Tag Archives: beer

The Stroh Detroit Plant Closing

The following is a portion of Chapter 6, “My Stroh Years,” from my book. Stroh remains an iconic name in Detroit, and I had the good fortune to counsel the brand during its growth years. I highlight this particular selection as I feel it is important that, as a public relations professional, you must stand by your client and the community it serves through thick and thin. For many of you, this will be a revealing look into a lively tale of Detroit’s economic legacy, as well as the “why” and “how” of communicating news on behalf of a company in a responsible manner.

In 1985 the company closed its iconic Stroh brewing facility located in downtown Detroit near Interstate I-75 and Gratiot Avenue. This was a huge blow to the local economy and image of the Detroit community. The old brewing facility built in 1912 with some of the earliest buildings on the site dating to the 1860s was the most expensive brewing facility to operate in the country and was land-locked and could not expand. Our challenges at AMF, Inc. were:

  • To deliver the message that Stroh was not leaving Detroit or Michigan and would remain a major player and employer in Detroit for years to come, even though the plant was closing. The plant had been there since 1912 but the first cellars were located on the site in the early 1850s though the first Stroh brewery, then named Lion, was not completed until 1867 on the site. The brewery had been expanded many times over the years. But the facility had become the least efficient brewing plant of all brewing companies in the country. And the Stroh acquisitions had given them several newer and more efficient brewing facilities and lower production costs.
  • To minimize negative responses from business and government leaders and if possible, have these leaders say something positive about Stroh.
  • To communicate that The Stroh Brewery Company would do everything in its power to help workers find new career paths, if not another job.

In one planning meeting regarding the details of the plant closing, about twenty of us were sitting in the huge boardroom at Stroh with company officers, lawyers, investment counselors, and other senior consultants. I was the least important person in the room—I know I made the least money. They were talking about closing the plant on February 14, 1985. I got up my nerve to say… you can’t close it that day. They all looked at me like I was from outer space. What could this lowly public relations idiot be thinking… we are in charge… I could read this on their faces.

Why? They demanded.

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Who should read ‘The Power of Ownership: How to Build a Career and a Business’?

Book publishers offer the same fundamental advice given by the entire public relations industry, which is to know your target audience.

The publishers smartly say, “This way you can market the product much more efficiently.”  As The Power of Ownership: How to Build a Career and a Business spans my 56-year career, it targets multiple audiences:

  1. people stuck in a career or job and contemplating a move;
  2. anyone who aspires to start a business;
  3. those who want to see how someone else did these things to measure their own progress.

These are the primary “targets,” but there are others who will find the book equally interesting from a historical point of view.

The book follows my career from inception through to my “retirement” in 2012, including:

  • working with three iconic and pioneering public relations agency founders—Beverly Beltaire, Tony Franco and Jack Casey;
  • helping to grow Stroh’s from a small regional brand in 1975 to third largest beer company in the United States in 1985;
  • educating the American public through a nationwide PR campaign to increase safety belt usage from about 10 percent in 1984 to more than 70 percent in 1992;
  • establishing my own company, John Bailey & Associates (JB&A), in 1996;
  • among many client/agency successes, developing and executing a PR campaign to eliminate smoking in most public places throughout Michigan.

I was told at age 57 that I was too old to start a company, but did so anyhow. With the help of many great clients and associates, I grew my company into one of the most respected and largest PR firms in Michigan. This entrepreneurial success lead to me and JB&A being recognized by then-President George W. Bush in a televised 2005 speech.

There are many teachable moments and even humorous anecdotes that happened along the way. But those target audiences mentioned above can judge all that for themselves, and I trust they—readers like you!—will.

The Power of Ownership: How to Build a Career and a Business’ will be available on Amazon in early June 2013. A growing community of book supporters can be found on Facebook.

Whatever happened to Stroh’s beer?

Five trucks driving Stroh's beer from Detroit to begin sales in North Carolina.

“18 Wheels of Love.” Five trucks driving Stroh’s beer from Detroit to begin sales in North Carolina. The name “18 Wheels of Love” comes from a song performed by The Serfs, which included my friend Frank Buscemi.

From 1975 until 1989, I helped promote Stroh’s beer regionally, then nationally. The Stroh Brewery Company, a Detroit icon, began expanding its flagship brand Stroh’s in about 1973. When I began working with them through Anthony M. Franco, Inc. Public Relations, Stroh’s was sold in 11 states. Goebel, another Stroh Brewery Company beer brand, was in seven states. At the time, Stroh was the eighth largest brewing company in the United States, producing 5.1 million barrels of beer annually.

(To be clear, “Stroh” refers to Stroh Brewery Company, while “Stroh’s” is the beer brand. You worked at Stroh; you drank Stroh’s.)

From 1975 through 1985, Stroh expanded into all 50 states. At the same time, it acquired the Schaefer brand in 1981 and much larger Schlitz—the beer that made Milwaukee famous—in a hostile takeover in 1982. Stroh then grew to be the third largest brewing company, behind only Anheuser-Busch and Miller, brewing 24.3 million barrels of beer annually at its peak.

Stroh also added Stroh’s Light and Stroh’s Signature to its beer line, plus all the brands of the newly acquired companies. Eventually there were 22 brands of beer owned and marketed by the company.

As one Stroh executive put it, I had earned my “advanced public-relations degree” during my years working with them.

Working with the Stroh marketing team, we promoted the brands (mostly Stroh’s beer) in a series of special events and sponsorships, from regional snowmobile races to national venues like the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. Also, major racing series such as Formula One, NASCAR and Indy Car, and teams, music concerts, Toughman Contests and more.

Ultimately, Stroh could not compete against the “big boys” at A-B and Miller in the long term. In my book, The Power of Ownership: How to Build a Career and a Business, there are 61 pages with photos telling, sadly I feel, the ending of a Detroit success story. I spoke with and interviewed numerous former Stroh execs to gather the information for the book. I also detail the closing of the original brewing facility on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, and feature photos of the plant, including when it was imploded.

My experience working with the Stroh Brewery Company was the key to building my career and set the stage for the rest of my time in PR and in business. As one of the Stroh executives put it, I earned my “advanced public-relations degree” during my years working with them.