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Blue Ridge Beverage Company Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History

virginia archer miller family

4446 Barley Drive
Salem
Virginia
24153-8542
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives

Blue Ridge Beverage Company's successful growth strategy and strong competitive position are directly attributable to the quality of its employees. Without experienced, hard-working and dedicated individuals, none of the Company's achievements would be possible.

History of Blue Ridge Beverage Company Inc.

A private company based in Salem, Virginia, Blue Ridge Beverage Company Inc. is one of the largest wholesale beverage distributors in the state of Virginia, selling a wide variety of beers, wine, soft drinks, and bottled water to more than 3,500 customers in 36 counties in southwestern, central, and southern Virginia. The company's four warehouses are located in Salem, Waynesboro, Lynchburg, and South Boston, Virginia. Blue Ridge is an authorized distributor of the Miller Brewing Company, a relationship that has been in place since the early 1950s, and one that has been the lifeblood of the company. In addition, Blue Ridge offers a wide range of imported beer brands, including Becks, Corona, Fosters, Grolsch, Molson, and Sapporo. Blue Ridge also always carries the products of Miller's Plank Road Brewery; micro craft brews from the likes of Samuel Adams, Rolling Rock, and Sierra Nevada; and malt alternatives such as Twisted Tea, Mikes Hard Lemonade, and the Hoopers Hooch products. Blue Ridge prides itself on an extensive portfolio of wines, which includes fine wines from around the world and California, as well as wines from Virginia and North Carolina. Blue Ridge also sells sparkling wine and champagne, fortified and dessert wines, table wines, kosher wines, non-alcoholic wines, coolers, and hard ciders. The company distributes bottled water, primarily Evian and Perrier, soft drinks such as RC Cola, Diet-Rite, 7-Up, Canada Dry, Hires, and Nehi; and the Arizona and Mistic brands of ready-to-drink tea products. Blue Ridge also sells new age beverages as well as miscellaneous beverages like Orangina, Stewart's specialty sodas, and Yoo Hoo chocolate drink. Furthermore, Blue Ridge offers a variety of services to its customers, including customized wait staff training, wine list consulting, and party planning assistance. Blue Ridge is owned and operated by the Archer family.

Post-Prohibition Roots

While the United States outlawed the consumption of alcoholic beverages in 1919, Virginia imposed its own Prohibition three years earlier, and in Salem, Virginia, alcohol had been outlawed since 1893. Virginia's prohibition was far from a successful effort, however, due to neighboring "wet" states, and it proved even more problematic because of Virginia's long coastline that made smuggling easy. Moreover, in the mountainous region of Southwest Virginia, especially in Franklin, County, adjacent to Salem, there was a tradition of "moonshining," the illegal distillation of alcohol in hidden makeshift stills. Even when Prohibition went into effect around the country, Virginia had to contend with neighboring Maryland, which was notorious for not enforcing Prohibition, reasoning that enforcement of a Federal law was the Federal government's responsibility. It was not surprising that by 1933 Virginia, like the rest of the country, was eager to repeal Prohibition. In 1934 Virginia established the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and many of the state's breweries that had been forced to close in the 1910s were reopened and began to produce beer once again, albeit with a lower alcohol content of 3.2 percent. Demand for legalized beer and spirits led to the creation of distributorships and wholesale operations across the country. It was no different in the Roanoke area, which included Salem, even though Franklin County moonshiners continued to ply their trade. The Blue Ridge Beverage Company was founded in 1938 as a small wholesaler of beer and soft drinks to the Roanoke valley.

Fifteen years later, in 1953, the company took a major step forward when it became a Miller Brewing Company distributor. In business in Wisconsin since 1855 when a German immigrant bought the Plank Road Brewery (now the name of the company's craft beers), Miller did not expand beyond its regional status until the years following World War II, when the founder's grandson took the helm. By 1952 Miller products became available in all 48 states as well as Hawaii. In many ways, Blue Ridge Beverage would hitch its wagon to Miller's rising star.

The Archer's family involvement with Blue Ridge dated to 1958 when James M. Archer, Jr., moved to Salem with his wife Regine. He came from the Virginia town of Saltville, which, not surprisingly, was a major salt producer. It had served as the main supplier to the South in the Civil War. His wife, on the other hand, had been born in Belgium and because of their Jewish heritage she and her family was forced to live under assumed names during the occupation of Belgium by Nazi Germany. The war also brought her into contact with James Archer, who was serving in the United States military. The two were wed in 1945, she came to the United States with him, and together they ran Blue Ridge Beverage, buying into the business in 1958 and becoming full owners in 1960.

Under the management of the Archers, Blue Ridge enjoyed steady expansion, both in terms of markets and product offerings. The company began selling wine in 1961 when it was able to pick up the franchised rights of a distributor from Alexandria, Virginia, that was abandoning the Roanoke market. Beer remained the backbone of Blue Ridge's business, however, and the company continued to benefit from the growth of Miller, which by 1968 had become the eighth largest brewer in the United States. When it was acquired by the Phillip Morris Corporation a year later, Miller took advantage of the deep pockets of its new corporate parent to launch highly successful national marketing campaigns to build awareness of the Miller brand and support the launch of new products, such as the popular seven-ounce "pony bottle." There was also the highly successful Miller Light launch, supported by countless commercials anchored by former athletes taking sides over the seemingly unsolvable question: was Miller Lite good because it was less filling or because it just tasted great? While the answer was hashed out in a myriad of permutations, Miller Brewing rose to become America's second largest brewer, trailing only Anheuser-Busch. As the distributor of Miller products in the Roanoke Valley, Blue Ridge shared in the success of the brewer.

