There is a soothing and predictable hum to the machinations of wine sales. We are all trained to approach the task with a certain autonomy, and with very little deviation from the scripted dance. This forms our wine business sensibility that affect everything from our routes to the events we organize. "5 Course wine dinners" or "pour behind a table" seem to be the only approaches that are used. Once in a great while, we see someone try something new, and it may strike a chord. What we don't see is the inability of many of the people in this business, to adapt and support creativity. Those intoxicated by the dull rhythm resist anything unique at all costs. Their resistance to change can be demoralizing for everyone, and thereby, contagious. Wine people on the whole are striving for that predictability, perhaps born out of the aversion to risk.
Remember the Apple campaign called "Think different"? Different isn't automatically better, but different changes the world. Approaching events and this business differently, can change this part of the world. I have been involved in a few things that have broken convention, and in the end, enjoyed tremendous success from these projects. Success, in this case, not necessarily acutely monetarily. Instead, along with partners and evangelists, we created a couple of events that were among the most memorable wine events in our region's history. Nobody got rich off of the endeavors, but what we did was to create the elusive "I had this wine on vacation phenomenon"1. Wine dinners can blur together. Once you create a unique event, you have the ability to forever connect the thing you are marketing to a very specific memory (hopefully it is a great memory).
The other challenge I have recently encountered has been my counterparts' desire to keep wine programs simple and predictable. As I often do, I thrown down the wine education gauntlet. I'm not an MS by any stretch, but I believe that we can raise the general education of the population by challenging them to select and sample wines outside of their comfort zone. Seemingly naively, I also subscribe to the belief that actually pairing food and wine together can create an elevated experience. Some reps would much rather work in the Cab/ Chard world and believe that the success of this corner of a wine program is your path to business success, as if they have never heard the term "self-fulfilling prophesy".
What separates us from our competition may not be as simple as how many hours we work or how passionate we are, instead it may be about breaking convention, rewriting rules and forging the path yet to be traveled. If we are constantly working on new approaches, not only to our sales, but more importantly to the way we promote our clients while challenging convention, the better we differentiate ourselves from the guy who makes the donuts.
1 This is phenomenon that occurs whenever a person travels and has a bottle of wine while on vacation. It will always be the best wine ever. This is observed to be more a function of the moment than the actual quality of the wine. See "Hot dog in a ballpark syndrome"