As World War II came to a close in the mid-1940s, locally brewed beers dominated the Louisiana market. Falstaff and Jax, for example, held 66% of the market between them, compared with Budweiser’s 3-4% market share.
Concerned over these conditions, August Busch, Jr., president of Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, gave existing wholesalers the choice of selling Budweiser or Falstaff, but not both. They all opted for Falstaff. As a result, B.A. Marriner, manager for the beer and liquor departments of the wholesale house handling Budweiser, was awarded the Budweiser distribution rights in early 1954.
Those rights covered an 11-parish territory in Southwest and Central Louisiana. B.A. Marriner opened locations in Lake Charles and Alexandria and, in 1955, added Leesville.
Richard Marriner, B.A.’s son, held top-level management positions with Standard Oil Company in New York, Indonesia, Holland, and London. Late in 1959, Richard took a leave from these management duties to help his father incorporate the business, introduce new brands, move to better locations in Alexandria and Leesville, and open a branch in Eunice. Richard then returned to Standard Oil.
In 1966, however, B.A’s failing health presented a dilemma for Richard. In those days, there were no ‘wholesaler-brewer equity agreements’. Regardless of the contribution of the wholesaler, they received no compensation from the brewer for building the business, should the wholesaler wish to cease operations. In B.A.’s case, he had built the business from 113,000 cases sold in 1954 to well over a one million cases in 1967. Richard was faced with continuing his career with Standard Oil, or moving to Lake Charles and taking over the family business so it could survive.
In January 1967, Richard chose the family business, hoping to share management responsibility with his father. Unfortunately, B.A. Marriner died on July 2, 1967.
Despite a 1969 Teamsters strike that closed access to breweries for over a month, business continued to grow and more products were added. During this era, Southwest Beverage became one of the first five wholesalers in the United States to put handheld computers on their routes.
Southwest Beverage sales reached two million cases in 1980. The Lake Charles warehouse was full, employees were sharing offices, and there was no room for expansion. Construction began on new facilities and on Memorial Day weekend in 1984, the company moved into a new 75,000 square foot warehouse in Lake Charles.
In 1982, Richard’s son, Ben Marriner, graduated from college and began his career with Southwest Beverage.
In 1986 Ben assumed the additional responsibilities as General Manager of the newly created Eagle Snacks Division. In 1990 Ben was promoted to General Manager with complete line responsibility for daily operations and management of both the Beer and Eagle Snacks Divisions for all four locations.
As business continued to grow, Southwest Beverage purchased and renovated a warehouse/office facility in Alexandria in 1989. Shortly afterward, the Eunice location was closed.
In 1994, sales hit three million cases!
In 1996, Anheuser-Busch decided to get out of the snack business so we also closed our Eagle Snacks Division.
In 2001, Southwest Beverage purchased the rights to distribute the Modelo (Corona) Brands.
In 2004, during the celebration of the firm’s 50th year, changes were announced: Ben became President, and Richard moved to the role of Chairman of the Board and remained in that position until his death in 2011.
In 2008, Southwest Beverage branched out and began distributing non-alcoholic products. Total sales that year reached four million cases.
In 1954, Southwest Beverage sold only two products, Budweiser and Michelob. The company had 25 employees and delivered 116,683 cases of beer. In ’54, the average retail price for a case of Budweiser was less than $5.
Southwest Beverage now handles more than 850 products and delivered 4,317,877 cases of beer, 12,826 kegs, 11,114 cases of wine, and 72,029 cases of non-alcoholic products to 1,227 accounts as of 2012. The average retail price for a case of Budweiser is now $17.
Southwest Beverage has grown significantly over the years and currently employs nearly 200 people, 41 of whom have been part of the Southwest Beverage family for more than 15 years. With growth comes expansion, or in our case new construction.
Another Chapter Begins
While the new building shown above provides us with the opportunity to grow, we must stop to remember all the years within our previous location @ 3001 Industrial Avenue. R.A. Marriner erected that building in 1984. 33 years this May we moved from our 1st building at 1225 Hodges Street and felt the same way we did this past year. The building was new, we had a lot of warehouse space and we all felt very positive about our future.
With this in mind, we dedicated our new site at 3860 Broad Street to Richard A. Marriner...without his guidance over the years this new chapter of our company would never have taken place.
B.A. Marriner often quoted the Anheuser-Busch motto “Making Friends is Our Business.” In his words, he explained it like this: “You know it all really does come down to making friends and providing the best customer service possible. We can’t help it if we make a lot of friends in bars and at special events.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!”