Saturday, October 29, 2011

A solution to the blisteringly easy target that is Marvin Enterprises and the Wine List Award Company.

I represent a pretty specialized group of wineries. Wineries that largely make sense in an interesting restaurant program. Therefore, I see an awful lot of those "Award for Excellence" plaques hanging beside the bars of my clients. When I was a somm, I coveted these distinctions. I felt like it validated everything I was working for. I worked hard to achieve the 2 glass award. I spent hours assembling the most attractive package to send in, with beautifully written verbiage about the passion behind our wine program, to only receive, 1 glass, again. Frustrated, I stopped submitting, writing them off as tools, accurately albeit prematurely.

Then, I traveled. I traveled many parts of the country, seeing these signs, and looking at lists, and here's what I've concluded: Wine Spectator doesn't care about your wine list. Hilarious individuals have completely debunked this entire process and proven as such. This is obviously (partially) a moneymaking scam for Wine Spectator. Here is the math: If you employed 1 full time employee to read every submission during their 150 day submission period, it would add up to about 20 minutes per wine list assuming an 8 hr work day. Heck, double it. Lets say you have 2 full time employees, and you pay them each $50k per year. What would you need to bring in in order to justify that? Last year, they gave 2827 Awards for Excellence (1 glass), 833 Best of Award of Excellence (2 Glasses) and 74 Grand Awards (3 Glasses). It also costs $250 for every submission, regardless of what or if you win. So that makes $933,500 in revenue from this program. Yeah, that probably justifies 2 full-time employees (but I bet they use interns).
So now that that we acknowledge that this process has been corrupted by money, what does Wine Spectator want to do? They want to keep you happy and receiving awards, so you keep handing a $250 invoice to your restaurants accountant each January. The tragedy is that, the people that run these wine programs could use a legitimate award. The majority of the people that receive these awards probably deserve them. People that care enough to send in for this sort of thing tend to run pretty legitimate operations. Wine Spectator has parameters and qualifiers, and I've even heard that they visit every Grand Award winner each year (that would certainly increase the cost of running such a program). But the flip side is that anyone with a passing knowledge of wine can throw together an award winning list with no interest in developing a dynamic and interesting wine program. They just want the hardware.
Beyond the critique of the motivation behind these awards, I have a huge issue with their parameters. They set large and arbitrarily high numbers of selections, with too much emphasis on holding older vintages of wine and collecting verticals. I'm much more interested in restaurants that are focused and always changing their selections. I believe that creativity should be awarded, and exposing people and educating them to new wines, and especially new wines in interesting contexts should be lauded. Flights, pairings, glass pour depth, events and staff education have no bearing on the criteria. A wine list never lives in a vacuum, it always depends on the people within the program and the interactivity in that dining room.
Here is what I offer to you, restaurateurs. I will give you my own award. No one has ever heard of it, but I'll give you something with your name on it, that gives my professional opinion that you have a kick ass wine program. It won't cost anything. There are no parameters. You don't need to buy any of my wines. You just need to care. send me an email, FB or Tweet me (follow the links to my sites). Tell me about what you do. If you really rock, I'll talk about it out there. All I care about is that you have a passion for your wine program, you have really interesting wines, and you are showing some sort of creativity. Bonus points for spreading the gospel out there via interweb.

Good Luck, and suck it Wine Spectator!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

preplanning will save you from a snowball?

Being a wine sales rep is easy right? Your job is so glamorous, all you do all day long is listen to music in your car in between quick friendly back and forths with your friends/ buyers, who also happen to give you glorious orders on a regular basis. Well, at least it feels that way about 2% of the time. The rest of your days are filled with dread trying to get ahead of all there is to do without making any major mistakes. If you forget one thing, it will snowball and bury you in an instant. Music in your car? Maybe in between deliveries on a Friday, otherwise, car time is phone/text/email time. Feeling helpless within the machine is de rigueur in the wine biz. So, how is non-sociopath supposed to deal with this constant dread and feeling of drowning? Organization.

This is not a 10 step, motivational, "what I learned in business" post. I am just telling you the one thing that any decent manager has already told you, that pre-planning is key. I ride with about 50 different sales reps on a semi-regular basis, I like to think I've seen it all. The best reps, without question, are the reps that have great organizational skills. In such a bohemian industry, where we are all peddling expressions of art/ intoxicating elixir/ natural products, it would seem that listening to "the man" would go against all of the rebellious intuition that landed us in the business in the first place. It does go against our instinct. It feels like a corporate, commodity driven approach to such a romantic product. Fight against that stigma. Here's the clichéd expression I'll trot out for this: "If you're not ahead of it, you're behind it". There's no way around it, all the charm and good intentions won't save you.

So, you may ask, how am I supposed to change? I'm not an organized person, my car is a mess, I'm a right-brainer for god's sake! That's fine, that's why you get excited about sherry and "a little" bret. You don't need to change you DNA. You need to do just 2 things: preplan and take notes.

You know how it's awesome how you can't even see your first account before 10am? That only means that you need to get all of your day's planning done before that first appointment. What do you need to plan? You need to have a quick outline of everything you need to talk to everyone about, written down. You need to remind them about old business(that taking notes thing), follow up on things they've asked you about previously, inform them of product updates, etc and scout new opportunities. Then there's note taking. While you are working your day, your accounts will invariably assume that you are their secretary. It's your role to keep them on point and reminded of all of the things they asked you to remind them about. They have a dozen sales reps, you have 80 accounts. They aren't expected to remember stuff, how are you supposed to? Write it down! Figure out a way to plan things forward, look back at notes, figure out your best method. Maybe you use a tablet or a computer. Whatever works. Just stay ahead of it.

You know how they say that showing up is half the battle/ well, your competition shows up too. I guarantee, if you are the most organized rep, you will sell the most wine.