THE REORDER 06/21/19

The Tactics of OG Wine Buyers

The tactics of OG wine buyers have not been documented, but if you are in the NYC market really doing it as a salesperson you may recognize a few of the below moves.

Bottom line is: it is vital to be aware of a few of these tactics because they can really throw you if you don’t recognize them for what they are.
The the upside of being “in” with an old-schooler is HUGE. The OG buyer has had a large impact on my career. Many of them are the most loyal, impressive and insightful that I have had the pleasure of working with. But almost without fail, all of the relationships started wonky, awkward, and with a plethora of mistakes on my part.

This could be a long list – but I chose my own personal favorites. I hope this helps.


The Tactics

Talk to the hand

Nearly every old school buyer In high-level buying positions I have worked with over the years will take the first meeting as a moment to start with no. I don’t mean saying no to everything, I mean the general feeling of no. Don’t worry, they are in the meeting for a reason.

An impossible question

They will most likely mention random things to get you back on your heels. Maybe something only they know the answer to because they go to Croatia every year, or they knew the ol’ man Mondavi. Something that startles you just enough so they exert dominance. No big deal.

Distraction

The OG buyer will involve a distraction at some point, and it could be completely random.
Whether they are bidding on wines, slinking away to the corner to taste in silence, making funny noises, or throwing a sideways, super insulting comment about the wine in the glass your way – expect them to perform a little.
I once had an old buyer in a tracksuit step away and act like he had some form of consumption and hack away in front of his smiling Somm team. He was aiming to distract all of us and pull focus. I almost laughed out loud because it was so obvious, and it still tripped me up.

Accentuate, Denigrate, Repeat

Any wine that has an element that could be accentuated and then dismissed…will be. VA, oak, sellability, etc.

You can count on this move, at least at first. They may even say a wine is horrible, even when it obviously isn’t.
The most difficult OG wine buyer I ever worked with looked me dead in the eye after smelling a wine I poured in our first meeting and asked me if I liked the wine I had poured for him. I said yes. He then said that if I really liked that wine that we couldn’t work together.

The underlying question for them will be: why should we buy from you, or (more likely) why do we need to buy from you?

The Big Deflection

This is a real classic. The OG buyer will deflect the buying to their assistants.

Even if they are doing all the big buying, they will pass you off to their assistants that have minimal buying power while telling you that the assistants have real power.
The only way to get past this one is to know how the OG buyer buys, and why. The deflection has to be followed by a question that leads the big buyer back to you.

OG connections

Most old schoolers have deep connections with producers or importers and view all others through a careful eye.
The underlying question for them will be: why should we buy from you, or (more likely) why do we need to buy from you?

If you have something to offer that retains a long-held connection for the OG (like an old friend now making wine), you need to bring it up.

The Importer Syndrome

Many of these OG buyers came up when now famous importers were in the early stages of establishment. Because of this, they fancy themselves to have “built” importers. Random hero stories about how they helped importer (insert name here) find (insert hot shit famous producer) will abound.
Everyone likes to feel important – the OG buyer is no different. They just have a longer history and the connections that come along with that history.
NOTE: Unless you know market history and producers very well (which is rare), just listen. Take it from a guy who has had to take my foot out of my mouth a few times…

No love for distribution

A natural extension of the above is – you guessed it: they probably have imported a few things. Or they may even have a brand.
I was once told “I hate importers, they are so greedy” by someone who bought oceans from one importer. Not shockingly, this OG buyer is now a small importer.
They will have some sort of buying pattern that goes outside the typical buying system (like buying on Auction or via some list that their friends run). In this case, (exactly like the above) it is really handy to know a lot of producers and their respective availabilities so you can know what not to offer.

Appointments are for a*** holes

This is the current view of the appointment for the OG unless you are in with them. Avoid the word at all costs. Send an offer that makes sense, but realize that this first email better have an impact – or you will likely never get email love.

Hardball

Many OG buyers love to play hardball, but don’t like when it is played with them. Beware of the many bear traps that will happen if you try and game an OG. However, some of these buyers will not respect you if you don’t speak up. Don’t be afraid to go toe to toe if you feel it is necessary,

SPLASH DECANT 06/14/19

You have a good portfolio? Congratulations.

You have a good portfolio? Congratulations.

Having a good portfolio isn’t good enough anymore.