James Archer Dies Suddenly: 1972

In 1972 James Archer died suddenly at the age of 51, the result of a heart attack. His wife assumed the presidency of Blue Ridge, assisted by their son, Robert A. Archer. Born in 1947 in Saltville like his father, the younger Archer also served in the military. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in marketing in 1969 he served in Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne until early 1972 and remained in the U.S. Army Reserves until eventually retiring as a colonel in 1999. When he came back from the war to help his mother, Blue Ridge Beverage was still a small business, employing just ten people. This situation would soon change, however, as the family business--which was becoming one of the leading distributors for Miller Brewing--enjoyed strong growth, thanks to its top supplier. In addition, more members of the Archer family became involved, until four of the children of James and Regine Archer held top positions at Blue Ridge.

In a matter of five years, employment increased to more than 30, and included the youngest of the Archer children, Paul, who took over as operations manager in 1975. Having outgrown its warehouse space, Blue Ridge also opened a new facility just outside of Salem. It, too, was soon overwhelmed by a surge in business, and just two years later the company expanded its new facilities. Blue Ridge also began investing in technology, introducing computers to handle accounting and inventory chores and becoming the first area distributor to take orders with new hand-held computers.

Blue Ridge expanded on a number of fronts in the 1980s. To keep pace the business opened a new warehouse in 1985, a 78,000-square-foot structure that would become home to the company's present-day headquarters. Another Archer sibling, James E. Archer, joined the family business in 1983. He also graduated from Virginia Tech, earning a degree in industrial engineering, and then joined the Army. While on an Army fellowship he earned a master's degree in business administration at Emory University and then went on to serve in Germany. When he came home, Blue Ridge was too small to employ another family member, and so he went to work for Corning Glass in Pennsylvania. In the early 1980s he decided to return home to Salem and thought about starting his own engineering consulting firm, but because of the strong growth at Blue Ridge, joining the family business was a viable option. He took over as marketing manager and spearheaded the effort to broaden the distributor's product lines. He oversaw the addition of imported beers and a broader slate of wines. The wine business was greatly enhanced in 1987 with the acquisition of a Roanoke Valley rival, picking up its portfolio of brands to effectively double Blue Ridge's wine business. Blue Ridge also grew its soft drink offerings, adding bottled water like Evian and Perrier, and new age beverages from Snapple, Arizona, and Mistic that were becoming popular with consumers.

Miller products continued to be the heart of Blue Ridge's business, however, and the Archer family built upon this foundation in the 1980s through acquisitions. In 1984 the Archers bought Charlottesville, Virginia-based Cavalier Beverage Company, to add a second Miller distributorship, and dispatched Paul Archer to run the new business as general manager. Four years later, Cavalier made an acquisition of its own, adding a Miller distributor located in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Sister Companies Merge: 1997

Both Blue Ridge and Cavalier continued to expand their territories and broaden their product mix in the 1990s. In 1996, Cavalier acquired the RC Cola franchise and began distributing Canada Dry products, Hawaiian Punch drinks, and Snapple ice tea products. In that same year, Blue Ridge also gained a local 7-Up franchise. Several months later, in June 1997, sister company Cavalier was merged into Blue Ridge to create a larger, leaner operation. It would then add to its core Miller Brewing business by acquiring distributorships in Danville and Keysville, Virginia. Then, in February 1998, Blue Ridge added Lynchburg, Virginia, to the markets for which it held the rights to distribute Miller products.

Blue Ridge was a much larger operation now, employing more than 250, a far cry from the ten-person business it was when James Archer passed away. It required an experienced person to serve as the chief financial officer, and the family was fortunate to have such a person in the family, the youngest daughter, Jackie, who had spent the previous 11 years working in the banking industry in Chicago.

In 2002 Regine Archer, approaching 80 years of age, stepped down as president of Blue Ridge and turned over the post to her son Robert. Nevertheless, she stayed on as chairwoman of the company. In 2005 her efforts in growing the business after losing her husband were recognized when she was inducted into the Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia's hall of fame, becoming only the second woman to receive the honor. Even as she was stepping back her involvement with the family business, Blue Ridge was continuing to grow. The company was especially active in supporting new Virginia wineries, representing ten of them. It was also looking to add other new products, such as Hooper's Hooch and its popular alcoholic lemon brew, and over beverages. Nevertheless, it was the distribution of Miller Brewing products that remained the foundation of the business and key to its ongoing growth.

Principal Competitors

PA Short Distributing; Valley Distributing Corporation.

Chronology

  • Key Dates
  • 1938 The Blue Ridge Beverage Company is founded.
  • 1953 A Miller Brewing distributorship is added.
  • 1958 James and Regine Archer acquire the company.
  • 1972 James Archer dies and is succeeded by his wife as president.
  • 1984 The Archer family acquires the Cavalier Beverage Company.
  • 1985 New company headquarters and a new warehouse open.
  • 1997 Blue Ridge and Cavalier merge.
  • 2002 Regine Archer steps down as president.
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