The one thing most wine wholesalers suck at doing

Wine wholesalers are in a constant pickle. In the end it’s all about inventory control, which is directly connected to cash flow, which by definition is directly connected to sales, which can’t happen unless the ordering of product from wineries around the world happens months ahead of actually needing the wine. It’s exhausting just to think about.

The number of moving parts is quite incredible. Many wholesalers have become quite good at it, through massive investments in software infrastructure and smart people to run the software.

Which is why it puzzles me so much that there is one thing most wine wholesalers suck at doing: launching new products.

A product launch is an opportunity. A chance to make a splash, to put somebody and something in a spotlight, to open doors of conversation and actually make change in the marketplace.

99% of wholesalers do it the same way: at a Friday sales meeting they ‘kick off’ the new wines (the obvious sports analogy shows the wrong thinking: that somehow the game doesn’t start until the kickoff happens, when actually it should have started long before). The wines are new to the sales reps. They taste the wines. The sales manager might talk about profitability, the portfolio manager might talk about how great they are. The sales reps leave with samples and sell sheets. Then … that’s about it.

Taking a cue from outside of the wine industry, there are so many ways to do it better. We won’t get into a laundry list of ideas here (that’s for a future post and publication), but there are two key parts to amplify the successful launch of a new wine or brand:

  1. Tell your retail and restaurant partners that it’s coming, not that it’s here. Name a date weeks or even a month in the future. Discuss why you’re bringing it into the market, talk about opportunity. Give the accounts a few weeks to wiggle more open room on the shelves, or to delay the reprinting of the wine list until they get to try this magical juice you’re talking about. This also gives you time to contact the local restaurant critics or food and wine bloggers about the new arrival coming soon.
  2. Once it arrives, give your retail and restaurant partners ample opportunity to try the new wines. Do at least five ‘launch lunches’ where buyers are invited to grab the first-come-first-served seats. Don’t just give free sample bottles to the sales reps … give free cases along with a checklist of all of their accounts to track who they have shown it to or not shown it to. Make sure it’s tracked that all active accounts have been presented the new wines. Make sure it’s done in the first two weeks.

Sadly, most wholesalers fall flat on one or both parts. They may think they are doing these things, but often they are not.

Start reflecting on how you’ve kicked off new wines this year. Then fix it for the future by learning how to launch new wines instead. Kicking off and launching are two very different things.

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