If you bring up any company that imports or distributes wine today, inevitably someone will say “they have a good portfolio.” Try it. I have and it is startling how confused we are as an industry. How many times has someone said: “They are so great to work with.” Try it…Zero times, right?

Every importer and distributor with reps walking around this city has good wine that is buyable and in turn, sellable. And further, every single one of them is viewed primarily through the wines they offer.

The most important fact in the NYC Beverage market today is: Every player in import and distribution has good wine, and very few offer something special besides the products they list.


The Next Level “Portfolio”

Graceful distribution (Please see my previous post) will define the future not the wines in your portfolio.

Here are some ingredients:

Who can give the best service

Who can connect

Who has the best “logistics.”

Who can tell the best stories

Who knows their audience

Who can pay their bills

Who delights their partners, employees AND in turn who delights their customers

Having a good portfolio isn't good enough anymore.

The Future

Whoever can build a soulful company will be ahead.

Don’t get me wrong: a waywardly selected portfolio of wines won’t help, but wine will not be the defining piece of the puzzle like it was before. People are the key and the true colors of all of these importer/distributors are on full display.

The soul of the company that this market buys from matters now, not just the product it offers.

We are going to find out what a truly dynamic market is because the field has been changed forever.

SPLASH DECANT 06/06/19

Faking It

Faking it is a bad plan.

It may sound obvious, but one of the catch phrases I have been hearing a lot lately has been something like “Just fake it and act like you have been there before.” Fake knowing what you are doing until it sticks. Some in the White House believe in this tactic.

This is a bad idea for multiple reasons, but especially true in the wine business. I can tell you with absolute certainty: it won’t lead anywhere sustainable or real.


The Straw Man Effect

Faking it is a road that leads to the straw man effect. The importer or distributor or sales rep or restaurant with a lot of followers but little true engagement.

You have to lie to fake it. You have to bend the truth and invent snazzy and empty stories so that you appear to be real. One prime example is the allocation game…

But a reckoning is coming for those who have used this tactic. If you preach culture or tell stories that hide the ball of actual truth to bolster a cardboard cutout company – pain is coming. As they say on the court: if you trash talk and can’t really play, you are going to get dunked on.

The NYC market today has plenty of straw men that are running up against a stark reality called actual reality...

The NYC market today has plenty of straw men that are running up against a stark reality called actual reality. The reality that substance counts. You can only live in the red zone for so long; ultimately you are going to get picked off in a few ways:

Producers will leave.

Customer attention will wane.

Employees will begin to want guarantees because they have lost faith.

The market will slowly turn away and you will wonder why?

Looking around today in the NYC market there are some posers that faked their way to some prominence that are ripe to get beat up a bit- the field is officially wide open for the new players. Importer/Distributors with no core and questionable intentions.

Who will win? The forthright few. The ones who choose intent over chaos.

This is the game. Fake it and you will not make it.

SPLASH DECANT 05/26/19

National Pricing Purgatory

Hello and welcome to National Pricing Purgatory.
A word to the price-sensitive retailer – the below ain’t pretty…but there is an upside, I promise. Within this oversized problem is a kernel of clarity.

Will the pricing of a wine state to state get more varied and complex before it gets better? Absolutely on all counts — and mostly because there is a large amount of confusion.

But I need to clear up a few things first.


The Pricing Email

I am getting emails about pricing in NY and also in other states (this is not new) and they are becoming more and more frequent (very new). They go a little like this:

Dear Looper,
We are very concerned about the Black Friday sale of the “insert Brand here” at this competing retailer in “insert state here.” The price they are selling is well below our price. Please let us know what you are going to do about this before we re-order.
Thanks,
your friendly Retailer

Most recently this email came from a prominent wine retailer on the national stage and was prompted from a forwarded email from a customer. First, let me say this: I get it. This is beyond annoying. Johnny Two-Click that works in Tech on the West Coast trolling wine-searcher for the best pricing is a tough one. He has been buying some wine from you recently and he emailed you angry and annoyed – he may have even threatened to take his biz elsewhere. I completely understand that you feel compelled to take action.

Further, I can’t think of a worse thing than skimming over the pricing in Wine-Searcher all day. That would be up there as my worst wine nightmare.

Fact: Unless a retailer is taking the full quantity of a particular wine for the whole country, there will with rare exception always be a lower price someplace nationally. And, if you add in the random little Direct To Consumer email list operations to this, the pricing situation gets even dicier.

