Field report from the Italian-American delegation.
In the past few days the happy warriors along the wine trail have been looking for opportunities to make something out the month of August. While our Italian counterparts are bronzing and eating bronzino, those who have not gotten furloughed from their platoon assignments have been skirmishing and planning counter-insurgent acts toward all things regarding Italian wine. Seminars, working with trainees, retail re-sets, reprinting wine lists, you name it, this is the month to plant the winter garden. And while we won’t see the fruits of our labors in the next few weeks, somewhere down the line, it will pay off. In the meantime, this week, several of us decided to go about reorganizing Italy.
Before month’s end, we’re all looking for any opportunities to sell something, even a close-out. Some folks might be waiting for their ship to finally arrive, though this month not much is moving. And if the transport company happens to take the route from Livorno to the New World via Marseilles, those at the end of the line might have a surprise in store. Dock strikes and port blockades will spiral costs for those wines sitting in (hopefully) refrigerated containers. But the clock is ticking. Then again, if you believe everything you read on the blogosphere, the world is coming to an end with the latest round of distributor consolidations. Now, anyone who has read On the Wine Trail in Italy probably knows I work in the industry, and for a large distributor at that. I have heard the company I work for, and the people in it, called scum-bags, evil-empire, dark-force and behemoths. Oh, and mad-wounded elephants, that’s one of my favorites.
We have read, on blogs, bloviated comments such as “consolidation is a sign of weakness,” and referring to consolidation as a byproduct of “fear and scarcity.” And usually this comes from some unspecified workstation in some condescending setting, far from the reality of the streets. More often than not, the blogger has never sold a bottle of wine. But to hear them, they know the ins and outs of the business; they’re better briefed than the bespoke suits on Stockton Street.
Blah-gers also commented recently about the amount wholesale alcohol distributors spend on political causes. A figure of $50 million has been put forth for spending by American wholesalers and their associations for state politicians from 2000 to 2006. What never seems to get mentioned by bloggers – is the charitable spending these companies do. For example, Larry Ruvo, Senior Managing Director of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, is founder of the Keep Memory Alive Foundation and the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute. Since its inception, Keep Memory Alive has become one of Las Vegas’ most important charitable initiatives and a key player in the nation’s fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Larry has helped raise more than $50 million and recruited leading specialists to become part of this vital project. But what do we hear from bloggerdom? That worn out talking point mantra: large companies are anti-competitive scum-bags.
James Molesworth said this recently on a Wine Spectator forum, “This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic..."
Others trivialize by wondering how “the small wineries will fare with increasing competition for attention among the already over worked sales force with even greater expectations of delivery upon them.” Of course none of those bloggers who perform their armchair criticism will ever know how those barmy-mutilated pachyderms will break away from the psychosis of the wine industry, because they are safely ensconced in a bubble of protection from the reality of having to worry about reality.
For those of us who do sell actively, and selectively, whether it is for the Brobdingnagian or the niche companies, it boils down to this: You are a salesperson offering a product to a buyer. You are one person talking to another person, mano-a-mano. It is up to you to engage that person, the buyer, your client, sometimes your friend, into wanting what you have. It doesn’t matter how big and powerful or how small and terrified you are, you have to “sell” that person on you and what you will deliver. That is the great equalizer. This week I saw a young saleperson from a niche company attempt to enter into an exchange with a buyer and she had as much time and opportunity as I did. And was as challenged as the best of us.
Remember me? One of the guys who work for the “scumbags.” Me and my friends for the last quarter of a century, who have forged a family of wine, who take in the younger people like the trainee we had this week, who helped us reorganize Italy. Yeah, we’re really bad people doing bad things. Just ask our customers, our friends and all the families we help support. I have a challenge for those “nattering nabobs of negativity”: Come out of your protective shelters and walk around in the sun, in our shoes, if you have the cogliones. Which I doubt any of you do.
That would mean having to do real work, no business-class treatment, no free-run of the mouth. The road. The service portion of the exam.
Reorganizing Italy Part 2: Next post.