Interview with Robert Murray, 2016 March 9

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  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript: "..official job title is president of the corporation..." "...clean toilets, wash bottles, we do it all here..." "We bought the business from my parents in 1996"
    Synopsis: Murray talks about his family business, State Line Liquors based in Elkton, Maryland. He explains how the business started and how it survived for four generations of the Murray family. He talks about how the business moved from the town of Elkton, to the outskirts of Elkton. He says that his parents discouraged him and his siblings from making the store their full time job. He says that when they started in their current location they developed a reputation of being cheaper than stores in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
    Keywords: beers; bookkeeping; craft beers; Delaware; Elkton, Maryland; family businesses; Pennsylvania; SLL Inc.; State Line Liquors; University of Delaware
  • Moving to the outskirts of Elkton, Maryland
    Partial Transcript: "...discount liquor stores had started in Maryland and there were two of them in Elkton..."
    Synopsis: Murray explains why his family moved their store to outside Elkton, Maryland. He describes it as a shrewd business decision. He laments the current state of Elkton given the number of businesses that moved out of the town at the same time. He expresses hope for the future revitalization of Elkton.
    Keywords: business; businesses; discount liquor stores; Elkton, Maryland; expansions; location; retailers; shifting populations; suburbs
  • Background, education and getting involved in the family business
    Partial Transcript: "I was gonna be a veterinarian..." "I ended up hanging out here and got interested in the business."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about his educational background. He says the he studied biology at the University of Delaware with the eventual goal of going to veterinary school. He did not get into a veterinary school and worked at his family's business instead. He says that he became interested in the business and craft beer then. He notes that when he stared in the late 1970s there was very little craft beer in the United States and recalls that many in the industry thought craft beer was a fad. He says that craft beer is a revival of pre-prohibition approaches to local brewing. He talks about how certain types of beer were invented in order to survive the challenges of long distance shipping.
    Keywords: businesses; craft beers; hops; India Pale Ale; local breweries; Prohibition; University of Delaware; veterinarian; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Drinking beer as a young man and some thoughts on innovation in the craft beer industry.
    Partial Transcript: "When I was growing up... the drinking age was eighteen..." "There's still a lot of brand loyalists, but not in the craft beer section... I still go back to Sierra Nevada pale ale..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about brand loyalty in the craft beer industry. He says that there is none. According to him, successful brewers keep adding new products and trying new things. If a brewer is unwilling to make new products, he thinks that they will not be in the craft beer industry for a very long time. He talks about how the size of the business has expanded over the years.
    Keywords: craft beer industry; Elkton, Maryland; innovation; investments; North Side Hotel; Sierra Nevada; storage
  • Beer brands for sale at State Line liquors
    Partial Transcript: "I have a little over 3,000 brands in the store..." "That was the goal, I was gonna have the most beers in the world at my store..." "I've decided to get rid of some of the beers that shouldn't be there..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about his goal to have the highest number of beer brands on shelf in the United States, if not the world. He says that in the past year that goal became unreachable and he now focuses on selling beers that he thinks deserve shelf space and says that he prefers to work with brewers who support their products and help him run events like tastings.
    Keywords: branding; breweries; craft beers; selling beers; Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
  • Growth in the craft beer industry
    Partial Transcript: "The whole industry is crazy... expansion is so much faster..." "Dad always said if you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards in business..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about the challenges of selling more and more craft beer brands. He talks about remodeling his shop's layout so that customers can navigate the store. He talks about trends in craft beer distribution. He says that there is much more competition in the craft beer industry, and that the sense of fellowship in the craft beer industry is not as strong as it once was. He talks about individual brewers trying to jockey for shelf position in his store.
    Keywords: bottles; cans; craft beers; craft breweries; distribution; growlers; shelf space; store layouts
  • Consumer education at State Line Liquors
    Partial Transcript: "...if you're not doing [consumer education], I think you're gonna be just the corner beer store instead of the go to place..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about the importance of consumer education for craft brewing. He says that according to the website, ratebeer.com, his store is third rated bottle shop in the United States. He explains the criteria of this award and says that his store often loses out on ambiance due to how plain his shop is. He talks about tastings and other consumer events that he holds in his shop.
    Keywords: ambiance; bottle shops; consumer education; craft breweries; ratebeer.com; ratings
  • Thoughts on the importance of Dogfish Head and Sam Calagione to the craft beer industry
    Partial Transcript: "I remember going to his house in Reheboth..." "He's one of them that really made it happen..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about his admiration for Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head and gives him credit for helping to kick start the industry. Murray talks about some other innovators in the craft beer industry but goes back to crediting Sam Calagione for making the craft beer industry what it is. He talks about a charity auction where Sam helped out and recalls that when they ran out of things to sell, someone said that Sam should auction his Dogfish Head socks, which he did.
    Keywords: beer promotions; Canned Aid; Dogfish Head Brewing Company; innovation; Reheboth, Delaware; Sam Calagione
  • Thoughts on west coast breweries opening east coast factories
    Partial Transcript: "More beer, a lot of limited beers..."
    Synopsis: Murray offers his thoughts on west coast breweries opening east coast factories. He welcomes it, because that means he will be able to get fresher beer and not run out of stock. He talks about how competition works in the craft beer industry.