Wine-Searcher

Wine-Searcher is a wonderful tool, but imperfect to say the least.
Human error, virtual inventory* and one-day sales really put a spotlight on the issues of wine-searcher. I take wine-searcher seriously at times, but it is notoriously misleading.

The ‘click it to wine it’ game in wine is a toughie. The real price hunters don’t care about you. They could give a shit about the source or character of the retailer.

Are you offering something besides wine? Is this all just a widget? If so, prepare to race to the bottom, or constantly search for exclusives. which will also end at the worst times. And it won’t be pretty. Price always wins.
Now, there are some shady characters on ‘searcher who use it as if it were a game. They bottom out the price to get phone calls and emails. To them, I say: good luck. These wack jobs will have moments, but I would never bet on them.

That DTC Bullshizz

Is the Direct to consumer email list worth worrying about? As of today, I have never received a viable complaint about a Direct To Consumer email blast.

These lists are blasted out and often claim to have the wine at the best price in the nation, but

#1: they rarely have the wine in any quantity

#2: rarely offer consistently good service to the people buying and

#3. the source of the wine is questionable…

Further, when they are actually a viable DTC, the prices never hit Wine-Searcher.
Most recently, a very important retailer emailed me about a DTC offer and I checked into the wines they were referencing. The total inventory on this Direct to Consumer list offer was one bottle on one SKU and 3 bottles on the other. That was the actual total. I am not kidding.
Considering I was offering a quantity to the sensitive retailer of the same wine that dwarfed those numbers, I must ask: is this really worth worrying about?

The Distributor Matters

In nearly every case when I am contacted regarding a price in another state, the importer/distributor I work for doesn’t distribute the producer’s wine in that state.
Does the distributor matter? Big time. Maybe the California (for instance) distributor needs cash or is going out of business. Or maybe they just suck and sell to anyone. Is it possible they sold the product to a terrible retailer that is closing who had to close the wine out at a major discount? The bottom out of pricing may even be a local competition move.

As you can see, the possibilities are more numerous than you can imagine.

If you are a retailer having problems with a price on searcher that is consistently driving a large number of your loyal customers mad, then you may have to do the noble thing and cut the wine. Get rid of it. If it is that much of a headache, why waste the time?

Johnny Two-Click that works in Tech on the West Coast trolling wine-searcher for the best pricing is a tough one.

THE UPSIDE

I know of a gigantic, very successful store that sells not just one but many wines 10%+ higher than everyone else on wine-searcher. You read that right…HIGHER.
We are talking one o the big players that everyone would know – AND the sales volumes of the wines in question are staggering. How are they doing it?
Customer loyalty and attention retention.
They invest big in knowing and connecting with their audience. They market clearly. They know that people like this buy wines from us. This is the opportunity. If you truly know your customers, you can keep them rolling.

I love retail. I love the pace of it, the people. A buzzy, energized retailer is in many ways the inverse of the high-charged, raucous restaurant. They are different genres and I find the dynamic of selling to both endlessly fascinating.

But I can say this with confidence: if price is what you are selling, you are building limited to zero loyalty from your customers. The customers you are chasing think of you as a commodity trader. And with where the world of business is going, they will leave you tomorrow if they find something better.

THE REORDER 05/17/19

Find the Pillars

These are my pillars of sales in the NYC beverage market. The concepts I keep going back to.
I most definitely don’t think I have this figured out – my views evolve every day.
But here is what comes to mind right now. I hope it helps.


Philosophy

Decide what you are trying to do – And it can’t be moving boxes. Get to the core so you have a reason and the belief to back it up. This is invaluable when the work we do lacks the luxury of constant products or customers. We work in the top market in the world in NYC and it is as volatile as it gets.
I know it sounds woo woo and/or eastern, but I promise you that having a philosophy holds the keys to the castle.

Cadence

You must have a cadence with your customers. Now – there will be some sales manager saying you have to see everyone every month, etc. If you can – lucky you. In my experience, it just isn’t how the world works.

Figure out another way.

Market

Study the market you work in. Know the props, players, trends, young and old. You will never know it all and you will be surprised often. BUT, You will gain in perspective – and that is the only way to perform well over a sustained period of time.

The truth is that it isn't the wine in the bag that sells, it is the dialogue that sells.

