2020 Wonderful Workplaces Winner: Imperial Beverage


Helping People Succeed

FIRST & 42 is raising a glass for Imperial Beverage, a long-standing member of the Michigan beverage distribution community. Established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition and purchased by Kalamazoo’s Cekola family in 1984, Imperial has grown from a one-county beer distributor to a top 10 statewide beer, wine, and spirits wholesaler. With over 300 employees and four locations in Kalamazoo, Livonia, Traverse City, and Ishpeming, Imperial provides statewide coverage that serves every Michigan county, every week, all year long. Imperial’s knowledgeable staff works with customers to fulfill its passion statement “Helping People Succeed,” by building profit and identity in its customers’ restaurants and retail locations through the selection of fine wines, craft beers, ciders, spirits, sodas, and mixers from Imperial’s diverse portfolio.

“The people at Imperial make us an amazing company to work for, and it starts from the top down,” said Lindsay Cekola, senior HR business partner at Imperial Beverage. “Our president truly cares about the well-being of everyone in the company and is a great role model for other leaders in the organization. We mean it when we say we’re a family at Imperial Beverage, and it shows from the lasting friendships that have been formed, the trust among our teams, and the drive to be better every day with your fellow employees cheering you on,” she continued. Read on to hear more from Lindsay about what makes Imperial Beverage a wonderful place to work.


What was Imperial Beverage’s biggest achievement during 2020?

2020 brought about unique challenges for everyone, but our biggest achievements were also tied to results of the pandemic. Our business continued to grow this year with so many people staying at home purchasing our products and with that profit, we were able to give back to our employees who were considered “essential” in the community. We made several equity adjustments to hourly pay, offered “Hero Pay” to our workers who still needed to work outside of the home, and paid out bonuses to our employees for helping us be so successful this year.

What is unique about the workplace culture at Imperial Beverage?

Being part of the beverage industry allows us to fully embrace the “work hard, play hard” culture! Our core values are passion, integrity, customer focus, and hard work, and we believe every employee at Imperial lives those values every day. It would be difficult to not be passionate about such a cool and fun industry, especially when you are surrounded by fellow employees who all have the same passion for our products and customers and are genuinely fun to be around. This year, we started a new “Culture Day” event where all new hires join the Executive Team and HR virtually to learn more about the organization and the culture that has made us what we are today since many of us haven’t officially met in person yet.

Why do you love going to work each day?

Imperial Beverage is a family-owned business that has grown out of love for what we do and our people. We have asked for feedback several times about what makes our employees love working here, and there is always a clear winner: the people! Our Imperial family has grown over the years and true friendships have been built over that time. Our employees are genuine, fun-loving, loyal, and have a great sense of humor! We have very busy days at Imperial, but working with people who have these qualities makes it enjoyable and not a day goes by that you don’t hear or see people laughing regularly.

How do leaders at Imperial build engagement within their teams?

Our passion statement is “Helping People Succeed” and while that applies to our suppliers and customers as well, our employees bleed Imperial blue and deserve leaders who can help them succeed in their careers. Our leaders receive both internal and external leadership training to help them continue to grow and be a resource for their teams. Every team has weekly department meetings to discuss the great things that happened in their life both personally and professionally over the last week and any issues that need to be solved to help their team be successful. This helps to keep the teams connected and working together toward the same goals!

How has Imperial handled workplace status during COVID-19?

Our Executive Team has stayed current with any updates to the COVID situation since this all began and in March, began sending out daily emails with any relevant news. Our president made daily videos that were emailed to everyone in the company with changes to Michigan laws and how Imperial Beverage was responding and keeping our employees safe. These daily updates kept everyone on the same page and resulted in gaining trust that our leadership was doing everything they could for the employees. Our president also setup regular events called “Drinks with Joe” or “Coffee with Joe” to engage with small groups of employees from all over the state over Zoom. Since our Employee Appreciation Week was also virtual this year, we started a great new “Virtual Cocktail Hour” that we think will become a favorite tradition! Two of our very knowledgeable account managers taught any employees who joined the event how to make five different cocktails using Imperial Beverage products. We sent out the ingredients list prior to the event, so employees could make the drinks at home and ask questions as they went along. The event was so successful that we forgot we were on a Zoom and not right there with each other like we used to be.

What is one workplace custom or engagement practice at Imperial that you’re proud of?

Each year Imperial Beverage takes great pride in their Employee Appreciation Week. Besides pub crawls, hockey games, 80’s Day, wine tasting, and fowling, we also allow each employee to send a note of appreciation to any and all employees they wish to thank. Each year we have a different glassware theme, but it all started with the Pint-O-Gram. Each employee received a pint glass with the Imperial logo, filled with notes from employees all over the state. Some employees sent notes to over 100 other employees to tell them how much they appreciated them and these were lengthy, heartfelt notes. Every year as the notes come pouring in for delivery, it is a reminder of how great our people are and what an awesome experience it is to be part of the Imperial Beverage family. This year since we took Employee Appreciation Week virtual, we sent rocks glasses to all of our employees and over 1500 You-Rock-O-Grams were delivered!

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