    Keywords: Ballast Point; competition; craft breweries; Green Flash; Stone Brewing Company
  • Thoughts on drinking craft beer
    Partial Transcript: "...I was a Budweiser drinker..." "He didn't know how to sell beer..." "A lot of people will move on if they find the right craft beer to try..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about how most people who start drinking craft beer do not go back to drinking non craft beers. He tells a story about a neighbor of his who prefers Miller Lite over craft beers, but notes that he is the exception. He talks about his son learning what his favorite kinds of beer were on his twenty-first birthday.
    Keywords: beer drinking; Budweiser; Busch Beer; Great American Beer Festival; Iron Hill Brewery; Miller Lite; salesmanship; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • The Great American Beer Festival
    Partial Transcript: "I think medals help." "I think last year they had 4,00 beers there... on tap." "The festival can help a brewery a lot."
    Synopsis: Murray says that medals help him make selections when purchasing stock for his store. He explains what the Great American Beer Festival is. He says that sometimes, if a beer category does not have a gold medal worthy beer, they will not award a medal. He talks about going there and how overwhelming navigating the festival floor can be.
    Keywords: Great American Beer Festival; medals
  • Changes to State Line Liquor's stock over time
    Partial Transcript: "Originally there was more imported beers here available in the United States than there were craft beers..." "...what I like and what my consumers like are different things..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about how his stock has changed over time and traces trends in consumer beer tastes. He thinks that the IPA trend is more or less permanent, but talks about current trends toward sour beers and fruit beers. He talks about the state of the craft beer industry in the early 1990s and the shoddy quality of some of the beers that came out in that time.
    Keywords: Belgians; craft beers; imports; IPAs; sours; State Line Liquors; stocking; styles of beers
  • Opening the growler bar at State Line Liquors
    Partial Transcript: "We have an on premises and off premises license..." "I started off with, its better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission." "I drink beer for a living and everybody doesn't get to do that."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about opening a growler bar to sell kegged beer to go. He says that they started the growler bar six to seven years ago. He says that his venture was instrumental in changing Maryland state laws to allow growler bars in that state. He says that his bar has 35 taps. He says that his customers love the tastings and growler bar.
    Keywords: bars; growlers; tap takeovers; tasting
  • Managing the store after remodeling
    Partial Transcript: "But we did change things dramatically..." "We have guys that are scheduled on growler the whole entire time we are open..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about running his store after remodeling it. He talks about how he now has people staffing the growler bar full time and others on the floor for purposes of consumer education. He also says that he has a person whose whole job is to make sure all beer on the shelf is within date. He says that the concern about freshness stems from a desire to not become a "beer graveyard"- a store which sells stale beer, something he cites as a major problem in the beer distributor industry. He discusses beer as a living product because some varieties have living yeast cultures and/or require ageing. He discusses styles of beer that require aging and beers that are best as fresh as possible.
    Keywords: ageing; beers; business; cultures; expansion; growler; sales; stocking; yeast
  • Thoughts on running a fourth generation business
    Partial Transcript: "Wow, they're enjoying what I enjoy and they're working with me..."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about running his business as a fourth generation store owner. He says that his kids keep him interested in expanding the business. He talks about his plans for the future. He talks about his staff and scheduling. He also briefly explains his customer service policy and his goal to make sure every customer is greeted by his employees.
    Keywords:
  • Comparing State Line Liquor's business models to others
    Partial Transcript: "They bottle wine.. they name it..." "Loss leaders are things that are sold at cost... to draw customers into stores." "I think we're more personable."
    Synopsis: Murray compares his business model to others. He think that what sets his store apart from others is the customer service offered by Murray and his staff. He says that although his store is a destination store, he wants the regular feel of a community business and to draw those customers in, not just people looking to buy cheaply and in bulk. He talks about giving back to the community, he says they owe it to the community that helped make them. He talks about his store's tradition of giving children pretzels instead of lollipops.
    Keywords:
  • Thoughts on the future of craft brewing and State Line liquors.
    Partial Transcript: "Craft brewer's future- still incredible growth..." "State Line... want to keep growing...keep getting better employees... want to do the beer garden thing."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about the future. He believes that the craft brewing industry will continue to grow and become more localized. He also thinks that there is risk of another craft brewing bubble similar to the one that burst in the early 1990s. He says that he wants to add good employees and a beer garden to his business. He says he wants to make sure his business can continue to support his family. He goes into greater detail about the economic concerns of running a family business and supporting more and more people who are full partners as they come of age and work in the family business.
    Keywords: craft brewing; economic bubbles; future; Iron Hill; State Line Liquors; wages
  • Definition of craft beer
    Partial Transcript: "The keep changing what that is... what defines a craft brewery..." "Micro brewers came in and all of the sudden... they were defining the art of making things better..."
    Synopsis: Murray defines what craft beer means to him. He says that specialty brewers who brew with an eye toward quality over quantity are what makes craft brewing different from big breweries. He then talks about the importance of price, selection, and service in a small store. He talks about some of his favorite restaurants and breweries. He explains why he thinks his business has been successful.
    Keywords: craft beer; Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant; loss leaders; micro breweries; nano breweries; pricing
  • Selling wine and spirits in addition to beer
    Partial Transcript: "It's just not about the beer... that's probably about 40% of my sales here."
    Synopsis: Murray talks about some of the non beer aspects of his business. He talks about the wine and spirits side of his business and briefly discusses the emerging craft distillery industry.
    Keywords: beer; craft beer; craft distilleries; craft spirits; spirits; wine