We sell to some retail stores. They're typically smaller, independent or family-owned wine shops that focus on fine wine, spirits, and craft beer. We often sell to Whole Foods, which is one of the largest grocery chain stores that we get.
Lam: How did you end up working in wholesale trade?
Dix: It fell into my lap. It was my first job out of college. I was looking around and wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do at the beginning of my career. I enjoyed wine, knew someone at Major Brands, and knew it was a great company to work for. They helped me get an interview. I didn't really know exactly what I was interviewing for, but I started in the wine department and that was 10 years ago.
I had no concept of what the wholesale industry was, but as an administrator I really got to understand how the company worked. I learned the extensive brand portfolio and just learned a lot about wine. I did a few different things in the wine department, along with some event planning. I helped different directors on the wine side, and then started as a sales representative a couple years after that. Now I’m in sales management.
Lam: How is your knowledge of wine different from, say, a sommelier’s?
Dix: There's a lot of overlap. I would say that one difference is that a sommelier who works in a restaurant has so many responsibilities: Not only do they need to know about wine, they need to know about cocktails and food pairings. They're opening, serving, and presenting a lot of bottles.
For myself, and for many of our salespeople, to sell wine comfortably, they need to be very familiar with specific wineries—the particular wine, the different growing regions, and how different wines from different areas of the world taste. They also need to know trends that change depending on whether they’re selling to a wine shop, or a grocery store, or a restaurant, or a wine bar. They also need to be familiar with the profit.
Lam: Why don’t most consumers know about the wholesaler who supplies the products that they buy in the stores?
Dix: I think we create that separation a little bit, because we want the consumer to know about what we’re selling and continue to purchase our brands. They don't necessarily need to know us as a wholesaler. If they do, that's great. We're local, we're family-owned, and we're involved in the community, so we do want to put our name out there. But the most important thing I can do is make sure my clients see and hear about our brands.
One way to explain wholesale is that we're selling to someone who is going to sell it again, and so we're trying to appeal to both the stores and their customers, in order to give them what they want. Sometimes those don't jibe, and that's where it can be challenging.
Maybe the store manager says, "I don't want to have to spend my money on this wine. I want different things." Well, [this particular wine] is the number-one selling white wine, so you don’t have to have it, but it's strongly recommended because that's what people are looking for. It's a little bit of a dance sometimes. You want to fill their needs and sell them what they want, but there's a little bit of coaching involved to help them sell to their customers too.