A critical question when selling wine to restaurants and retailers is this: who is really making the decisions?
The wine buyer might be making 100% of the choices. But usually not.
An invisible hand exists in all business, and the motivations of the owner is often a controlling force within an organization. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but it’s always there.
The tough part for a sales rep is knowing how much of the owner’s (vs. the buyer’s) influence is on the wine list.
It might not be a simple percentage. It may be that with ten wines by the glass, two are there because of relationships, deals, obligations, promises, programs, handshakes, and friendships from above. 20% of the list. But if those two wines are always the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon pours, then it’s an outsized influence in terms of total sales (SB and Cab will total far more than 20% of the sales on a ten wine glass pour list).
With restaurants, it’s worthwhile to ask the wine buyer for guidance when it comes to targeting certain glass pours. Simply ask. “What is vulnerable on this list? What can I go after?” and follow it up with “What is bedrock or simply not possible for me to target?” You will learn quite a bit.
With retail, it’s harder because a retailer can always simply buy and add more and more. Suddenly the five case stacker of Chateau BS shows up. Sometimes your corner stack of lovely Pinot Noir becomes your competitor’s White Zin. But it’s still worthwhile to ask questions, find out what is vulnerable, and push in the right directions.
And of course, a good relationship with the owner is never a negative.
The best restaurants and retailers operate in balance, with both the owner and the wine buyer having their influence felt, their ideas listened to, and their vision respected. The sign of a truly great account is this balance of respect and energy.