Photography by: Josh Triggs
Written by: Victoria Kidd
It was a period of uncertainty and ambition. At the beginning of the 1940s, a country tumbling into war turned to their radios for President Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” By the end of the decade, the children of many U.S. households were tuning in to watch Howdy Doody on their television sets. The required ingenuity of war gave scientists liberty to conceptualize innovations like radar and microwave ovens while Hollywood filled theaters with movies that continue to be recognized as some of the greatest films of all time. It was a time of change, a time when people took chances and worked to make their own way in an increasingly complex world.
Among those taking chances were Howard and Lucille Martin, an Eastern Panhandle couple who turned a lucky meeting into a beer distributing empire serving more than 300 customer accounts in the region. Howard met a representative of Tru Blu, a regional beer brewer, at a Washington Senators baseball game. Upon returning home, he told his wife Lucille he had been named the newest beer wholesaler for the brand. The basement of his parents’ house would serve as the initial base of operations for the business, and Howard would regularly make his way down the precarious steps to move product. When he joined the Marines in 1942, it would be Lucille’s turn to steer operations, and by all accounts she did so with an admirable expertise and confidence.
When Howard returned from war, she greeted him with a new, fresh-from-the-showroom Buick convertible, thereby representing the marked success of her four years at the helm and the promise of Martin Distributing Co. Incorporated’s (www.martindist.com) continued longevity.
From humble beginnings, the pair created a business that is still in the family today. Today’s generation of Martins—Craig, Mike, and Dave—are committed to continuing the legacy their parents started more than 75 years ago. Craig Martin joined the business in 1970. Today, working in his role as company president, he gives equal credit for the company’s success to his parents for their guidance and to the 32 Martin Distributing employees—a group of individuals who have 323 years of experience in the business between them.
“We really do, with every decision, ask ourselves what mom and dad would do,” Craig says. “We concern ourselves with what is right for the community and what is right for the business and our loyal employees. We know that as long as we respect our history, be good community partners, and create an environment our employees thrive in, we will be all right for the foreseeable future.”
Employees have certainly found that the environment is one worth sticking around for. While Craig and his brother Mike (who serves as vice president of operations) have been with the business since 1970, Dave (the vice president of sales) returned in 1984. They are joined by long-term employees including Route Manager Todd Lorde, Operations Manager Dave Mason, Procurement Manager Jason Martin (a third-generation Martin), and Comptroller Annis Mailey. These individuals, along with many others, have worked to make the business— one of the oldest family-owned distributors in West Virginia—a continued success offering customers a wide range of choice from a carefully curated distribution portfolio.
Their distribution portfolio includes more than just beer. In 1981, the Martins started distributing wine. “When we got into the wine business, things changed a lot,” Dave said. “Our product offerings increased, but so did the complexity of our operations.”
Craig explains, “We had maybe 20 SKUs (stock keeping units) in 1970, and in 1981, before adding our wine selections, we had maybe 50 SKUs. When we added wine, we jumped up to maybe 1,200 to 1,400 items. We’ve got about 1,500 now. That’s a tremendous difference from 1970.”
Along with the increased interest in craft beer, the Martins also attribute their growth and success to the economic growth the Eastern Panhandle has experienced over the past few years. Craig relays, “We are really fortunate to be in a growth area, and we are really excited to have had so many opportunities to take care of the community around us. We are a family-owned business dedicated to serving a community that is really important to us—a community in which all 32 of us live in, sleep in, and work in. As a result we work really hard to serve this community beyond the business sense of service.”
Martin Distributing has demonstrated that service by supporting local community organizations and events such as the Taste of Panhandle, fundraising efforts for the Old Opera House Theatre Company in Charles Town, Main Street Martinsburg, the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, Hospice of the Panhandle, and others. (They have also garnered distinction as the number one Coors distributor in the state when it comes to participation in the beer giant’s funding efforts to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.) They try to help wherever they can, only refusing requests to support events where persons who are not yet 21 may be involved in the scheduled activities. Through financial support, in-kind donations, and volunteer service, the business has proven that their 75- year connection to the community is truly important to them.
Their service is all part of the way they do business, and it’s that method of doing business that the Martins believe will fuel their next quarter century. “What magic did Martin Distributing Company have to provide for our growth and survival?” Dave asks. “Really no magic at all. Just good common sense, hard work, and a dedication to distribute the finest products and leaving no stone unturned in that effort… This takes an equally dedicated network of suppliers and retailers who are committed to protecting and preserving that quality and the image it carries all the way to the consumer.”
That focus on the consumer is evident in not just their interactions with their customers; it’s actually written into the materials and documents that govern how they do business. Their mission statement reads: “Our mission is to provide the highest level of added value customer satisfaction by supplying the finest quality lines of domestic and imported beers and wines, delivering a superior system of sales and service with a proven reputation since 1940.”
In the execution of that mission, the Martins are part of a well-regulated industry that adds tremendous value to consumers by aiding regulatory, economic, and commercial value in the communities where they do business. From the regulatory side, beer distributors are licensed and controlled by state and federal laws, adding accountability and ensuring against illegal distribution, collecting state and local taxes, and delivering other value.
Economically, beer distributors have created more than 130,000 jobs in the U.S. (according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association). Their contributions stimulate the local economy with investments in infrastructure and capital assets while also creating a sustained economic effect through increased consumer spending, income and property taxes, and other financial benefits.
The commercial benefits distributors provide are perhaps the most important to beer and wine connoisseurs. Distributors provide access to the market for brewers and importers, helping them maximize their reach and promising predictable product availability. Their efforts to enhance retailer’s profitability help brewers and vintners reach consumers more effectively.
Overarching benefits aside, Martin Distributing Co. Incorporated has solidified an important place in both the history and the future of the Eastern Panhandle, and the current generation of leadership has a plan in place to continue the legacy started by Howard and Lucille Martin. “Together we have done a remarkable job against impossible odds,” Dave says. “We’ve got a lot to celebrate, and I have never been more optimistic about the future. As we look ahead, the keys to success are the same as they have been in the past: hard work, a spirit of cooperation, and a commitment to quality in the products we distribute and the way we treat our customers.”