Posted on | October 23, 2014
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Just two years old, M.S. Walker’s New York distribution business makes its mark
In business over 80 years, Boston-based M.S. Walker is one of Massachusett’s most storied wine and spirits suppliers, selling over 4 million cases annually. The company has built leading distributor operations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. M.S. Walker opened for business in New York in October 2012. We spoke with Managing Director Jeff Allen to learn what the company has its sights set on.
The Beverage Network: What made M.S. Walker want to launch a wholesale operation in New York?
Jeff Allen: We believed that there was tremendous need for a company like ours in New York. M.S. Walker was founded in Boston, but we have deep roots in New York—we had a bricks-and-mortar wholesale operation here to sell our rectified spirits goods from the 1940s until we sold it the early 1980s. As a native New Yorker, there was a real pull for me to come home. New York is the most challenging market for a wholesaler in my opinion, but it’s also the most rewarding; it has the most knowledgeable customer and consumer base, and the largest selection of wine anywhere.
TBN: In other markets, M.S. Walker has purchased existing wholesale platforms, but in New York you created your own from the ground up. Why?
JA: Building our own organization was definitely the harder path, but it gave us complete control over how we established the company’s culture. And in NY, we had a clean slate. We are a fifth-generation family business. We do business on a handshake with our suppliers, and believe in servicing our customers at the highest level by truly getting to know them. We think of it as an old school approach with a new school mentality.
TBN: In what ways does your route to market differ from your competition?
JA: There is one major point of difference: We are a fine wine house, but our pricing philosophy is that of a larger house. We are very aggressive about how we go to market, and our customers really appreciate this. We look for deep relationships with suppliers and customers over the long run.
TBN: M.S. Walker is now representing the esteemed South African portfolio, Cape Classics, in the New York market. That’s a great anchor for the portfolio….
JA: We were the first wholesaler in the U.S. to represent Cape Classics, and have a tremendous relationship with them. They were the trailblazers and are far and away the category leaders in South African wines. With their new expansion into France, we expect similar success to follow.
TBN: What is your goal in New York?
JA: We want to be the best fine wine and craft spirits wholesaler in New York. We have a lot of very strong competition which we respect, but we have our eye on the prize.
TBN: What are your strategies for success?
JA: One of our greatest strengths as a company is our ability to build great teams of people. We have an incredibly driven and passionate team of professionals statewide. Doug Shaw, our Executive Vice President, has the big picture covered—he is instrumential in supplier interaction, leadership and logistics. Daniel Hubbard, our Director of Business Development, came to us from a competitor and has tremendous respect within this industry. My father, Michael Allen, has built incredible relationships in the New York market over the last 40 years, and provides critical guidance.
TBN: What is the single most important skill a sales representative should possess?
JA: The most critical skill is listening. If you are not listening to your customers and asking questions, your business is doomed.