Monday, September 9, 2013

Exclusive Interview with Deb Storz, Great-Granddaughter of Gottlieb Storz - Part 1

After Travis's editorial post questioning the rebirth of Storz Brewing in Omaha we received a lot of great concern and feedback.  Amongst the feedback and twitter chatter we found Deb Storz on the internet(twitter) voicing similar concerns as we were and that of course peaked our interest further.  So I contacted her and asked her about it.  What developed from there was a great series of email exchanges that resulted in a nice 3 part series about Storz Brewing from her perspective, past, present and future.   We think this will be interesting, entertaining and enlightening. 
Deb, who grew up in Omaha, lives in New York City now.  She has lots to say about the original Storz Beer (the one her family ran for three generations), weighs in on the brand new incarnation of Storz Beer (which she points out straight away her family has absolutely nothing to do with), and discusses some of the marketing challenges she believes are inherent in bringing back a “legacy brand” like Storz.  A successful, senior level marketing/branding consultant who’s worked on several well-known corporate brands (like Revlon, Estee Lauder, Swatch, American Express, to name a few) as well as some lesser-known, small, family-owned brands (including two brands that got her written up in The Wall Street Journal in the past decade), Deb’s got a unique perspective on things.  It’s an interesting, lively, educational and funny read. 
In Part 1 of our interview, Deb explains the family tree, shares memories about growing up a Storz (including whether or not the family ever had a secret recipe for the beer), and talks about some of the concerns her family has about the new incarnation of Storz Beer.  In Part 2 of our interview, Deb takes us back to where it all began in Benningen-am-Neckar – the birthplace of her great-grandfather Gottlieb Storz in a tiny town in Germany that she has visited three different times – and shares what Gottlieb’s legacy still means to the townspeople today (complete with photos from her own personal collection) and shares pics of some of her favorite Storz memorabilia.  In Part 3, she talks about how she sees the craft beer market (including revealing a couple of her favorite NY microbrews – hint, one is definitely from Brooklyn!), the U.S beer market then and now, and the importance of authentic customer engagement in bringing back a brand that is steeped in nostalgia but which needs to resonate with today’s consumers and reflect current commercial realities if it is to succeed. 

