Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How does your job "work"?

I get asked this every once in a while. "Do you just drive around, drinking wine all day?". Yes. Stupid questions get stupid answers.
In one of my first blog posts, I talked about some of the reasons people may not want to get into wine distribution. Today, I just want to go over the nuts-n-bolts of how things work. Here in Missouri we have a three-tier system: Supplier, Wholesaler, Retailer/restaurant. I work for a wholesaler. We buy approximately 700 differnet sku's (wines) from a couple of hundred wineries. Some of these wines come from suppliers that warehouse stock on multiple labels. For example, we buy a lot of are Argentinean wines from a company called Vine Connections. They have a portfolio that includes Crios, Ben Marco, Luca, etc. This sort of arrangement is common for imported wines. If the wines are domestic, we usually buy directly from the winery (for example Larkmead). Once we buy the wines, we keep them in our warehouse until we sell them to our customers. The normal "formula" for how wholesalers price wines is to take the FOB (what we paid for it), add shipping (usually about $6/case), and divide by .7. This means that a case that we paid $120 we will likely sell for $180. Of course, there are all kinds of exceptions to this rule, which I won't get into here.
I personally have a list of about 70 active accounts which are both retailers (places like Wine Chateau, Wine and Cheese Place, Friar Tuck) and restaurants (such as Niche, Frazers, Scape, Sidney St. Cafe, etc). Because we are a small company, if a new restaurant or retailer is opening, it's basically open game. Whomever gets there first get to sell to them. I then visit my accounts, hopefully at the same time on the same day each week to build consistency, and try to sell them wine. Just like any other sales situation, there are several different approaches that salespeople take. I have never been much of a "hard sell" guy. I can do it, but I'm much more into building relationships for the long haul. I would much rather sell someone a case a week for the next year than 50 cases today, never to talk to them again. I accomplish these sales by pulling samples of the given wine that I want to sell to them, and tasting them on it. (Here's a hint- come over to my house the evening after I sample an opening restaurant on a bunch of stuff...there will be plenty of leftover wine to drink!)
Once my customer buys the wine, it's up to them on how to sell it. I will often do retail tastings, where I buy a open a couple of bottles at a store, and offer samples to entice customers to buy some. I also do staff trainings at restaurants so the bartenders, waitstaff, and managers know a little about the wines they have on their list. A retailer will typically sell a wine for which they paid $10 for about $13-$15 on the shelf. Restaurants usually sell the same wine for $26-$30. See my note on wines-by-the-glass, which are usually the worst deal at a restaurant! Most accounts are on 30 day terms, so it's in their best interest to sell the wine within 30 days of receipt. Missouri laws state that, if the account wants to return the wine more than 7 days after getting it, we have to fill out a State report and say why they are returning it. This keeps everyone from "fudging the numbers" on their books. If they do run across a bottle that is damaged, or corked, I have the ability to swap it out with a good bottle for them. Hopefully, they sell through the wine quickly, and order more for the next go-around!

That's it. It's really a simple concept that is used by most companies that sell consumable goods.

Today, I recommend that you go out and find a bottle of Gruner Veltliner. This is a wine from Austria, and will go great on these sultry days. It is normally unoaked, with crisp, clean, citrusy notes along with some minerality. There are examples everywhere from about $12 to $80, however much you want to spend.

Cheers! I'm going to go enjoy the last day of my "staycation"!

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