also looking at ciders,” he adds. “Cider is considered a wine the way the law is written in Kansas, and there’s a lot of demand for hard cider products.”
The biggest consumer trend impacting BJS Beverage is the farm-to-table movement, which has been migrating from the on-premise side of the industry to the off-premise sector. When Spreckels was at The Fridge, he gravitated toward wines sold by BJS Beverages because of the portfolio’s focus on smaller vineyards, which aligned with what his customers were requesting.
“Consumers want to know what they’re drinking and where it came from,” Spreckels says. “More people are asking more questions now, which is why we’re gearing our book toward family-owned, sustainable and organic as much as we can. People are more curious and educated than they’ve ever been.”
Those brands perform well on-premise, which is why BJS Beverage is focused on building brands there first, with pull-through into liquor stores following closely behind.
“We have a lot of inexpensive brands that taste good, which makes them great for by-the-glass menus,” he says.
And though he’s focused on building the company’s portfolio of brands and the business in general, Spreckels says it’s also important not to lose sight of why people enjoy working in the beverage alcohol industry.
“I try to keep it at the forefront of people’s minds that wine and spirits can still be fun,” he says. “We’re all in sales, but i don’t want anyone to get cynical and turn it into too much of a business. We’re not selling car parts, we’re selling alcohol. From our customers to our clients to our employees, people should be having a good time.”