 NBB:  Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  Can you explain to our readers what is your exact connection to Storz Beer?
DS:  My great-grandfather, Gottlieb Storz, founded the Storz Brewing Company.  My grandfather, Arthur C. Storz Sr., and my great uncle, Adolph G. Storz, ran the Storz Brewing Company until it was sold in 1966 to the Iowa Business Investment Corporation of Storm Lake, Iowa (not to Grain Belt Brewery, by the way, as has been frequently misstated in the press and on the new Storz Brewing website).  My father, Robert Hart Storz, was the Executive Vice President of the Storz Brewing Company.  My dad’s brother (my uncle), Art Storz Jr., was head of advertising at the Storz Brewing Company.  Adolph’s son, Hayden Storz, was also an executive at the Storz Brewing Company.  Robert Herman Storz, my great uncle and the youngest of Gottlieb’s sons, played a major role at the Storz Brewing Company until 1959, after which point he embarked on a highly successful career outside the beer business.
NBB:  How was the Markel family involved in the old Storz Brewing Company?
DS:  They were not involved.  The Storz family (not the Markel family) ran the Storz Brewing Company until it was sold.  My dad's sister, Monnie Storz Markel, never played any role at the Storz Brewing Company, nor did her husband, John Markel (who ran a very successful, well-known car dealership in Omaha called John Markel Ford). 
NBB:  How are the Markel and Storz families involved in the new Storz Brewing Company?
DS:  The Storz family that ran the Storz Brewing Company is not involved in any way with this current reboot of the Storz Brewing Company.  Monnie Storz Markel's son, John Markel III (my first cousin), who lives up in Alaska, is one of the co-investors, along with his cousin Tom Markel from California.  Tom Markel is not related to Gottlieb Storz or to any of the Storz family members who ran the company, despite some reports to the contrary in the press.  In fact, there was an article that came out a few days ago in the Midlands Business Journal stating that Tom Markel “was returning to relaunch his family’s Storz Beer brand.”  That is not a true statement.  If Tom Markel were returning to Omaha to relaunch (or launch) his family’s beer brand, I reckon he would have had to call it Markel Beer!
NBB:  So, if the Storz family is not involved with this current “reboot” of the Storz Brewing Company, are we to intuit that the Storz family is somehow against this reboot?  By the way, are you in communication with your cousin, John Markel?
DS:  The Storz family is not at all against the reboot.  In fact, it gives my family an enormous sense of pride to see how enthusiastic many Nebraskans are about the return of Storz Beer.  With the advent of social media, it has led to an occasion for my siblings and me to hear from scores of people, including many descendants of Storz Brewing Company employees who have expressed how much the company meant to their families.  Some of these communications have been so beautiful as to bring tears to our eyes.  We’ve also connected up with some long-lost relatives in the process!  In the “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” category, I just learned a day ago about a descendant of Gottlieb’s brother Karl, also named Debbie Storz, who lives in Australia now and shares my exact birthday (cue The Twilight Zone music!).
The bottom line is that we are very proud of our family legacy and we just want to make sure that it is protected in any new incarnation of Storz Beer.  Our point of view has never been expressed in the mainstream media.  And to answer your last question, yes I am in communication with my cousin John Markel, who is brilliant and someone whom I absolutely adore.
NBB:  Are there things about the new Storz Brewing Company that your family feels have somehow compromised the Storz family legacy?  If so, what are they?  Were you and your family members not made aware of what was going to be said in advance?  What do you think of all the media coverage and the consumer messaging that is being put out there about the new Storz Brewing Company?
DS:  Wow, that’s a beer barrel’s worth of questions, but I will try to answer them all for you and your readers!  I first learned about the relaunch of the Storz Brewing Company, like everyone else, on August 8th.  A friend who lives in Omaha who had seen all the press coverage called me up to ask what we thought.  She was perplexed by a couple of things that were said in the press coverage (like about Storz coming back based on a dream that Tom Markel had, a new mission statement about Storz Beer being created to “glorify God” and to promote “family unity,” and some inaccurate information about how certain family members were or were not related to Gottlieb Storz).  She is a very devout Catholic and said that she thought that mixing talk of God and alcohol in such an overt way was inappropriate and wondered what we thought of that. 
NBB:  Was Gottlieb Storz Catholic?  Do you and your family share your friend’s assessment?
DS:  My great-grandfather, Gottlieb Storz was Lutheran, his descendants were/are Lutheran, Catholic and Episcopalian (and, for all I know there could even been an agnostic or atheist or two in there).  We are all for personal expressions of faith, which can be a very beautiful and empowering form of witnessing, but don’t believe that such personal expressions belong in a commercial context.  After my friend posed this question and concern, which was echoed by a few other friends in the days that followed, I decided to see if some formal guidelines existed governing the use of religious references and imagery in beer advertising.
NBB:  And what did you find? 
DS:  Well, as it turns out, there are actually some pretty clear industry guidelines.  The Beer Institute, a trade group based in Washington DC that represents some 2,800 breweries, explicitly states that "Beer advertising and marketing materials should not include religion or religious themes."
NBB:  Religious issues aside, what were/are the concerns of the Storz family about the relaunch of Storz Beer? 
DS:  Well, we’ve been reading some of the beer blogs and recognize that authenticity and craftsmanship are “hot button” issues for today’s generation of beer drinkers, especially craft beer drinkers who have passionately redefined the beer landscape (in much the same way that small, artisanal winemakers and vintners have done over the past few decades in the wine industry).  The pride that the craft beer community takes in its offerings harkens back to the early years of the Storz Brewing Company.  Gottlieb Storz trained for many years, beginning in his very early teens, to come a braumeister, which was considered as much of a noble craft as being a silversmith, a jeweler, or a stone mason.  We certainly hope that the beer that is produced by the new Storz Brewing Company lives up to the heritage of our great-grandfather, our grandfather, our great uncles and our father, Robert Hart Storz, and uncle Art Storz, Jr, -- all of whom were tireless advocates for producing superior-quality brews. 
