Night Shift Distributing Will Shake Up the Beer Industry

The brewery-born sales company is looking to address problems brewers have with Massachusetts’s current beer distribution system.

Night Shift warehouse assistant Marlon Silvestre (L) and delivery driver Justin Dirienzo loading kegs into a refrigerated box truck

Night Shift warehouse assistant Marlon Silvestre (L) and delivery driver Justin Dirienzo loading kegs into a refrigerated box truck. / Photo by Tim Oxton provided

It wasn’t that long ago that the Night Shift Brewing crew were dropping off kegs of their beer to Boston-area restaurants from the back of a Subaru Outback. In 2012, when the company started, it distributed about 1,500 case equivalents of beer to retail partners and restaurants, says co-founder Michael Oxton. This year, that figure is about 75,000 cans, bottles, and kegs.

“It’s nuts. It’s so weird to throw out those numbers,” Oxton says—but it makes sense, considering the Everett brewery has also added a dozen new tanks, its own canning line, and more production equipment recently, as well as a fleet of three, refrigerated box trucks, with hopes to bring on another before the end of 2016. Night Shift produced 10,000 barrels of beer this year (up from just 700 in 2013), with 20,000 targeted for 2017.

Now, they’re sharing some of those amenities with other craft breweries looking to grow their market share: Night Shift announced today it has created its own distribution company, not only allowing it to increase its own presence in Massachusetts while keeping control of that facet of their business, but also to help up to 25 other producers do the same.

Beyond being another facet of their skyrocketing business, Night Shift Distributing is also a complete rebuke of the status quo of the state’s current beer distribution landscape, as the Boston Globe noted.

“If you’ve paid attention to the Massachusetts wholesaler scene, you’ve probably heard about Franchise Law, Pay-to-Play, wholesaler consolidation, and other topics that frustrate the hell out of breweries and customers alike,” Oxton and partners Rob Burns (who is also the president of the Brewers Guild) and Mike O’Mara wrote in a statement announcing Night Shift Distributing.

“These topics involve real problems for anyone who loves beer: hiked up shelf prices; good brands ignored or under-appreciated; beers baked in the back of warm delivery trucks; cases shipped out of state to keep breweries alive; brands traded between distributors without brewery approval required; draft lines bought illegally, minimizing consumer choice; breweries stuck-for-eternity with underperforming distributing partners due to archaic laws. These haven’t been our problems, because we’ve self-distributed since NSB began in 2012. But it’s an industry problem, and it’s our industry. The current system is anti-competitive, stifles innovation in distribution, and creates a large barrier to entry for new distribution companies,” they wrote.

Changing that is very much what Night Shift is setting out to do.

“It’s totally in line with where we’re looking to go, and where we’ve been,” Oxton says.

In the four years since Night Shift hit the scene, distributors have fairly constantly inquired about adding the brands to their portfolios, Oxton says. And with every big growth spurt, the team discusses the possibility. But they’ve always hesitated.

“It’s a percolating sentiment among pretty much everyone here that the distributor scene is messed up and not working, and no one with a lot of the distributors is looking to change it. Why would we want to join in to something that feels broken?” he says. “So, let’s get within the system, and offer breweries like ourselves and ones we’ve spoken with a partner that’s willing to challenge what’s not working.”

Night Shift Distributing in Chelsea

Night Shift Distributing in Chelsea. / Photo by Tim Oxton provided

A distribution hub was always the plan for the 30,000-square foot warehouse Night Shift took over in Chelsea, Oxton says. They are currently in talks with a handful of Massachusetts breweries, as well as some companies outside the state looking to grow in this market. Oxton is hopeful initial partners could be announced in early 2017, and he anticipates a full portfolio by the end of 2018.

“From conversations we’ve had so far, the brands we’ve spoken with are excited about our approach to the relationship side of things and how we want to treat the relationship going forward,” he says.

Night Shift Distributing will offer completely temperature-controlled services from storage to loading to delivery, which is important for the freshness of beer. This is just one of the problems Night Shift Brewing sees with the current status quo, and something they understand intimately as brewers themselves.

Otherwise, they understand they’re new to the distribution game.

“We totally realize we’re less experienced than the big guys out there, and we definitely realize we’re going to make mistakes as we learn stuff,” Oxton says. “But we won’t be making what I think is biggest possible mistake we could make, which is accepting the system for what it is right now.”

Night Shift Distributing, 220 2nd St., Chelsea, nightshiftdistributing.com.