If you’ve spent any time on social media lately and have friends who live in the Washington/Maryland/Virginia area, surely, late March and early April left you with an eyeful of your friends’ annual cherry blossom photos. Like clockwork these go up on social media, or are shared via email, as Washingtonians flock in early spring to the most advantageous vantage spots around town to bask in the beauty and joy spread by these fluffy pink and white renewing gifts that first arrived from the city of Tokyo in 1909.
This initial gift of 2,000 trees unfortunately arrived infested and had to be destroyed, but a short time later they were replaced with 3020 trees, courtesy of the Japanese and planted in their new home around the Tidal Basin and in other iconic spots around town as a vernal reminder of friendly relations and solidarity between nations. In Japan, a festival celebrating the cherry blossoms goes back centuries; here, just one. Nonetheless, this annual beautiful display of nature perfectly reflects the distributor, on and off-premise account relationship and serves as a constant reminder that taking part in something together is a good way to end up better and stronger individually because of it.
Now we see hope for a “new normal” in the blossoms that warm weather brings as bar and restaurant owners are picking their heads up from the grind of just making it through the pandemic. Finally, the time has come, as the last of the states like New York, have caught up with the rest of the country and are increasing availability of the vaccine; it signals a pending flood of regular crowds coming through their doors in due time.
These pink and white symbols of renewal are a good visual cue to rethink how the three tiers in the beverage alcohol system worked together in the past, and how business can be better together moving forward.
New legislation has been enacted with the hope it will stimulate economic growth and right some financial wrongs suffered over the last year. Chris Underwood, Board of Managers RNDC- West and incoming chairman for Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) notes, “Our on-premise partners have suffered unprecedented hardships due to the global pandemic and wholesalers value longstanding, and in some cases, multigenerational industry relationships with on-premise partners.”
Those on-premise partners carried the bulk of the burden during the pandemic as liquor stores were able to keep doors open. That’s why Underwood, and his colleagues at WSWA, like Michael Bilello, SVP Communications and Marketing, are applauding the change. Bilello comments, “Every meal in a restaurant means economic activity that benefits the entire restaurant team — from the owner to the cooks and waitstaff directly. It also creates a ripple effect that helps the meat and vegetable vendor as well as wine and spirits distributors who rely on restaurants as important customers.”
Bilello adds, “Anything that gets people spending money in our nation’s restaurants should be applauded at this juncture. This measure will help restaurants, some of the hardest hit businesses by the pandemic, and deduction is helpful to businesses operating in uncertainty as to what 2021 will actually shape up to be.”
Whatever shape it takes Underwood believes it’ll be a strong one and adds, “WSWA was the lead association in advocating for the inclusion of a full reinstatement of the deduction on business meals through December 31, 2022 in the latest proposed COVID relief package along with colleagues at the National Restaurant Association. We look forward to these businesses reopening in a safe and efficient manner this year!”
Efficiency is top of mind for many other operators. As is empathy. And a fresh approach. It’s hard to think of anyone who wasn’t negatively impacted by the shutdown and getting back to business may look a bit different as Aaron Gregory Smith, Executive Director of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) outlined.
“As 700,000 of America’s bartenders step behind their bars again their return signals a perfect opportunity for a renewed approach at the sales process,” Smith said. “Distributors are always encouraged to make appointments rather than stopping by and avoid connecting with buyers and staff during peak hours.”
He continues, “Accounts have had to reposition several times over the rotating closure, so take time to ask questions about their needs in the near and medium term by committing to an in-depth understanding of the account’s cocktail program and business philosophy. A little advance research on social media before meeting with that buyer on the other side of the shaker goes a long way to understanding the customer, the guests they serve and what will sell under reopening conditions. While owners and managers are likely eager to move existing inventory, bartenders are also excited to be creating new cocktail menus and reconnecting with customers by highlighting great new products or rethinking uses for old favorites.”
Gabe Urrutia, who authored Miami’s first cocktail book and serves as a brand consultant calling on accounts for Bacardi Single Malts when he isn’t in the classroom at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management teaching Beverage Marketing & Distribution concurs, “With all the time and effort we have put fourth during these challenging times, a better prepared meeting would make a whole lot of sense.
Some sales consultants and suppliers alike set up a meeting just to see if something sticks. It would make a lot more sense to come more prepared, read the numbers, ask about a bar’s wants and needs and consult with the information you have gathered.”
And global bar consultant Shawn Soole feels similarly about what he needs from these relationships. He says, “For me, rep relations have always been about contact. I don’t care much about what LTO or new product you have. I just want a text every couple of weeks checking in and seeing if they can do anything for me. Setting a symbiotic relationship from the get-go is paramount for me.”
Ignoring the relationship building is a recipe for disaster, not only with Soole, but with others. Urrutia explains to his students, to create better future sales relationships, “Working for a distributor or supplier doesn’t mean you need to put everything in your portfolio everywhere. It means you are a consultant, and you look out for what fits best with respect to the establishment.”
Those establishments have been through a lot. And it can’t be ignored if you’re looking for a win-win from all your sales channels.
Just like appreciation for those perennial blossoms that bring beauty and a spring to your step every year do so in a familiar yet fresh new way, the evolution of the sales relationship is upon us. Michael Neff, who runs the Cottonmouth Club in Houston, concludes, “Quite frankly, there are many people who have started to think about our brand and distributor partners in a new way, considering how silent they were on our behalf throughout the course of the pandemic. I’m sure we’ll all get back to a working relationship in the future, and that there will be plenty of people who want nothing more than to pick up where we left off, but when thinking of our former partners, it will be remembered who showed up on our behalf and who didn’t. And, when the pandemic ends, it will be the people running a place again who get to choose who to support and who to not.”
New Sips to Know:
As governors across the country used executive order powers to temporarily change liquor laws in place since prohibition and throw bars and restaurants a lifeline by offering an opportunity to sell to-go cocktails to their customers, a whole new market channel opened for RTDs and canned beverages. This cutie not only draws attention on a menu – a sure profit driver – but it tastes good too. And who wouldn’t want to say they’ve got a cooler filled with the very first Irish whiskey in a can?! Check out Two Stacks: the Irish whiskey company reviving the tradition of independent blending and bottlings.