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10 Top Tips for suppliers on how to work better with independent wine merchants

Published:  06 February, 2015

Tim Carlisle, consultant and formerly of wine merchant businesses, Slurp and SH Jones, offers 10 Tips to suppliers on how they could work more effectively with independent wine merchants as part of Harpers' ongoing March for the Independents campaign.



Tim Carlisle, consultant and formerly of wine merchant businesses, Slurp and SH Jones, offers 10 Tips to suppliers on how they could work more effectively with independent wine merchants as part of Harpers' ongoing March for the Independents campaign. 

1 Deliveries

Make sure your minimum order quantity makes your wines accessible to a small independent merchant. That doesn't always mean small order quantities but tailor your requirements to the value of the wines you are selling and consider (as many suppliers do) putting an alternative minimum value component in place.

2 Staff Training

A large proportion of wines sold by independents are not sold by the business owner or buyer. That means that although you may have done a brilliant job selling the wine to the buyer they are still potential dust gatherers. Work with the retailer to offer staff tasting or training opportunities on a range of the wines they are selling to get a buy in from sales teams too - otherwise why would they sell your wines over someone elses?

3 Consumer Tasting Support

Independents love exploring ways that consumers can come and taste the wines they are selling whether that is an instore tasting or a more formal tasting event. Suppliers who are prepared to support these events will see more business as a result - but be flexible and listen to what will work best for a merchant - in terms of setup, design the support they need or want and timings. (I have frequently been asked to have an instore tasting with a winemaker on a Tuesday morning, only one winery has ever done one on a Saturday - and they became firm favourites with staff and customers).

4 Incentivise staff

You want people to sell your wines rather than someone elses - give them a reason to. Retail sales teams are your biggest friend and a small incentive can pay real dividends. If a customer walks into a shop asking for a bottle of Australian Shiraz whose are they going to buy? The one that is recommended to them - and which is that? The one that you've incentivised them to sell? But here's the real kicker - an incentive may only last for a month or two - but you've helped the sales people form a habit of selling your wines that will last for months afterwards.

5 Event Partnerships

There are food and drink festivals of different sorts all over the country from The Wine Gang Fairs to the Little Boddlebury-by-the-sea Food and Drink Festival. The chances are the retailers you live near may be going - and the chances are they'll come into contact with a LOT of potential new customers - do you want them to be tasting your wine or someone elses? Go into partnership with them - sponsor them to do it, give them some stock, provide a member of staff to help - or just see what they need. This is the sort of thing that can really bind a partnership between merchant and supplier.

6 Promotional support

Merchants not only want to be able to put on offers - they want the right offer on the right wine at the right time. As a merchant I lost count of the number of times I read a glossy promotional brochure telling me the amazing wines on offer this month - except I didn't actually list any of them. Make sure you know when generic bodies are encouraging merchants to run a promotion. Chile always run a promotion in September - so if you sell Chilean wines to independents - make sure September is the month (but how about this - run the promo for two weeks of September to make sure stock is in place first?)

7 Social Media Hookups

We''re not talking dating here - but I'm guessing most of your wineries have some sort of social media presence now. Why not work with them to see what sort avenues you can pursue. Maybe work with all of them to promote a #sundaywinelive (work out a hashtag that works for you) event. Every week, or once a month arrange for one of your producers to do a social media meetup and make it exclusive to a particular customer. Winemakers talking to consumers in an exclusive arrangement with a key customer? That is going to be good for business - particularly if those consumers need to buy a bottle of wine to join in fully.

8 Fair Pricing Policy

Make sure your pricing is fair and transparent. By all means have a banded pricing structure - merchants understand that but what they'll object to is finding out a local competitor is able to get a better price on a wine because of an opaque discount structure where merchants don't actually know how to get a better price.

9 Work with independents to gain media listings

Merchants can be responsible for their own press releases and suggestions but support them with suggestions and the offer of samples. Or better still work PR hard and ensure you spread the love when it comes to named retailers - and tell those merchants that you've submitted samples on their behalf. It's a small thing but sometimes merchants like to hear that a supplier is on their side.

10 Don't talk rubbish

I was going to call this 'Cut the Crap!' Your wine may well have sold really well on the previous vintage, it may well have been the best value wine you've ever sold - but this latest vintage - tell the truth. If it's not very good then don't buy any then you don't have to sell it. If you make a mistake and buy some anyway - then cut your losses but don't try and pass it off for something it isn't . If you have to bin end it to clear it then do it, but don't put hype where none is justified - it'll just come and bite you later.

* You can read former Somerfield head of wine Angela Mount and her Top 10 tips for independent wine merchants on how to buy, sell and negotiate better

* You can read here Tim North of Les Grands Chais de France, and a partner to the March for the Independents campaign, and his 12 tips on how suppliers can help independent wine merchants.

And go to our March for the Independents section of the site for all the news of the campaign.