Free is never free

Freebies abound in the liquor industry. Look at the umbrellas on the patios, the credit card embossed checkout books, the logos on the beer mugs.

And behind the scenes, free cases are delivered to retailers. Free menu printing, or covering the costs for someone else to do it, is a regular offer for restaurants.

And for the owners and managers of retailers and restaurants, free trips to wine regions are a common bonus for purchasing or continuing to do business.

But keep in mind there is always a price. Somebody is paying the bill, and judging the value of those investments. But the differences are in how the freebie transactions occured.

If the free stuff is given to a buyer or an account without them asking, that’s one thing. That’s called a gift. If the free stuff is given to a buyer or an account because they asked for it, that’s another thing. That’s called negotiation. And if the free stuff is given to a buyer or an account because they insist upon it, and they use the future of the sales relationship as leverage, that’s another thing entirely. That’s called being a bully.

Somebody is paying the bill. It might not be in dollars, but rather in reputation, relationship, and future possibilities.

And if a retailer or restaurant is the one demanding the freebies, two things will occur. First, current and future wine costs will include some hidden price bumps to get ready for the next thing they insist they deserve. Second, their reputation behind the scenes will be tainted and forever shaped by their demands.

Negotiation is one thing. But bullying suppliers, who should be seen as partners in future success, is different.

“Free” is never free.

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