Merch madness: Brewery fans flock to Molson Coors’ online stores

After the pandemic temporarily shut down the Coors Brewery tour in Golden, Colo. – and with it, fans’ access to the brewery’s gift shop – guest relations manager Michelle Aldava and her team continued to field queries from Coors lovers eager to buy a T-shirt or a hat.

“We were doing a manual process. We took pictures of many of the items in the (Coors gift shop). If someone said, ‘I’m looking for a Coors Banquet T-shirt,’ we’d take pictures and help them pick it out,” she says.

Often, consumers would tell stories about why they needed a new shirt or how their favorite hat wore out. It made the manual, time-consuming process worth it, Aldava says, “Because people love this stuff. How do you say no to that?”

Those days of searching for inventory and taking pictures for fans are over, as Coors Light and other Molson Coors brands have jumped fully into the digital age, launching online storefronts to satisfy fans’ demands for all sorts of merchandise, ranging from shirts to golf gear, stickers and beyond.

“There’s a huge demand for these products,” Aldava says.

The new lineup of online storefronts – Leinenkugel’s store went online last March, the Hamm’s and Miller Lite stores launched last winter, and Coors Light’s went online last month – have already proven to be immensely popular, beating sales and traffic expectations set forth by the brewery, brand, procurement and PR teams that worked together to launch them.

‘Figure out a way’

The evolution from gift shop to online storefront was hastened by the pandemic, says Kindra Loferski, guest relations manager for the Miller Brewery in Milwaukee. It required not just changing the way items were sold, but how the entire operation did business.

In a heartbeat, sales went from in-person to virtual, hosted on Shopify instead of a gift shop. Staffing had to be rethought to accommodate a rush of sales, and a growing inventory of items needed to be stored, packed and shipped, requiring additional space and manpower at brewery campuses.

In Milwaukee, inventory and packaging for the Hamm’s store, the first of the new crop to launch, filled an auditorium on the Milwaukee Brewery grounds. Loferski’s team later repurposed an old hops facility into a warehouse, even moving old brewing equipment to house Hamm's and Miller Lite gear. “You have to figure out a way to make it happen,” Loferski says.

In Golden, Aldava’s team build a mini distribution center in a vacant area, rigging a chain-link cage of sorts to protect the inventory and shelving. While the digital platform was new, it wasn’t the first time customers bought merchandise remotely: Aldava’s team fell back upon experience fulfilling orders from the days when Coors sent consumers a catalog in the mail.

Data drives sales

And while the guest relations teams had to adapt to a new, digital environment, Loferski says they were set up to succeed in ways past online sales efforts – offering a mishmash of products – were not, thanks to a data-driven approach that has yielded positive results.

“We have 100,000 visitors that come (to the Miller brewery in Milwaukee) every year…and we know exactly what resonates with them. So we know what’s going to sell online,” Loferski’s says. “We didn’t launch with question marks. We launched with winners.”

That includes best-selling items like Miller Lite golf balls, a can sling, a foldable chair, and even a throwback sweatshirt favored by Molson Coors’ CEO Gavin Hattersley that’s been dubbed “The Gavin.” (“Obviously Gavin has good taste because the general consumer agrees it’s a great sweatshirt,” Loferski says.) Top-selling Coors Light gear includes a grilling apron that holds a pair of beers and a “beer jacket” for dogs.

One-offs, like Miller Lite’s bar-scented candles, were hits. Over the winter, Coors Light sold more than $200,000 of holiday onesies in three weeks, Aldava says.

The early success of online storefronts for Coors Light, Miller Lite, Hamm’s and Leinenkugel’s have prompted Molson Coors to expand. Next month, Miller High Life's store will go online, with Molson Coors' Canadian portfolio of brands' are slated to follow in September. The company also is eyeing platforms for Blue Moon and Coors Banquet.

When they go live, brewery fans can be sure they’ll find highly coveted items. After all, the guest relations teams know what the people want.

“We haven’t done it the way we wanted to in the past,” Loferski says. “Now we’ve got the experience, the space and the right people to do it right.”