Calm and Cool

I have been meditating for years, I highly recommend it. And one of my best friends (also a legendary sales guy) always took weekends and a few weeks in August to get some headspace and clarity.
Work in some serious breaks for yourself.
In concert with breaks, it is vital that you create some boundaries with your work – or you will ultimately have to fight to save your sanity.

Do you answer every email as it comes in? Do you take time for yourself? If you don’t create some boundaries, you will be drinking too many negronis to forget how burnt out you are…

Systems and the need to let go

I have tried everything from Salesforce to Mailchimp. I am constantly tinkering (sometimes to my own detriment) with what I utilize to communicate well and keep track of details with. I look for systems that will work for me and my own style.

Find what works for you.

Even still, I still miss on a ton of shit. Details, offers, timing, customers…you name it.
To put it plainly: I still fuck up. A LOT. And I think I have a decent mind and fairly sharp intuition to go with it. But I still swing and miss, or forget to swing at all.
BOTTOM LINE: LEARN TO LET IT GO. I took a long time to learn this lesson. You don’t have to do it the hard way as I did.

By the way: don’t let it go in a jerky or distant way as if nothing matters – but you have to move on from the things you miss on or they will pull you down and hold you back.

The real game

It takes no talent to sell the wine that everyone wants. Sometimes you can’t give them as much or you have to say no, but basically a robot could do the whole thing.
The next level shit is dialogue. The conversation you are having.
The truth is that it isn’t the wine in the bag that sells, it is the dialogue that sells.
Most people in this market are very confused about this concept (I admit there is some nuance to it).
Ultimately, this business is the people business and not the wine business.
At least until someone figures out how to put everything we do on a spreadsheet…*


*I was asked by a well-known design thinker and AI specialist if I could put everything I do on a spreadsheet. I have tried: IMPOSSIBLE.
He said to me: AI has no shot and no robot will replace you.

FIVE QUESTIONS 05/10/19

Five Questions with Chelsea Carrier, Bev, Director @ o ya, Covina + Rooftop @ the Park South Hotel

Chelsea Carrier (@chelseaecarrier) is the superstar that runs the beverage programs at o ya, Covina, and the Roof Top at the Park South Hotel.

Chelsea Carrier is originally from Houston, Texas. She started her career in hospitality working for restaurants such as Zahav and Lacroix in the Rittenhouse. Her love of wine came from her time working at Eleven Madison Park and NoMad NYC.


Five Questions

Which producer or area do you believe in that most people in the industry disagree with you on?

I think that the area of wine that most people in the industry disagree with me on is Italian white wine. Obviously, there are iconic producers that my peers support, but overall, I think that Italian white wines are overshadowed by the reds. I’m a firm believer that these wines can stand up to most luxury white wines from around the world.
My favorite Italian white wines come from more native or unknown grapes such as Greco di Tufo, Fiano, Falaghina, Friulano, and Carricante. Given the grapes, these wine are typically from lesser known appellations, which allows me to “nerd out” with my guests. Producers such as Marisa Cuomo, Quintodecimo, Benanti, and i Clivi are just a few that have elevated the image of these grapes. Personally, I love to decant these wines, so they are ready to be crushed as quickly as possible.

What are the components of an incredible omakase experience with wine? 

The main component of an incredible omakase experience with wine is to think outside of the box. I would definitely not turn down drinking old Riesling and any Champagne with Japanese food, but in my opinion, it is not my favorite. From working with Japanese cuisine, I have realized that the structure of the food is different than any other. Acid, bitter, and body truly affect wine in an interesting way.
From this conclusion, I have fallen in love with white Rhône varieties with an omakase. The moderated acid, sense of minerality, and the body express themselves similarly to sake. Sake is the classic pairing. Finding wines that can be exchanged for sake is a wonderful challenge.

What are the challenges of running a multi-concept hotel wine program and how do you put your team in a position to succeed?

Stepping into the role of running a multi-concept hotel beverage program was challenging to say the least. The organization of inventory alone could be a full-time job, and my learning curve was steep. The challenges that a single-concept program faces are the same as a multi-concept. The struggle with storage, organization, education, implementation, service, and development of employees is just multiplied by the number of restaurants that are overseen.
The way that I try to face these challenges is by always thinking of what is best for my team. If my team is happy, fulfilled, and supported, it will reflect onto our guests. This being said, my first initiative was to consistently hold week education classes, bi-weekly R&D for cocktail development, bi-annual beverage goal setting, and creating a spreadsheet for beverage employee development. The more that I included the team, the more they wanted to help with organization, service improvements, and implementation. They feel attached to the programs, which is wildly rewarding to me.

