The benefit of size (both large and small)

The sales rep of a large, national, big business wine wholesaler meets with an important wine buyer. 

Here is what she says: “We have scale and resources. We have many people on staff that work in the background and help us be better every day. If a truck breaks down, we have dozens more that can take their place. We sell spirits as well, so we can cover all of your needs. We have budgets for marketing, training, and educating and look forward to taking you to our wineries around the world. If you need something, I can tell you that 99% of the time the answer is probably yes. Working with us is about having one of the best teams behind what we do, and that is a clear benefit that you can count on. We will make you very happy and will do whatever we need to for your business.

The sales rep of a small, local, family owned and relatively new wine wholesaler meets with an important wine buyer.

Here is what she says: “We have a curated selection of selections. We control our portfolio. There are not big faceless national brands that force our hand on selections and inventory. We know every one of our producers, their kids, and the name of their dog. We aren’t big but we are passionate, and that passion will make us work even harder for you. Rather than having budgets for marketing or excessive dinners, we put those funds back in to pricing. There is no inflation of costs only to see a big sale price later. For us, it’s about integrity. Most importantly, our business with you is a significant part of our overall revenue, and as a result our commitment is a clear benefit you can count on. We will make you very happy and will do whatever we need to for your business.


The first takeaway: they are both right.

This is the great quandary for many wine buyers. Loyalty to the small, different, local, and awesome vs. the slick, handshaking, big business-minded, and resource-filled. Both the big and the small have their grand advantages, both can play their cards well, and both will ultimately do a good job.

The second takeaway: some are caught in the middle.

Some wholesalers are playing both sides. Some do it well, but most do it poorly. Can you be pretty big but still small? Can you have portfolio integrity yet occasionally show some flavored moscato? Can you play the big game in the minor leagues?

The third takeaway: a wine rep’s job is more than the money earned.

The style of company a rep works for really shapes his or her personality, reputation, and future. It’s hard, if not impossible, to jump from small to big to small and back to big. Some pull it off, but in their marketplace they are bruised for a while from it. In the end, a wholesaler job is more than the paycheck … it’s what a rep wants to stand for and be known for.

The forth takeaway: There are benefits to big. There are benefits to small. Both can be good. Both can be bad.

So in the end, don’t make the mistake of putting one down just to try to make yourself look better. That strategy will backfire in time.