Roots Beer Distributor

March 13, 2018

Neal Fulkerson and his aunt, Karen Hurley, are the dynamic duo of Roots Beer Distributor in Mount Joy, PA. They run their family-owned business with unparalleled optimism, enthusiasm and passion. What some might see as obstacles, they see as opportunities, ready to take whatever the industry throws at them and use it to their advantage. Heady Times sat down with Neal and Karen to find out more about what they’ve done and what they’re planning to do to make Roots a destination beer shop in Lancaster County.

Heady Times (HT): This business has been in your family for 37 years. Having grown up in this industry, what is the biggest change you’ve seen and how did you adapt?

Neal Fulkerson (NF): Definitely being able to sell 6-packs and singles. I never thought I’d see that.

Karen Hurley (KH): It happened on Neal’s birthday this year! The first day we were able to sell them was his actual birthday. And we were ready for it. We went all in. We had our new cooler doors ordered back in November.

NF: We put in 20 cooler doors and multiple shelves. We had to move things up to the office to make space. On the back end, we implemented a new point of sale system to accommodate the increase in product.

HT: How has this affected your business?

NF: It has been huge success for us. 16 of the 20 cooler doors we put in are dedicated to mix and match 6-packs. And we are seeing customers shopping around and taking their time to browse our selection.

HT: What makes you stand out from other distributors?

NF: We are extremely organized and pay attention to every detail; our mix-a-six and single selections are all sorted by style and alphabetized. The cooler doors for the mix-a-six are labeled by style and outlined in pink, which coordinates with the pink lettering on the custom 6-pack carriers we had made.

We pride ourselves on our customer service. We like to engage with our customers as much as we can. I sometimes walk around the store with customers and show them what’s new. We also take special orders, about 100 per month. If a customer is looking for something that we don’t have, I’ll go so far as to call the brewery and find out if there is somewhere else the customer can get it.

We change a lot. Constantly. We are always trying to better ourselves. For example, when 15-packs and 16 oz. cans were introduced, we changed the store around to get them in a more prominent spot. I don’t let products sit; if something doesn’t sell I don’t bring it back in.

HT: How have you been adapting to the increasing competition from grocery stores?

NF: Lots of distributors are very against grocery stores, but I think there’s a lot to learn from them. Grocery stores are good at what they do and people (consumers) like them. So we’ve been making some changes to be more like a grocery store, in a sense, and be more shoppable. We bought the same shelves grocery stores have, which actually let us stock more. We installed big LED lights for the walk-in cooler. We always offer to help in any way we can.

HT: What are your future plans for the store?

NF: We begin each year with a rough idea of what we want to accomplish. This year we replaced the roof and added a huge, new sign on the front to grab people’s attention.

KH: Right now we are working with a marketing firm to help brand ourselves and our products better. We feel like the sky is the limit. We want to be the go-to place in Lancaster County. We want to not only survive the changes with grocery and convenience, but we want to thrive beyond that.

Neal Fulkerson and Karen Hurley of Roots Beer Distributor • 537 West Main St., Mount Joy • 717-653-4100


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