Which trend or trends do you wish would go away?

The trend that I wish would go away would be the pretentious Sommelier. The original reason for the Sommelier was not only to be knowledgeable about wine, but to heighten the experience of the guest. I feel as though the old school idea was lost for a period of time with the glitz and glamour of the ‘Sommelier.’ I think that there are many emerging Sommeliers (ex: Jonathan Lopez of the Milling Room, Jhonel Faelnar of Atomix, Sarah Plath of NoMad, and Luke Boland of CrownShy) that are trying to shake this idea, but do think that we have some way to go.

...I have fallen in love with white Rhône varieties with an omakase. The moderated acid, sense of minerality, and the body express themselves similarly to sake.

What is your philosophy on educating and motivating a large staff?

Being the daughter of a teacher, education has always been near to my heart. Also, it has always been tied directly to my motivation at work. This is why Cushman Concepts immediately felt like home when I found that their motto is ‘Forever the Student’. I try to encourage this motto through my philosophy on educating a large staff.
Essentially, my philosophy boils down to inclusion. I cannot teach at every line-up, education class, or every staff member with a team of over 50 dining room employees in 3 restaurants. Also, to my dismay, I am not an expert on every beverage topic, and not everyone learns from my teaching style. I need help from the beverage team. I ask that every member of the beverage team hosts one of our weekly education class or daily pre-shift. Due to the vast and varied knowledge of the team, we get to deep dive into every aspect of beverage (i.e. Sake, Coffee, Tea, Wine, Cocktails, Spirits, Beer, and Non-Alcoholic).
This inclusion of knowledge encourages varying teaching-styles as well. People learn in different ways. The higher quantity of people that teach, the wider net we cast. This education inclusion is the easiest way to invest in an employee. It will encourage their motivation and attachment to the guest’s experience, the restaurant’s success, and the beverage program’s elevation.

You recently passed the Advanced level court of Master Sommelier exam – if you had to do it again, what would you change in your full process (study through exam)?

This is an insightful question because I have deeply contemplated this idea as I prepare for my Master’s track. It is a challenging topic for me because I was successful in my first attempt at the exam. I think to myself, ‘Must have done something right to succeed on the first try’, but the other thought that I have is, ‘Was my journey enjoyable or was it too in-balancing to my work/life/study balance?’.
The conclusion that I have made is that I wouldn’t change a thing. I will study, taste, and practice in the same methods during my Master’s journey. The one idea that I have decided to focus more heavily is the balance of life. I want to enjoy this last step, and be proud of how I passed. So, I have decided to take my time, and accept that this journey will take many years.


Note*: All answers are edited for spelling, punctuation and posted without cuts.

THE REORDER 04/22/19

How to Spot #BigSalesEnergy

How to spot #BigSalesEnergy?

#BigSalesEnergy in the NYC beverage world is not easy to spot – it has nothing to do with the portfolio or unicorn wine they offer you – it is all about the presence and momentum of the person.
If you focus solely on the wines and not the messenger, you (as a buyer or salesperson) may never know the difference between an important player and a struggling, downward dog order-taker scrubs in this market.


A Guideline for #BigSaleEnergy

If they are calm in the storm of inevitable mistakes.

If they are able to listen and not talk.

If they never pull you down.

If they display a grounded understanding of the business and not just wine.

If they know that haters are going to hate and at the same time don’t tolerate fools.

If you focus solely on the wines and not the messenger, you (as a buyer or salesperson) may never know the difference between an important player and a struggling, downward dog order-taker scrubs in this market.

If they have a wine perspective formed by actual experience.

If they view connection as the foundation and not sales as the foundation.

If you don’t feel they are offering something when they definitely are.

If you know they don’t need to be with you – that they made the choice to.

If they don’t inflate/create drama for personal attention.


#BigSalesEnergy drives the broader movements of this industry. If you notice the players that have it – these are the people to keep track of. Also, keep in mind that any Somm or salesperson that leads with sales numbers doesn’t have this energy and is likely inflating themselves for a reaction.