Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Distributors on the Defensive

My world has flipped upside down. My new role is to hold distributors accountable, while my old one was being held accountable. On the receiving end of the accounting, I had a great rapport with wineries. I was always brutally honest, built evidence to back up claims, and most importantly, knew what needed to be done to make each brand succeed and make sure we were giving it the best effort. I rarely needed to go on the defensive because as I laid out the evidence and gave my input, the wineries all knew that we were their best chance at success.

Now, I am in constant contact with many distributors. Very few act as if they are ahead of any issues that may be brewing. Disseminating information is practically non-existent. Getting valuable work-with time is tough. Want to schedule time in front of a sales meeting? You can get a reservation sooner at The French Laundry. Many distributors are doing everything they can to keep their head above water. They are all stressed about the season. I understand and appreciate all of this, and all of their competitors are going through the exact same thing right now.

While each of these complaints are frustrating, ampelography is built on the notion that all of this is going to happen. Distributors, when it comes to handling small brands on a large scale, suck without exception.This is why we have a job, to shine through their challenges, and elevate the conversation back towards artisan producers.

My knock on distributors is when they don't own up to the obvious. They aren't pumping their sales teams up about our producers, they are sending out sales sheets, they aren't stocking products to the appropriate par levels,and frankly, they aren't educated on our producers. I don't expect them to do all of these things, but when sales fall flat, it's my job to identify what needs to happen on both ends. When confronted about what is happening, the distributors end up acting like children that broke something of daddy's. I know admitting failure is tough, I expect them to fail, I just want to know how they're failing. I know I'm small potatoes in their world of $7 Malbecs and $6 Pinot Grigios, I don't help them "move boxes". But what I represent to them is a chance to exert minimal effort and have success. I am a boost for their more stagnant products. I'm not their competition, but they treat every supplier like they are. It's time for distributors to see the big picture. If they'd quit being so defensive, we'd actually both benefit.

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