Today, House of Schwan celebrates its 50th anniversary with a party at the Wichita River Festival. Barney Schwan started the Anheuser-Busch distributorship (which is now Anheuser-Busch InBev) here after working for the company as a district manager in Kansas City.
His son Bob took it over in the early 1980s, and Barney Schwan's son Barry became president in the early 1990s.
Barry Schwan, who bought the business in 2006, has diversified to sell juice, milk, tea, energy drinks and cocktail mixers.
Growing up, did you know you wanted to join the family business?
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"Technically, I've been an Anheuser-Busch distributor in a way my whole life. I've been affiliated with Anheuser-Busch for 57 years now. It's in my blood in more ways than one."
Speaking of which, what's your favorite Anheuser-Busch drink?
"I am still pretty much a die-hard Bud drinker. Light beers have never really appealed to me."
What did your father and House of Schwan sell when he started the business?
"They sold Budweiser and Busch and Michelob."
Today, you sell 134 brands that come in 700 varieties of packages. What would your father think?
"I think he would be really proud, but I think also from a generational standpoint, things just change so fast.... He was just always going, 'Boy, I'm glad I'm outta that.' "
After graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder, you stayed out west to teach at a middle school. Why?
"I wasn't really sure I wanted to come back and work in the family business at that point. (I) wasn't sure that the business world is what I wanted to be involved with."
"Several calls from my dad saying, 'We need you now, and if not now, perhaps never.' And the fact that I was making $11,700 as a schoolteacher.
"I just really had to make a very hard decision. I did not want to come back."
"Something deep inside said, 'You need to find out.' "
What was your first job at the company?
"They put me in charge of the coffee service about the first day I showed up. I went from being a schoolteacher to managing people on a daily basis and making cold calls up and down the street trying to sell coffee. I do believe I was in a culture shock for an extended period of time."
Did your situation improve?
"It did get better. It really did take me quite a few years, though."
How did you come to like it?
"With almost anything, you learn to kind of accept what's going on. I met my wife and started a family and gradually got the taste of what I could be in the business world.
"Quite frankly, having grown up in a sales-oriented family my whole life, I really did enjoy selling."
After taking over as president in the early 1990s, how did things change for you?
"It was kind of a 'wow' moment that... suddenly I realized I was responsible for all the money the company owed and the lives of 80 or 90 people."
So what keeps you up at night?
"What keeps me up at night is the speed at which the industry is changing."
How is the industry different today compared to 50 years ago?
"Fifty years ago the business was so simple.... You had three brands, you had two prices that you sold beer at.... You played by your own rules, basically. There were very few restrictions on what you did. It was just a simpler way of life, as we probably would all agree."
What are some of your biggest obstacles?
"There's just so many factors outside of your control that impact you as a business person.... You kind of always have to be looking well into the future and asking yourself 'what if,' and I don't think that ever really dawned on people running businesses 30, 40 years ago as much as it does now."
What are changes you're making as you look forward?
"We've doubled the size of our warehouse space. Some of that was very needed.... Some of it's opportunistic.
"We plan to be ready for growth opportunities no matter how they come."
What was it like for you when InBev bought Anheuser-Busch?
"Anybody involved with the Anheuser-Busch family was saddened to a certain extent by the company selling out to InBev. That's perfectly understandable. It does end an era, and a great era at the same time."
But it's not such a huge change after all?
"Budweiser is still brewed by the same people. In some ways, it's a monumental change.... But in most ways... there's been very little change."
What's one thing no one knows about you?
"Probably very few people realize... I grew up as a pretty accomplished accordion (player)."
And you, perhaps surprisingly, chose the accordion over the guitar when given the choice?
"I, as a child, chose the accordion, which shows you what an unusual sort of person I am."