A Day in the Life of Breakthru Beverage’s Kim Unterreiner

Nov. 19, 2018


Written by Kyle Trompeter, Content Manager, Breakthru Beverage Group

Photos by Annaleah De Masi, Senior Designer/Lead Photographer, Breakthru Beverage Group


Working in alcohol sales at the distributor level is a demanding gig that requires a variety of traits critical to success: organization, determination, persistence, flexibility, understanding, passion, nimbleness and many more.


In my time here at Breakthru Beverage Group, I’m not sure I’ve seen many people effortlessly handle so many different types of projects than Kim Unterreiner does every day as a member of Breakthru South Carolina’s team.


On any given day—or as I witnessed, on the same day—Unterreiner will be giving business updates to Breakthru leadership, meeting with new suppliers, providing an educational tasting for a customer about our available portfolio of fine wine, and visiting a brewery to discuss their current sales performance in the market.


Furthermore, she manages to confidently execute all these responsibilities while also running a team of more than 30 people, a duty she’s long desired.


“As I developed professionally, I grew into a passion for wanting to lead a team,” Unterreiner says during our day together.


Working her way up the ranks to where she is today has been a long road. This year, Unterreiner is proud to be celebrating her 15th anniversary with Breakthru SC (previously Ben Arnold Beverage Company).

Unterreiner began her alcohol sales career in 2003 as a sales representative in the off-premise space, which means her ascension through the company has allowed her to experience a variety of different roles from a plethora of perspectives, gaining invaluable knowledge along the way.


Then, four years ago, Unterreiner was tasked with building out the on-premise division from scratch. She was given a blank slate by leadership to create what she envisioned would be an ideal operation best suited to build the on-premise side of the business, and now she oversees a growing team of sales reps and managers that focuses on selling wine and beer to on-premise accounts.  


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of pulling up a chair to Unterreiner’s world and experiencing her daily duties as the On-Premise Wine & Beer Division Manager.


A Day in the Life of Kim Unterreiner


Before we begin, allow me to briefly set the scene.


Unterreiner works out of Breakthru SC’s Charleston office, and if you haven’t been to Charleston, it’s a gem—especially for the Breakthru SC team. This town has quickly become one of the nation’s premiere hospitality destinations, flush with innovative cocktail bars and restaurants, making it a perfect platform for our brand partners to grow and flourish with an increasingly savvy consumer base.  


9:30 A.M. – An Introductory Meeting with a New Supplier


We pulled up to Charleston’s quaint north side office ready to start the day with two meetings, the first of which was with a supplier brand new to the Charleston market, Chanmé Frosé. In case you haven’t noticed, frosé has totally exploded in popularity. It’s everywhere, and especially popular in outdoor venues in warm climates such as Charleston.


Dillon Bryan, Founder of the Frozen Frogs, the company that produces Chanmé Frosé, arrives to the meeting with some of his product in tow to sample as we discuss strategy on how to bring the brand into the market, which is a thoughtful, and delicious, touch.


To be clear, when I say, “we discuss strategy,” I’m not discussing anything in this meeting. I am but a fly on the wall taking notes on this sunny day in the Holy City.


The main topic of discussion in this meeting is how to bring Chanmé into the on-premise market. It’s off-premise selling point is already crystal clear: consumers love frosé, but they don’t have a frozen slush machine at home, so they purchase Chanmé at retail, bring it home and pop it in the freezer until they want it.


Some on-premise businesses have a frozen slush machine and can make their own frosé if they would like. However, this can come with its challenges, especially if it’s hot outside.


The brainstorm between Unterreiner and Bryan begins with an odd dilemma regarding these machines.

“Bees,” Bryan laments. “If you spill any of the ingredients, the machine is swarmed with bees.”


Bees, while they mean well and are crucial to the health of our environment, have no place on our relaxing outdoor patios!


Luckily, there is an efficient solution to this issue.


“We can get cold boxes into the accounts,” Unterreiner says.


“Yes.” Bryan adds, “When we launched in Vegas, it was over a hundred out and these things stayed in great shape in the cold box outside for more than an hour.”


“We’ve done this before, it won’t be a problem,” Unterreiner concludes.


This back and forth was just one instance during this 30-minute meeting where I get to witness the true collaboration between our business and our supplier partners. By meeting’s end, Unterreiner has set up an additional meeting with Bryan where he will present his product to the entire Breakthru SC retail and on-premise sales teams so they can all confidently take it to the market, and she’s committed to delivering him an on-premise rollout plan laying out how they’ll distribute Chanmé into the Charleston market.


“Chanmé is killing it Vegas right now, I think it will here, too,” Bryan says.


Kim closes the meeting, “It will.”


