Independent Merchants are quite ‘trendy’ right now, or rather they are if you happen to be one of the marketing bodies responsible for national or regional wines. Many of these bodies have come to realise that if you want to change the game and sell wines in a sustainable manner then working with the independent trade is an important element. To that end we’ve seen the likes of ViniPortugal pull their funding to supermarkets and Majestic (with the latter publicly denouncing the decision you have to wonder what the benefit was to a non targeted, ‘please support us’ plea).
However with the ‘generic’ bodies falling over themselves to work with independent merchants you have to wonder a little bit why we don’t see more of this generic marketing in our independent merchants – and I think it comes down to a number of issues.
1. Time – these promotions take time to get on board with, to sign up to and to take part in – many independents haven’t got the time to make that happen.
2. Lots of (particulatly London based) ‘Trendy’ wine merchants don’t want the generic marketing information about, they know their wines and they are doing ok thank you without the help of others.
3. Merchants may feel that they have a range of wines across different countries, why limit themselves to pushing just (for example) Australian wines when they are proud of their full range.
4. Many of the generic promotions are limited or require hoops to be jumped through. For example I have recently turned down the chance to be part of a generic campaign with Wines of Germany celebrating 31 Days of Riesling. Now this has a number of flaws in it, firstly if for any reason at all I found I couldn’t run the promotion (building burnt down included) Wines of Germany would charge me £500. But they have also missed a trick – you see if I want to run a promotional feature in store it needs to be something that will not just move sales from one part of the shop to another, but will increase my sales overall. It would be risk to run a promotion solely on unfashionable Germany or just on Riesling – but to run a sole promotion on JUST German Riesling could well be commercial suicide. You see if I want to run a German promotion – I want to be able to tell people about other wines I sell made from Pinot varieties. Or if my focus is on Riesling I want to share my Alsace or Clare Valley wines as well – but this is extremely and (for me) prohibitively restrictive and won’t work.
But there are also a number of reasons why working with generics can be a good thing.
1.) There is likely to be some cohesive marketing that you can ride along with.
2.) It can give shape to any promotional activity you run.
3.) It can enable you to gain from training and tasting opportunities.
4.) Agents/Importers are often aware of these promotions and set things in place to support you.
5.) There can be real benefits from just running the promotion in terms of sales uplifts.
6.) Many offer a prize – trips or cash or both – however you should NEVER run a promotion to win a prize you should run the promotion to best benefit your business – if that gets you a prize then that is an added benefit.
So what things should generic bodies bear in mind when working with independent merchants.
1.) Keep it flexible, the more you insist on certain things the less merchants will take part.
2.) Ensure training is included for merchants that employ more than a couple of people – and if possible run sessions two or three times so that all sales staff benefit not just the chosen few.
3.) Help merchants pick wines for their promotion, don’t tell them what to sell but help them to discover wines that will fit into (or with) their existing range – let them taste and discover new things that they can get excited about – AND make sure their sales teams have a chance to get excited too.
4.) Help them with a consumer event, help make it successful – that success will breed confidence. If a manager, sales person or owner sees wines selling well, sees consumers going for particular things then they will have confidence to get behind them. If they get behind them they’ll see good sales figures which in turn will give them the hint that it might be worth making them part of their range.
5. Do what you say you are going to do – I cannot emphasise this enough – we saw earlier that I didn’t like the fact that Wines of Germany would take £500 of my money if I didn’t do their promotion after I signed up for it – but in some quarters it seems perfectly acceptable to tell a merchant that you will do this and that for them if they take part but then pull out. For instance one generic body ran a promotion to coincide with National Wine Month last year, they gave us £500 to help (which was very good of them) but we arranged our own training session with the UK’s premier importer of these wines, taking 4 shop managers and 2 buyers out of the business for 4 hours to do it. We ran consumer tastings, in store discovery evenings, and in return we were promised the £500 plus a trip to discover more about this country for ourselves. That trip NEVER happened. That is unforgivable if you don’t want your name to become mud.
Another organisation I worked with earlier this year has promised things, some were needed for the promotion itself and never arrived – now these are blamed on poor couriers – but an independent merchant doesn’t have time to worry about that – all we want is the stuff we need, preferably yesterday. I am still waiting for this same organisation to fulfill its promises of other benefits and incentives for this promotion which finished a month ago.
6. Make it easy to take part. That same organisation above then made it hard to reclaim our expenses (up to the £500 offered). We had to jump through hoops, contact government departments in the country itself – it shouldn’t have been that hard – but it was. (It was the second year we had worked with this organisation – the first year it took me 9 months to recoup the money – many others would have given up).
7. Show the independent that you trust them and enjoy working with them.
In my next post I’ll suggest how a generic body might put together a promotion for independent merchants and what an ideal promotion might look like.