The rise of the number of wine distributors in major markets in the past five years has been stunning. Even in heavy handed and “old boy’s network” markets like Chicago, more and more micro-distributors are opening shop and succeeding. Not only succeeding, but making amazing inroads that are pissing off those that feel they “deserve the business.”
Today’s wine buyers (and it doesn’t matter if they are a millennial or not) are simply tired of the same old same old, making opportunity for the new. Even if a larger and established distributor has some quirky and strange (and delicious) wines, the buyers at restaurants and retailers can (often rightfully) assume those wines will soon have homes all over town, making them not so quirky and strange anymore.
What has changed are two simple dynamics over the last ten years:
- Better wine than ever is being made more and more consistently. This means it’s almost impossible to compete on the platform of “my wine is better than their wine.”
- Which means the decision to invest in inventory by a retailer or restaurant has more to do with their relationship with their sales reps and the wholesalers, combined with a sense of protection for the items they are buying (i.e. not being placed all over town and ramping up public competition).
The new, tiny, and quirky distributors are not only new, tiny, and quirky. They are often fast, nimble, and original. They are often a breath of fresh air compared to the way the old and established work.
The same way established big companies in music, book publishing and sales, hotels, taxis, and much more had to adjust to a new world, wine wholesalers are slowly doing the same. The wine world is always a bit behind others (because of protectionist laws and measures, usually) but eventually it catches up.
We’re watching the front end of a big change happening right now and those in denial will lose.
Bigger is no longer better. Better is better. Tiny, nimble, fast, and original are the keys for the new success formulas.