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May 2013 Issue of Wines & Vines

Profiting From Trade Visitors

How hospitality personnel should treat pallet-scale buyers

by Craig Root
Tasting rooms handle the vast majority of trade visits (buyers, wine writers, sales reps, etc.), and such sales opportunities are among the most overlooked benefits of the tasting room. However, the tasting room receives no remuneration for all the labor used to take care of these folks.

As an example, I know tasting room managers who estimate that 10% to 20% of their labor on a busy day is spent taking care of the trade. This is particularly true of wineries with mass distribution.

When I was the tasting room manager at Beaulieu Vineyard in California’s Napa Valley, it was common to have five or more separate trade visits on a busy day. This was in addition to taking care of 900 general visitors. The winery as a whole profits from the visits, the winery’s sales rep in Atlanta profits by being able to make a placement as a result of this visit, but the tasting room itself does not profit.

Do your homework
When booking a trade visit, obtain as much information as possible. Besides obvious facts such as the date, time and number of visitors, address the following issues:

1) What kind of cuisine does the restaurant feature? (A tasting for a steak house is different than one for a seafood restaurant.)

2) What is the trade visitor’s position? Are they the manager, or the assistant manager with no buying power?

3) Which of your wines do they carry?

4) Which of your wines should be stressed during the tour and tasting?

5) Find out about any personal profile. Are they outgoing or shy? Are they wine-knowledgeable or not? Are they difficult to deal with? This last bit of information can be extremely important for obvious reasons.

Try to match your tour guide to the needs of the visitors. Ideally, only seasoned employees should handle the VIP trade. But then try to find connections, such as your staff person who lived in the city or state where the trade visitor works and resides. The visit will flow better when there is some affinity between your staff and the visitors.

Avoid giving buyers and sales reps the same tour you give to the general public. They know what fermentation is, so the basics are annoying. The one exception to this rule is if the buyer or sales rep is accompanied by friends or family. In that case, you may need to weave in some of the basics so the non-industry guests do not feel left out.

Make sure to tell buyers about all of your winery’s attributes. For example, you bought the vineyard land when it was a lot cheaper, and that is why your prices are so reasonable.

Take the buyer fishing
If a buyer has been to your winery a few times, consider doing something different, such as taking them to a theater event, a concert or fishing—whatever they are really interested in. You will score a lot of points by not being repetitious, and this practice can lead to higher sales.

Sales reps need stories and anecdotes. It is all well and good to talk about acidity and pH, but when trade visitors are selling wine in a store, the stories and anecdotes are more useful. When possible, keep it brief—especially for sales reps at the end of the day. Many times, their managers keep them going nonstop starting in the early morning.

When I was manager at Beaulieu and Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa, I would sometimes get sales groups at the end of the day. When I could tell that they were burned out, I would say: “I had a two-hour experience planned for you, but I am going to limit it to one hour so you can go back to your hotel and have a swim or nap.” The look of relief on their faces was obvious. I always got positive feedback from our sales rep who arranged the visit. In other words, the group so appreciated this courtesy that they did a better job selling our wines when they returned home.

Always try to keep your trade visitors current. Are you changing labels? Are you adding or subtracting a wine? Staying up to date is part of why the trade is visiting your operation.

If you have lodging available for buyers or key sales reps, this is always a big plus. Play up the fact that they are staying in places that are not zoned as commercial property, and as a result, they are seeing views that are off-limits to the general public.

Keep conversation going
For visits requiring tour, tasting and lunch, there is a real burden for the host to keep the conversation lively for three hours. If you ask open-ended questions of the guest, you can lighten the load. Most people like to talk about themselves.

Ask, for example, “How did you get in the wine business?” Another one I like to use is, “What do you think will change or evolve in the next five years in the restaurant or supermarket business (or whatever business they are in)?” Not only does it relieve some of the conversational pressure, but you may get a free, up-to-date tutorial.

By the way, all lunches or dinners should be billed back to the sales division. The tasting room is already providing the labor, the wine and the venue for free. It should not have to pay for the meals as well.

Speaking of food, if you are hosting lunch at your winery, try to find out what was served at the wineries the trade guest visited before your lunch or dinner event. I have had a guest say, “I am so happy that you are taking us out, because we had lamb at the last three meals!”

It is extremely important to follow up after the trade visitor has left. Either call or email right after the visit and let your team in whatever region the folks came from know how things went. “Sally Jones, the buyer from XYZ Restaurant, was here. She really liked Wine A, so you have a good chance of placing it with her if you will call on her as soon as possible. Do not waste your time trying to sell Wine B, because she was not that interested in it.”

Remember that when your rep calls on Sally in her office, he is the fifth sales rep she has seen that day, and all her defense shields are up. When she visits your winery in a fun and casual way, she is much more open to suggestive selling.

Try to look good in local restaurants and stores. If buyers and reps are in your area for several days and never see your brand on wine lists or in wine shops, it does not reflect well on your winery. It can have a negative impact on their impression of you.

Last, have d rop-in trade procedures in place for your staff. It is not unusual for trade visitors to come in and announce themselves unexpectedly. Make sure the visit is always immediately brought to the attention of the management so they can decide on an appropriate course of action. For example, if it is the waiter at an account that pours your wine, he or she might get a general public tour, but a private tasting as opposed to a general tasting.

Handling the trade is an essential function of the tasting room. Always remember that these are visitors with a capital “V” because they can potentially buy or sell pallets—not cases—of your wine.

Craig Root has 30 years experience working with tasting rooms, the past 17 years as a consultant. He has helped create more than 80 tasting rooms and 150 wine clubs all over the United States. He analyzes current operations and teaches tasting room design and management at the University of California, Davis. He still works one day per month in a busy tasting room in order to stay in touch with the public and the work.

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