Posted on | November 22, 2013
Written by | Patricia Savoie
In October, we asked sommeliers about their “pet peeves.” This month, we are giving the retailers a chance. There was no shortage of irritation, but, not too surprisingly, all of the merchants interviewed asked to remain anonymous, as no one wanted to seem petty or overly critical of their customers and suppliers.
THE RHETORICAL BROWSER asks the staff, “Is this wine any good?” If it’s small talk, the question is fine, but it is often delivered straight, implying that the retailer routinely carries poor wines.
THE HAYSTACK NEEDLE HUNTER knows exactly what he/she wants. As in “I want a Cabernet Franc that has fruit like a Zin and more oak, like a Cabernet Sauvignon.” So, why are they asking for a Cabernet Franc?
THE MYSTERY SHOPPER. People who evade price points can be frustrating. Noted one store manager: “The staff isn’t judging you or your bank account—they need to know in order to find you the best bottle in your price range.”
THE BABY & THE BOTTLE. Children and wine shops do not mix well, retailers agreed. One precarious situation: a child pushing a shopping cart; it may work in the supermarket, but not in aisles lined with bottles. And many stores are small, so strollers or carriages cause gridlock, or worse. “It’s amazing how fast a toddler can move when there is a wine bottle nearby,” noted one merchant.
MR./MS. CHEAPSKATE. These customers tell the staff that they saw such-and-such wine at Discount Wines for less money. “Sure it happens. The big guys can buy hundreds of cases; a small retailer cannot. But telling the store owner is not going to change the price,” one merchant calmly noted.
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAMER-DINER. Like the woman who wants a wine to go with chocolate cake and ribeye steak.
THE SCORE MONGER. Though not so common as in the past, there are still folks who stroll into the shop with tear-outs from Wine Spectator, The Wall Street Journal or Consumer Reports. Some use these guides appropriately, for reference, while others will even insist that the retailer should carry those wines. Said one store owner, “We taste wines and bring them in, not read about them and bring them in.”
THE SNOOZER waits until wines are bagged to ask for a box or to have the price tags removed. “We will do both, but ask before we finish bagging everything,” observed one retailer.
THE RAMBLER loves to talk, and talk and talk, while the staff waits. Here is a sample from a store in the Midwest: “We were at this party and my friend Bill, he is in real estate, brought this great wine…a lot of money Bill has, and a cute wife, she’s a saint. Anyway it was a birthday party for some guy who is a real idiot. Not sure how Bill knows him, but Bill invited me to come along because I met him once playing squash and they needed bodies to make the guy feel good, right? Anyway we popped this wine….and the guy was an idiot…but this wine…”
THE OCCASIONAL UN-FRANCOPHILE. “A woman asked for Champagne,” recalled one retailer. “I asked if she wanted Champagne or sparkling wine, and she said ‘Champagne’—so she knew the difference. I showed her one of our best sellers, the R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut ($39.99). She grabbed a bottle and said, ‘Do you have any that are a little less expensive?’ To which I replied that Champagnes at our store start at $40. She curled up her nose, shaking her head, and said, ‘I know, I know. Those damn Frenchies. I normally buy Schramsberg.’ Which is $38.99.”
Suppliers and vendors, all sorts of portfolio shapes and sizes, have found multiple ways to rub retailers the wrong way.
One store owner loves small wineries, but says often their reps don’t think Please call or email for an appointment applies to them. “They enter the store with samples in hand and say, ‘I’m here to taste you on our wine; it will only take a minute.’ This usually happens when the store is full of customers.”
It’s not just what the reps say—it’s often what they do. Like wear perfume or cologne to a tasting appointment. “It absolutely destroys the senses,” one merchant complained.
More fundamentally, some reps simply don’t take the time to learn what wines will fit an account: “Don’t bring a wine that retails for $5-$10 if it doesn’t fit the business model. And, vice versa, don’t bring a $100+ wine to a discount house. It would help if reps checked a retailer’s website or the store prior to making an appointment.”
The “hard sell” seldom works, and retailers resent it. One store recently vented online: “Dear Vodka Company rep: After I politely tell you that your product does not fit in my store, do not continue to badger me by saying that you know my store quite well and definitely know that it will fit on my shelves. You are not here, I am. You do not make these decisions, I do. Do not presume to tell me that you know my store better than I do. That is not the way to get me to buy your product. Nor is telling me that you have ads running in The Wall Street Journal and have a product placement on Fox & Friends. This only tells me your product isn’t good enough to sell itself.”