NBB:  What do you think your father and your uncle Art would think about the new Storz Beer?
DS:  Well, I can’t really channel them, although it would be great if I could.  I miss them both tremendously.  But one thing that I can tell you almost unequivocally is that they would want to be sure that the beer tasted great!
NBB:  What does your family think about having another brewery develop the formula and brew the beer?
DS:  Well, as I mentioned earlier, the descendants of the Storz family members who ran the Storz Brewing Company are not involved at all in this reboot of Storz Beer.  However, from what we have heard (and read on your blog), Blue Blood Brewing seems to have a reputation for producing high-quality beers, so that would theoretically augur well for the new incarnations of Storz beer. 
NBB:  Okay. Okay.  Now here’s a question we have been dying to ask you.  Who, if anyone, possesses the old recipes for the Storz beer brands?  Don’t hold out on us now!
DS:  LOL.  After we saw the Omaha World Herald piece by Matt Hansen, we all started saying that it would make for a great reboot of the Indiana Jones’s Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise.  Who knows?  Maybe people will be coming out of the woodwork now claiming to possess the “original Storz Beer recipes!”
NBB:  So no one in your family has them?
DS:  Not that I know of.  It’s not like in that Bush’s Baked Beans tv commercial.  None of my siblings or I recall ever having heard any discussions about a “secret recipe” for any of the Storz brews.  I can tell you, however, that they were constantly tinkering with the recipe here and there to make sure that  customers, and the bars and taverns that served them, were happy with the product. 
The only talk I ever remember about any secret ingredients was back in the early Sixties when the Storz Brewing Company ran a teaser campaign about a new version of Storz Beer with TM (“TM” being the secret ingredient).  I remember during that time several kids at school asking me if I knew what the “TM” stood for (which I did not know, because our dad refused to tell us, despite endless attempts on our part to get him to spill the beans).  As I recall, people were ultimately a little underwhelmed to subsequently learn that the TM stood for Toasted Malt.  (Perhaps they were expecting something a little more exotic. like Tarantula Milk or Tasmanian Molasses!).
NBB:  So, what was it like growing up Storz?  Beer for breakfast?  Intermural squabbles with Falstaff or other local/regional brews?
DS:  My dad and my uncle were really obsessed with their jobs and put in long hours trying to grow the company’s sales, as I imagine is probably the case with many family-owned businesses.  My dad left the house every morning at 7 AM for the brewery and didn’t usually return before 8 or 9 PM at night.  He also spent half a day down there on Saturdays.  My older sisters recall going down there with him every Saturday morning and being duly admonished NOT to touch the typewriters (a request I’m afraid they often ignored; we didn’t have a typewriter at home until around 1960, so typewriters were an object of great fascination for them).  I remember going down to see the first automatic bottle capping machine, sneaking in to the supply closet in search of Ballpoint pens and Scotch tape, and playing endlessly with an early iteration of a speaker phone my dad had in his office that he called a squawk box!   My fondest memories are of sneaking into my uncle Art’s office to look at the storyboards for upcoming ad campaigns.  I always had an opinion (and a few slogans of my own to suggest, which would always make my uncle laugh).  My dad and my uncle were pretty surprised (and disappointed) that I didn’t head to an advertising agency after getting my MBA.
Alas, there was no beer for breakfast, only cereal with milk from Roberts Dairy that came in home-delivered glass bottles.   (Wow, I am really dating myself, aren’t I?)  We didn’t have Falstaff dartboards or anything like that around the house, but the name did come up quite a bit in our household, as did a few other competitive brands. 
What else do I remember about growing up Storz?  Well, my dad was quite a gifted orator and was invited to give the keynote address at the American Brewers Association two years in a row.  I used to watch him rehearse in the full-length mirror in my parents’ bedroom, and I was always mesmerized.
One last funny memory I will share has to do with Nebraska weather.  I was bragging to my sisters (and a couple of other Omaha family members) yesterday about the great, sunny, early Fall weather we have been having in New York City.  “It’s hot as Hades in Omaha” one of them exclaimed, “but Dad would have loved it!” Indeed our dad, uncle and grandparents encouraged us to include a little pitch to God in our nightly prayers for some really hot weather every summer, since hot weather really increased beer consumption!

Stay tuned for the next in this 3 part series and we look forward to your comments. 


Richard Stueven said...

Great stuff, Nate! And thanks to Ms. Storz for her insights into Storz past and present.

Anonymous said...

Great article, clears up much confusion about the "new" Storz. Questions: did the new owners purchase the "big red" label and logo--or are they just using that gratis of the real, original Storz Brewery. Who owns that anyway? Can it just be re-issued under a new corporation? Also, how can the mission statement of the new beer company use "God" in the statement when that is against the rules of the Brewers Assn.?

Lisa Sirabella said...

What an interesting article. I look forward to the next interview. The folks who are relaunching the beer do not appear to have the Storz family approval. If this relaunch is about a family business being well loved in Omaha, why wouldn't Mr. Markel consult the Storz family on everything, as it's their legacy right?

Lisa Sirabella said...

Very interesting article. It doesn't appear that Markel's company has the approval of the Storz family on their relaunch strategy. If this is all about a family business being loved an supported in Omaha, why wouldn't Mr. Markel consult the Storz family?

Lisa Sirabella said...

Very interesting article. It doesn't appear that Markel's company has the approval of the Storz family on their relaunch strategy. If this is all about a family business being loved and supported in Omaha, why wouldn't Mr. Markel consult the Storz family?