October 20th, 2019 | By Mike Raven
Mike: IMI Agency is celebrating its 30th anniversary and you are coming up on your 20th year of working with IMI. How does it feel?
Larry: Mike, I am just as excited to get to work every morning now, as I was when I joined Don and Celeste in early 2002! The beverage alcohol industry, our team, our chain hospitality clients and our supplier investors make every day more fun, challenging and unique than the day before. After 42 years in the industry, I am having more fun than ever before!
Mike: How did you get a start in the industry?
Larry: Probably can’t be considered an “official” start, but I got my first taste while I was bootlegging beer onto campus during college. My activities were the worst kept secret in town, and they attracted the attention of the Dean of the Business School, who hired me after graduation. My first project was searching for college grads for a fledgling young adult task force for Anheuser-Busch. While I was doing that, I started thinking “huh … sell beer, travel the country, drink beer – I can do that.” I recommended myself to AB and it was off to the races.
Mike: How did you end up in the chain hospitality channel?
Larry: As I worked my way through the AB system, one of my assignments was to spearhead what “category management” might look like in their new National Accounts department. From overseeing software development for computerized shelf space management at retail, to developing product selection and promotions for chain hospitality, I knew National Accounts was the environment for me.
Mike: When did you meet Don and get involved with IMI?
Larry: Whether I was in National Accounts for AB, Paddington, IDV/UDV/DIAGEO or Island Oasis, these companies were supporting the merchandising, training and promotion of their brands that were in Marriott’s Gold Standard Brands program, which was being managed by Incentive Marketing/IMI Agency. Having worked with printers and other promotional agencies in my supplier roles, I immediately recognized the robust merchandising, promotional, training and staff recognition services being provided by IMI and they were all about driving beverage sales. I thought “what a fun space to be in — helping suppliers custom market their brands with chain hospitality operators who want to grow beverage sales.” I got to know Don through the Gold Standard projects and we found that we shared a vision for this model working in other hospitality chains.
Mike: So how did you guys get the model to work elsewhere?
Larry: What we have learned from day one is that every beverage program is unique, and every beverage business-building component is custom. Every hospitality client runs their beverage marketing operations differently, has differing guest demographics, needs for custom guest-facing creative, visions of branded staff training and education, etc. Combine that with beverage supplier needs for their brand visibility and promotion within the client’s marketing operations, and we gladly find ourselves tasked with delivering programs and programming that meet all beverage stakeholder’s objectives.
Mike: That takes a lot of commitment.
Larry: Absolutely. We have to be nimble; we have to be quick; we have to have the people talent; we have to be creative; we have to innovate; we have to develop and use technology; and, we have to prove every single day that IMI adds value to our hospitality clients and beverage supplier investors. Over the years, as we have assembled a tremendous team at IMI and developed innovative platforms, technology tools and award-winning creative services, we have aligned with a single description of what IMI is all about: Building Better Beverage Business™.
Mike: There is a lot of regulatory activity going on in the industry today. Any thoughts?
Larry: As you know Mike, with your distributor background, the basic “rules” haven’t changed in 86 years (since the end of Prohibition). Enforcement of these rules has ebbed and flowed over time. With consolidation in all tiers of the beverage alcohol industry, more eyes are on the activities of fewer subjects. From day one, Don and I embraced three core values for the company and every single team member: one, personal and professional ethics in everything we do; two, financial transparency on all programs and programming; and three, legal compliance, adhering to federal and state guidelines and restrictions with every beverage business-building initiative we activate.
Mike: What’s next for IMI?
Larry: We have a lot on our plate, Mike. Our priorities lie in continuing to provide best-in-class value and beverage sales-building solutions and services for our clients and supplier investors, building and arming the IMI team for success, looking for new channels for exploration and growth, and fostering an environment amongst all of our stakeholders of “work hard and play hard”! IMI is truly a family company, with the next generation of Patrick and Adam in the wings and our extended team family continuing to grow and evolve.
Mike: Any last thoughts?
Larry: A big “thank you” to Rob Gillette and Marriott (our first client) and to all our hospitality clients who continue to believe in and subscribe to the beverage building services of IMI Agency. And thank you also to our supplier investors, who trust their brand marketing to IMI in our client custom programs and programming. Thank you as well to the IMI team for supporting the vision and backing that vision with hard work and long hours.
I would be remiss if I failed to take this opportunity to promote Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE). Now 15 years old, CORE has long been a personal and professional passion for me and the IMI team. Thanks to many of ITM readers who support CORE in a myriad of ways. Please continue your support and continue to spread the word.
Thanks, Mike, and thanks to everyone in the industry for your support!