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With an ever-growing sea of products to choose from, a shrinking number of distributors to purchase them from, and a consumer more bombarded with marketing messages than ever before, maximizing your vendor relationships is crucial. I’ve been fortunate to have been on both sides of the vendor relationship, first as a wine buyer, then a distributor sales rep, a supplier rep, and now back again as a buyer.

 A few things that frame my conversations with sales reps: 

  • Limit the number of suppliers to only as many mouths as you can feed. There are obviously more products on the market (and more people selling them) than anyone requires to operate a beverage program. Turning down items and turning away salespeople will need to be a part of your job as a buyer so get good and remain gracious about saying No.
  • Have a system for tracking the items you taste and want to purchase. Pre-shift tastings can be fun, but you’ll want to have a way to keep track of your tasting notes and quoted pricing. You’ll get the most out of the fun facts good salespeople know about the products they sell, and everyone’s time will feel more valued.
  • Include the vendor of each item in your inventory file. I sort the Vendor column for a clear way to look at the percentage of business each vendor is receiving. This sort can also easily create an order guide.
  • Include average cost per category. Consider weighting the average based on the volume sold for a more complete picture. The point is not only to understand that your happy hour Pinot Grigio pour is going to represent a different margin than a library Cabernet selection, but to also expose which levers are available for you to pull to lower cost.
  • Schedule (and limit) your availability using a calendar app, holding cattle calls, accepting appointments via text … whatever works for you. Be available but be mindful and up front about how much time you can reasonably devote to vendor meetings. I would also recommend knowing which products reps plan on presenting and limiting the number of bottles you are willing to taste.
  • Pay your bills – seems obvious enough, but still a choice to prioritize. You might not be the person who cuts the checks, but you can and should provide a path for those who need to collect money.
  • Access the portfolio. Most salespeople include a link to their portfolio in their email signature, so click on it from time to time and get the bigger picture of what else they represent.

Wholesale reps and brokers are a few of the final remaining door-to-door salespeople, an inherently tough job that is full of rejection and often added top-down pressure from today’s consolidated wholesale landscape. So, value their time, expect that they value yours, and we’ll all be better because of it.  

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