Generally speaking, a gross imbalance between supply and demand means something is very wrong. Either no one wants your product while you hold tons of inventory, or the product is flying off the shelves faster than you can produce it. But can an imbalance be a good thing? Under the right circumstances, I say yes.
Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California brews two beers which are considered by many to be among to best in the world. The first beer I’ll mention, available year-round, is called Pliny the Elder. The beer is named after a philosopher from the first century AD who is believed to have coined the botanical name for hops, humulus lupulus. This double IPA is one of the smoothest 8.0% beers on the market today, so why don’t more people know about it? The answer is simple: limited distribution. You can occasionally find a market with a bottle or a bar with a keg of PtE, but consumers are often limited to just one beer.
Their other, more popular beer is called Pliny the Younger, named after the Elder’s nephew who he adopted as his son. PtY is a triple IPA which tops out at around 10.25% ABV and it happens to be one of the most sought after beers in the world because it’s only available two weeks out of the year. A few select bars get a keg or two, but the main way to get your hands on some is to head up to the brewpub in Santa Rosa, where lines have been known to be around 8 hours long. RRBC claims they only sell PtY for two weeks because of the time, cost and space it consumes in the brewing process, but I know better. They have mastered the imbalance between supply and demand.
The brewery intentionally limits the distribution of Pliny the Elder to keep demand high. If you want a glass of Pliny the Younger (this beer isn’t bottled, so you can only get it on tap) you have two weeks in February to plan a vacation to Santa Rosa or get lucky with your local pub. Many might think that limiting distribution or production is a crazy move, but I think it’s brilliant. A product that is hard to find often develops a cult following. Those who are able to get their hands on it join a club which gives membership to a select few. Of course, this is no foregone conclusion. This strategy will fail if the product doesn’t meet the standards of the discerning customer. RRBC doesn’t have that problem. They sell a superior product in a limited fashion and have been able to reap the benefits — keeping costs low while selling out of nearing every unit produced. They’ve created the perfect imbalance between supply and demand.