Wine Merchants, What is your point of difference?

As we publish this we are emerging out of the coronavirus lockdown, hospitality businesses are reopening and we are looking to establish the ‘new norm’. With all the noise going on, it is become more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.

 Have you ever found yourself eating out (in the days when you used to be able to) scanning the list and seeing the same wine listed in other restaurants, wine bars and pubs you’ve been to before? In a similar way, if you see the shelves or check the websites of wine retailers up and down the country, really good wines do crop up again and again. That’s normally a sign of quality, and quite understandably a good wine is something that most buyers gravitate towards. Customers meet at winemaker dinners and producer trips and share their views and preferences, and it is inevitable that those conversations create curiosity and influence to an extent.

Although a list of SKU’s dotted with wines that are repeated elsewhere is not necessarily the sign of an identikit list, there is only so much differentiation you can make with your product range if you are selecting from the best suppliers, unless they have a dynamic, exciting, esoteric and regionally diverse list. With that in mind, how does a retailer really stand out from the crowd? As one of my mentors used to say, the most important difference you can make over your competitors in any business is ‘service, service, service’. It is amazing how you are prompted to rate any kind of product and service that you have used, and the truth is, that measure helps to elevate service levels especially with those where it does not come naturally. The bank I use has always been based on the principle of high levels of customer service, and everyone I have ever spoken to there is genuinely nice and helpful. It is in the company’s DNA. The garage I have to use for my car service contract is the polar opposite, where the staff were often surly and disinterested, and you can sense it is not a happy ship. Now that they are held to account for the way they interact with their customers, their attitude has definitely changed for the better, even though it does not seem genuine.

The wine business is no different. In the same way that you prefer to do business with a distributor that is flexible with minimum orders, where invoices and orders are accurate, arrive intact and when they are meant to, your customer expects the same reliability and flexibility from you. But that is only where the comparison begins; our customers are looking for a business partner they can trust with their advice on products, to share market data and analysis that shapes the way they interact with the consumer, with point of purchase ideas, which can range from shelf talkers to info-link labels accessible via your phone, and tips on category management by geography, style, occasion, shopper demographic, etc. Just as you are looking for a distributor who is willing to support you with producer dinners and tastings, in-store sampling and annual/bi-annual tastings , your customers are looking for a retailer they can trust to advise you about the wine that suits their requirements, and offers them regular opportunities to engage via events.

If things continue as they are, and lockdowns become ever more restrictive, those retailers with a decent website, where you can place your order and get the wine delivered, will have a distinct advantage as it stands. Those willing to adapt to the market conditions may thrive. Perhaps a distributor who offers to help with your orders – from picking to packing and delivering – would be an added bonus, so you can focus on selling and taking orders. I recently saw a flyer which had been popped through the letter box from a local florist which offered to help with deliveries of food and provisions to those that are house bound. It appeared to be a sincere act of kindness, and even if it is a shameless opportunity for good PR, where is the harm in that?

One thing is for certain, those that that have always offered that point of difference and continue to do so during this most difficult economic situation will emerge stronger ‘on the other side’ (to borrow one of the most utilised phrases of the moment).

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