There’s a real danger to regularly writing opinion pieces about the ins and outs of wine and the industry. The risk is that pointing out problems becomes too easy, while remaining light on suggesting solutions. Opinions are all well and good, and exchanging them sparks conversations that eventually help us figure out how to move forward.
But opinion alone is not enough. We could fill a thousand reams of paper with all our combined opinions identifying problems. We could even go so far as to formulate theoretical solutions, but those are usually more “big picture” than practical.
Today I want to make a pragmatic start. In a perfect world, I would put all the people who are in positions to affect change in our industry (MDs, GMs, CEOs, owners, chairmen etc.) in one big room and read them the riot act before I hand them a list of things that need to be fixed. But until I find a room big enough for that much ego, this will have to do.
The list is long – longer than I can put write here at any one time – and ongoing. No industry is perfect. There is no silver bullet. And for every problem solved, undoubtedly a couple more will pop up again. We have to start somewhere though, because I keep hearing the same complaints about the same issues. So, based on that, I have a few ideas where to begin. In no particular order:
1) Surround yourself with the right people, with the right skills. I cannot emphasise this enough. You would think that – in any business – this would be painfully obvious. You would be wrong. This is especially problematic at sales level – both with wine reps and tasting room staff. This type of employee is usually regarded as temporary and replaceable (which is often the case – high staff turnover is the norm here). Still, I fail to understand why the transient nature of an appointment justifies not finding someone who can actually do the job properly. You are in the business of selling wine, right? Surely you should appoint people who are good at selling wine?
2) Stop confusing sales with marketing and vice versa. Just stop. No, really. STOP IT. They are not the same thing. They are at best two sides of the same coin. The title “Sales and Marketing Manager” seems more prevalent in the wine industry than anywhere else – and those who actually do both halves of the title justice are rarer than unicorn horns. If you want someone to manage your sales, get a sales manager. If you want someone to market your wines, get a marketing manager. If you need both, have those two people work together
3) Stop being so gullible (this ties somewhat into my first point of investing in the right people with the right skills). I’ve said it before and I will say it again: our beloved industry is painfully susceptible to charlatans and bunk – whether it be gimmicky methods of production or labeling, bafflingly ineffective marketing strategies or simply falling for people who chronically overpromise and underdeliver. From “lifestyle bloggers” promising your brand more popularity than Kim and Kanye after a fight with Taylor Swift (always at the very reasonable cost of a lavish retainer, a pallet of free wine and complimentary visits to your hotel and/or restaurant for them to “review”) to supposed wine consultants who could not consult their way out of a wet paper bag. These people are out there and if you don’t know how to separate the talent from the trolls, perhaps you deserve to be had.
4) Work some shifts in your own tasting room, or on the floor of a sales promotion at the local liquor shop. There is a growing gap between the customer-facing component of a winery/brand and the management at the top. Executive decisions are regularly made with little to no understanding of the realities of certain parts of the business. I don’t care where you got your MBA from, if you have not dealt with a customer recently, you probably have a tenuous grasp on what happens in your own tasting room every day.
It comes down to one sentiment: stop managing your winery like just another business. Or like it isn’t a business at all. It is a niche, fickle and tricky industry to be in, with everything from global trends to local weather influencing sales and revenue. If you are in a senior position at a winery or brand and you do not grasp that, I would suggest considering alternative career. Or just get in touch with me. I am good at having opinions and making lists of things that require fixing and my fees are very reasonable.
- Marthélize Tredoux is the co-owner and editor at Incogvino. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their wine in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013.