Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Trudge

La Faticaccia

Not good news from the front lines of the selling game. From what I am seeing, getting to the end of the year unscathed will be highly uncertain. We’re in the thick of things now, the deep trough, the slog through the sludge. Forget about keeping your mukluks sparkly clean, we’re going into the uncharted terroir of the slime. And it ain’t autochthonous. Or archetypical.

Funny how wine geeks love to talk about the feel of the soil. But when it gets soggy and tracks through the house, folks be singing another tune. Until the end of the year, the wine business is joining the rest of the economy in just getting through these days.

Small or large, importer or distributor, terroir-driven or industrial-fashioned, wines in these times, and selling them, have some particular challenges. Call it Stock and Awe.

First, the warehouses are full. As, I am sure, are the winery stockrooms. Just like the car lots and portside lots, space is running out. Meanwhile, folks aren’t running out to buy a car or a TV or the same bottle of wine.

In a short survey today, while driving from Dallas to Austin, I talked to importers. Some have a niche market of artisanly crafted wines and others have more commercially made offerings. In either case, marketers are telling me they are worried. Vintages are starting to back up.

Another concern is the Europeans. Since they perceive the dollar is stronger, and they are wrestling with inflation and recession, some camps think they will push for price increases to bolster their margins. That would be a huge mistake to entertain such fantasies. Not because they aren’t entitled to recoup margins after holding back their prices while the dollar was in the tank. Unfortunately now there are other things in a tailspin and to have any price points spiral up would be suicide. But I am sure many of those folks won’t be reading this blog. Those who do, would save time and lost sales and just bite the bullet for the next eighteen months.

Forget about the problems about Brunello. It will seem small by comparison to the next wave that is in motion. And a year or two from now let’s see if this seemingly pessimistic assessment will be prophetic or aimed in the wrong direction. I hope it is erroneous. In the interim, it will be crucial that the industry moves forward slowly. Introducing new items? This probably won’t be a good opportunity moment. Beefing up inventory? We’re going to see a new definition of just-in-time. It’ll probably be more like, when we run out, then we’ll order. After we sell some other product sitting, waiting for its day.

What will be telling? When, like the auto industry, folks decide instead of waiting around for a bail-out, they start selling wines, at reduced margins in order to just move product out to make room for the next round of offerings. Both products have a shelf life; cars rust, wines get tired.

I feel for a friend, who has recently taken the leap to import and self distribute, with containers just showing up. Unknown wines in a time when even things known have slowed down. This is not a good time to be exposed to the elements of the downturn. It’s going to take a lot of street beating, wearing out some of the old shoe leather. Forget about chasing maidens around the primordial ooze.

So the fancy Beatle boots of the dandy salesman, like the three martini lunch, is a sullied white elephant in today’s climate.

Maybe a drill sergeant’s pair of boots would be more suitable for the combat in the streets, Main or Wall. The situation on the ground calls for a little less speculation (and editing of the fantasy-dream sequence) and a little more real time pounding of the concrete. What some of the old bull elephants in the selling game call getting out of the mud bath and trudging into the village. Stay tuned.


Do Bianchi said...

All surveys seem to indicate that Brunello sales in the U.S. haven't been hurt by the controversy and in fact, at least anecdotically, the average U.S. high-end wine consumer doesn't even seem to be aware that there was a controversy. Amen to that... That being said, times are certainly tough, which means its high times for wine buyers to support their sales reps and work together to keep the wine sales flowing...

Marco do Fango said...

I like mud myself. It's fun to play in and it comes off with water. That squishy feeling is unique. Who needs boots? It defeats the whole purpose of feeling the mud. Who wouldn't want to play in the mud a bit with that fine looking creature in her fatigues?

Anonymous said...

never knew you liked elephants so much, Marco.

Don Sorella

Tony McClung said...

I will tread cautiously, but I refuse to give up my cool and groovy shoes...

Marco said...

I'll have to splain the elephant thing in person.

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