10:30 A.M. – Holiday Planning with a Supplier


Our next meeting is with a Breakthru Business Manager named Charles Traywick, who holds one of the longest tenures on the South Carolina team. He joined Ben Arnold in 1998 (happy 20th, Charles!) and has logged time representing a wide variety of different brands and categories.


Currently, Traywick represents Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), which is fairly new to the market in South Carolina, and given his experience and expertise, it’s not surprising to learn he’s the one trusted with leading this crucial supplier relationship, especially during its infancy.


Traywick and Unterreiner sit down at the conference room table and start hashing out a holiday game plan. Traywick comes armed with a list of luxury wines that TWE wants on dinner tables, and it’s up to Unterreiner and her team to get them into glasses.

He notes that at this time of year, it’s important to do well with wines that “look good sitting on the dinner table.” TWE has no shortage of brands that fit that description. With this being the first OND (October-November-December) selling season for Breakthru and TWE, a strong performance would put an exclamation point on year one between the two companies.


Working with suppliers to draft and distribute successful go-to-market sales strategies is one of Unterreiner’s most important responsibilities, as well as one of her favorite parts of the job. She speaks about her brands with such a unique reverence, it’s easy to understand why she’s sitting at this table. The ideas Unterreiner brought to this meeting are well thought out and tailored to each brand needing attention.


The meeting comes to a close and we say goodbye to Charles, who is sharp, seasoned and was a pleasure to learn from.


Now it’s time to head to our next meeting — at a high-end restaurant with the beverage director and sommelier. Unterreiner and a member of her team will be presenting seven different wines for potential placement on their menu, and they’ll be tasting and discussing each one.


I have no plans to just be a fly on the wall for this part. For the good of this story, I imagine full immersion into this part of the shadow day will be necessary for research purposes. If I don’t participate in this tasting, can this account truly be complete? I think not.


12:30 P.M. – Oysters


We have an hour to kill before our tasting, so we stop at an excellent seafood place for lunch and I eat all the oysters.  


If case you didn’t know, Chucktown has some of the freshest seafood in the country. The food here is pure magic.


1:30 P.M. – Customer Tasting


As we walk through the front door of this posh, fine dining establishment, I’m immediately relieved I wore a sport coat because this place is really, really nice.


We meet up with Danielle Kelly, a member of Unterreiner’s team, who will co-lead this tasting and has brought all the wines in a nifty cold pack messenger bag. I need this bag for the beach next summer.


We all take a seat at a table in the middle of this elegant dining room, the kind you would go to for a special occasion or a fancy night out on the town. The tables have pristine white linen tablecloths that I’m guaranteed to spill Pinot Noir on. Like, it’s for sure happening. I spill everything.


Seated around the table are Unterreiner, Kelly, the restaurant’s Beverage Director Jean L’Hereault and sommelier Adam Matyi-Szabo and myself.

That’s quite the starting five. If we were a basketball team, they would never pass me the ball. While I do have my WSET2 Certification, which is nothing to sneeze at, I’m surrounded by decades of pure unadulterated wine wisdom. Nevertheless, I’m excited to learn all about this part of the job.


Before we taste, Unterreiner has a brief but efficiently informative exchange with L’Hereault on which of our wine brands have been selling well lately, which varietals in general have been selling well lately, and where Breakthru could possibly fill in some gaps on the menu as we approach the holidays, a season which has very particular consumer preferences when it comes to wine.


In prepping for this seasonal switch, Kelly goes to her Mary Poppins-like bag of vino and summons seven varietals ideal for the coming months—two Proseccos, two Rieslings, two Saugvignon Blancs and a Pinot Noir.


The process for the tasting goes like this: Unterreiner or Kelly introduces the wine, tells a brief history about the brand, we all taste and analyze the wine, and then those four discuss where the wine could feasibly go on the menu and how it could complement the food. It’s another interesting example of how Unterreiner’s role is such a collaborative one, whether it’s with a supplier or a customer like in this case.


Right away I notice a rapport between Unterreiner and L’Hereault. There is a trust between the two, which is not an easy bond to build in this type of relationship. L’Hereault knows it’s Unterreiner’s job to get Breakthru’s product into accounts, and while she definitely does that well, she does so in a way that L’Hereault really seems to respect and appreciate. See, Unterreiner appreciates L’Hereault’s needs, opportunities and pain points, and those are the boundaries in which she operates. If L’Hereault mentions there’s a potential open spot on the menu for a Prosecco, Unterreiner is going to try to place them with a Prosecco that makes the most sense for him and his own customers.


I’m struck by the ease at which Unterreiner and Kelly can toggle between brands and varietals on the fly and make informed, succinct recommendations.


The first pour is a very nice Prosecco.


“That’s beautiful,” L’Hereault says. “I’ve been to countless places in Italy—this is beautiful.”


