if you want a do-right-all-day woman…

November 17, 2011 · 4 comments

Dear Winebuyer,

We’re friends, right? I mean outside of the whole wine rep/wine buyer relationship thing… before you were a buyer and before I was a rep… we were friends. So off the record, friend to friend, you gotta get this whole professional relationship figured out. Not just with me, with all your reps.

I could see how your position could create a feeling of power. I get that. Every day you get phone calls and visits from the whole parade of wine reps, all pandering to you and pampering you in hopes that our wines make your cut, make it on to the list or on to the shelves. And I think it’s all going to your head. I cringe watching the way you treat a new rep who is cold-calling to drop off a book and a card… and even watching your greeting to those reps who are coming in for their appointment with you… in your eyes they are the low-man on the totem pole, and you let them know it.

But just last week you complained to me over drinks that your reps don’t do enough for you… they/we don’t work hard for you, they/we don’t help you when you need it, they/we don’t give you enough. And I listened, all the while thinking about the numerous appointments you’ve stood me up on, or the collective hours spent waiting well past our appointment time at the bar while you chat with a friend on your cell phone or sit hunched over your laptop. Your time is precious, yes I know that. So is ours. That’s why we make appointments, so that we both set aside a few minutes to taste and discuss. I thought about the numerous times you’ve chewed me out for a mistake that was not my own, the instances where I could even point out physical evidence to show that the error was yours, but why bother when you still would not take responsibility and it would only serve to further ruin our working relationship.

And while you complained to me and as I ordered a third round, I kept my mouth shut. I nodded as if sympathizing with your dilemma.

But I’m sick of reps complaining to me about you. I’m just as sick of that as I am of your behavior towards me. So here’s the secret, I’m going to share it with you: Treat us well, and it will return in ten-fold. It’s really not that complicated, it’s like everything else in life… We all learned it back in Kindergarten, our mothers told it to us repeatedly growing up, it’s basically The Golden Rule.

A translation of the Golden Rule: Treat your reps the way you would like to be treated.

In the long run, in some ways, we can make or break the success of your establishment.

Cherry pick your way through a rep’s book, and you may find yourself without an allocation offer on their next big offering.

Ignore a rep for months and he’ll ignore you when his distribution company acquires that Spanish portfolio you love so much and you finally use one of those 20 business cards he’s dropped at your establishment over the months.

If your rep comes across a wine that they know you could make a killing off of, that’s right up your alley, that they know will suit your palate and that you would be just as excited to sell to your customers as the rep is to sell it to you, wouldn’t you want them to run straight to you to share this with you? They won’t, given the way you treat them currently. They’ll take it straight to your competitor and give them an exclusive.

Your reps see a lot of people on a day to day basis. We know the ins and outs of every wine shop, every restaurant, every bar in our territory. And our opinions are respected. Friends, family, acquaintances ask us where to eat, where to shop, what bars to frequent, what wines to buy. Do you think we’ll send them your way given your vindictive and surly attitude toward us?

Say it’s a Friday afternoon before a big weekend, and your rep finishes their sales meeting early. Wouldn’t you love some help stocking your wines or writing shelf talkers for your shelves?

I’m telling you this as a friend. But I’m also hoping you take it to heart as your wine rep. We can do great things for you, if you let us. Yes, we’re a tug on your time, and there are those who will repeatedly shove their quotas down your throat or only show you wines with incentives hidden behind them… but not all of us are like that. A good rep genuinely wants their accounts to succeed. So treat your good reps well and watch as they work hard for you.

Your friend,
Wine Rep

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jaded importer November 21, 2011 at 11:27 pm

What is it about this business in particular that prevents us from having open conversations with our customers? Every other business I have been in has involved a great deal of productive give and take. I suspect that it has quite a bit to do with the economy and the fact that there is so much juice out there right now – we are practically swimming in the stuff.

As a wholesaler, we are stuck in the middle – we are the banker for both supplier and restaurant/retail buyers. And the buyers for the most part know it. We have a great book, but people want us to hold on to product just for them – step and buy it, or you won’t get anymore. But no one seems to want to get behind anything these days – they want the wine to sell itself, heaven forbid that you should have to talk to a customer about what goes well with Thanksgiving dinner – try a GOOD Gruner. Or a nice, dry Alsatian Pinot Blanc. If you need a red wine, an Oregon Pinot or a lighter burgundy works well. But I think I;ll just stack up a bunch of marginal, big red wines and Rombauer Chardonnay because I know that is what people will buy. No sense trying to change people’s minds when I can meet my numbers this way.

At some point, the market will turn back towards the suppliers – not this year, probably not next – but it will happen, and it will be much easier to work with the buyers – they will have to be nice to get what they need. I hope.

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wine rep November 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Yeah, trying to tell my buyers outright what I need or expect from them? Not happening. And you’re right, that’s just silly.

I’m starting to see a little bit of a shift here and there, wine shops and wine writers that aren’t afraid to stick their neck out for wine styles that go against the grain, but it’s the exception to the rule. I would see it as a continuing opportunity to interact with the customers who come in looking for Prisoner or some butter-bomb chardonnay, and I could imagine that it might get tiring after a while to explain again and again why you choose not to stock those wines… but at the same time, it seems like it would be rewarding. It’s disheartening to sell the wines I can’t stand to drink day in and day out, just as a wine rep. And I can’t tell you how many buyers have said to me that they wish they didn’t have to stock Rombauer. It’s *your* shop, winebuyer! you don’t *have* to stock it! But they just want wine to walk out on its own… they’ve lost the passion to sell the wines they love, or maybe they never had it to begin with…

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another wine rep December 1, 2011 at 4:11 am

Much as your post rings true, and as much as I wish you were right, I just don’t think treating reps like dirt really comes back to bite anyone. There’ve been so many times I’ve been dicked over by unprofessionalism and general douchebaggery. But those are usually the places getting pelted with sales reps, and if you don’t join in the pelting, it’s you who loses out (in sales), not the buyer. Sure there are people who are nice and I love working with, but I don’t think it matters that much.

Big accounts get breaks and deals, not nice ones. This is a tough business and being a dick usually isn’t personal, it’s just business. If something changed around and all of the sudden buyers had to kiss our asses, I think you’d find pretty quick we wouldn’t be as needed and we would suddenly make a lot less money. That’s the key essence of this job: being able to take a lot of bullshit and still manage the relationship. That’s what we’re good at, and that’s what we get paid for.

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winerep December 1, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I disagree to an extent. In my experience, the big accounts have at least a level of professionalism and understand all sides of the biz. They aren’t my “best friend” buyers, but they know how to get things done efficiently for both parties, and that’s what really matters in the end…

it’s the “what have you done for me lately” attitude that gets me. i only have one or two buyers that really take this to an extreme, and this post is about one such. The bottom line is that you can’t be a complete asshole to your reps and then turn around and complain that your reps aren’t going above and beyond their call of duty for you. It just doesn’t add up.

I do agree about big accounts getting breaks/deals instead of nice ones. But say you’re a smaller volume account and you’re still a dick… I’m certainly not going to stick my neck out for you and ask my boss for best price case one or an extra case for an allocation. But I might for a smaller account who treats me with respect.

I’m not looking for best friends, I’m looking for mutual respect. And even though I don’t always get it, you’re right… part of what we get paid for is to take it in the ass and keep on smiling.

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