Building Relationships With the Wine Trade


Huge Wine Store,Don’t be fooled by the simple title, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The other day, a colleague who typically doesn’t work on our booze business helped us out by confirming wine trade guests for a client event. He later asked me if it was normal for “wine people” to be less-than-friendly toward brand reps and us PR and marketing folks. He was taken aback by some of the reactions he got to his phone calls and I realized that I’ve become desensitized to the standard crankiness that comes with outreach to the people who move the needle on wine sales. This is largely due to the fact that trade folks are extremely busy, overworked and are primarily focused on their customers (not working on whatever it is we are asking them to do for our clients’ brands). In other words, it’s understandable.

Since our top priority as wine marketers is creating alliances with (and being useful to), the wine trade and media so they’ll recommend our client’s brands to their customers more often, relationship building and long term partnerships cannot be stalled by an unwelcoming vibe. Thankfully, there are ways to circumvent and actually do away with getting the door shut in your face, so to speak. It’s not always about having the most marketing dollars or being the edgiest and most creative — it’s more about being the best person to work with. Here are a few tips for developing mutually beneficial relationships that work to your clients’ advantage:

  1. Give buyers and sommeliers quality time. Especially in primary markets outside New York. It’s really easy to sit at your desk and shoot out emails and phone calls all day. More often than not, these will get ignored. A face to face meeting, even if it takes traveling to Idaho, will accomplish more than 2 months of circular emails. I just spent a week doing down and dirty market work on behalf of wine clients…visiting wine stores and gourmet chain managers, meeting with distributors and talking to sommeliers everywhere from Houston to Chicago to Yonkers. One thing I  heard repeatedly is that brands (producers, ambassadors and other reps that do not actually sell wine to the trade) just don’t make their presence felt often enough. There is a chasm between what wholesalers have the time to do for their on- and off-premise customers vs. what somms and buyers really need help with and that’s where we come in. These guys are on the floor all day, every day and they crave new ideas and inspiration for how to talk about your brands. They want to know that they are valued, even if they are in a suburban strip mall. Find flights that are fairly priced and get out there! With just a 15-minute chat over coffee, you’ll make a new friend — and a store manager will always be happier to hear the latest news from your appellation directly from you.9930413a3bba332b42f32aac10a53b0cd409ed91
  2. Be as useful and direct as possible. This means doing away with the cookie cutter approach and diving into what makes the Austin wine scene different from Grand Rapids. Make it clear you just want to help them succeed (with your brands of course!). Most retailers and restaurant groups have unique ways of doing business and are very clear on what does NOT work, so make it your mission to find out, then create customized promotions that retailers and sommeliers can easily scale on behalf of your clients. Never give them more work than they already have and make sure what you’d like them to do is legal and makes sense for them (some places never do Happy Hour, others do it twice a day!). Take the time to learn what drives their business, their preferred flavor profiles or deal breaking price points and they’ll rarely say no to your ideas.
  3. Deliver what you promise. I can’t tell you how many store managers, buyers and sommeliers have told me they were wary of working with me because of past experiences: they’d worked with X trade association, Y appellation or Z agency and things went badly because of poor follow through. It’s one thing to land a meeting and negotiate a partnership, it’s quite another to do your due diligence, make sure tastings are scheduled and staffed by articulate pourers, collateral is designed and shipped on time and within budget, staff education is arranged, database blasts are drafted, reviewed and approved on deadline, etc. etc. etc. Develop your own systems to keep the train on the rails. Wine is fun and casual but the work of positioning your brands amongst the trade should never be taken casually. Believe me, being as buttoned up as possible will make you a rarity. Also, word travels. I’ve often walked into many a meeting and been greeted with a comment someone across the country made about me to a person I am just meeting for the first time.

More than ever, Americans are excited about wine and are willing to spend more for each bottle – according to the Wine Market Council, American wine consumers spent 4.4% more on wine in 2016 and everyone wants a piece of that action. Sommeliers, retail buyers and store managers need all the support they can get to succeed in the cutthroat booze business, so make it your business to be a resource they turn to again and again.

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