L’Hereault speaks with an amiable French accent that makes his descriptions of wine all that more appealing. Unterreiner gives a full rundown of the Prosecco’s roots, and L’Hereault is compelled to add this brand to all the restaurants he oversees, not just this one in Charleston.


I’d say that’s a win. Also, this Prosecco is sublime.

Later, we sample a French Riesling and as we taste, Unterreiner pulls out a map of Southern France and walks L’Hereault through the region the wine came from. From what I’ve learned, Rieslings pair very well with many traditional dishes during the fall and winter.


“There are a few whites we can swap out for the next few months to make room for this and then switch back in the spring,” L’Hereault says.


Unterreiner adds, “This Riesling is perfect for oysters, too.”


I should have saved some oysters from lunch.


Matyi-Szabo chimes in that his servers could use some help getting comfortable speaking about some of these new wines we’re tasting, and Unterreiner sets up a future meeting between her staff and his staff to do some category and brand training to help the restaurant sell their new product. Collaboration!


In between tastings L’Hereault reluctantly mentions they need some more cabs to keep up with the demand, even though customers are pairing it with dishes that don’t go well with cabs. The people have spoken, and they don’t care—they want more cabs! Old habits die hard. The defeated way L’Hereault tells the story is charming.


As the tasting wraps up, L’Hereault and Unterreiner exchange some final words and talk about growing their relationship in all L’Hereault’s restaurants, which include other places in Charleston and in Columbia.


Oh, by the way, the Pinot Noir we sampled—didn’t spill. It’s a miracle.


3:30 P.M. – Supplier Visit


Hello Pawleys Island Brewing Company!

Nestled in a quiet corner of North Charleston, the one-year old brewery was our last stop of the day. Unterreiner is set to sit down with the Pawleys Island owners to give them a regular business review on how their beers have fared in the market so far in 2018. She has a thorough month-by-month sales report of how each of their beers are doing, and which accounts in Charleston they’re doing well in.


For a young business like Pawleys, gaining traction in a market requires a thoughtful approach. If you brew too much beer, you could get stuck with a storage issue, and if you don’t brew enough, you’re not able to satisfy consumer demand and interest in the brand could be damaged.


Sitting at the bar inside the brewery, Unterreiner starts throwing some questions at Fraser Blake (owner) and Darren McLean (brewer).

“We can scale with you in whatever way you think you can go,” Unterreiner explains. “Where do you want to be?”


The three review a rundown of on-premise accounts detailing where Pawleys Island is selling. Unterreiner talks about more opportunities in the off-premise market which might help on-premise sales because consumers like to buy and try on their own turf. Then, when they’re hooked, they’ll recognize the tap handle when they’re out and about and make a purchase.


It’s been a pleasure to watch Unterreiner operate with such a wide variety of different stakeholders, all needing her attention and action in distinctively different ways, and her ability to keep up with the demand and be a forward thinker is extremely impressive.


Unterreiner’s business review concludes with several next steps, including bringing the sales team to the brewery so they could get to know the brand better and recommendations for POS (point of sale) items the brewery could distribute to on-premise accounts, such as glasses, shirts, koozies and signage.


It’s all about building brand awareness, which is more than half the battle in this business because there is so much strong competition, especially in a booming hospitality market like Charleston.

The meeting comes to a close, which concludes my shadow day with Unterreiner, but I’m not done with the day until I finish my Pawleys Pale Ale, which is a lovely last call.


In Summation


One aspect of my job that I value the most is being able to spend time documenting different pieces of our business, which means I get to spend time getting to know some incredibly talented people.


I started the year working as a truck driver helper and discovered that there is much more to being a driver than just “throwing cases.” Then I worked in tandem with a merchandiser and sales representative so I could write about what it’s like to break into the sales scene in the alcohol industry.


In addition to wanting to highlight Unterreiner because she is an exceptional representative of our company, she is also a sterling example of how to grow a career in the alcohol industry. I think anybody in leadership roles will tell you that learning all aspects of the business is paramount in truly understanding how to be successful in this industry.


This is her story, beginning as a sales rep and grinding every day to learn the basics of alcohol sales, and that grit, determination and strong performance in each job deservedly led to her role today as one of the most influential and impactful leaders and decision makers at Breakthru.


After spending the day with Unterreiner and getting to know what drives her, it wasn’t a surprise to find out the aspect of her job she enjoys the most.


“My favorite moments in my role are witnessing my employees feel the exhilaration of landing a new customer they’ve been dreaming about,” Unterreiner says. “I love celebrating their successes and hard work.”


Unselfish leaders today will usher in an era of strong, unselfish leaders tomorrow. People like Kim are developing a new wave of engaged and empowered associates that will ensure our staff is well-stocked for years to come, and that is something all of us at Breakthru can cheers to … preferably with some more of the Prosecco I had during the tasting, which was utterly delightful.

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