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What Customers Want

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Attention Restauranteurs:

Ok, so the wine business isn’t exactly the ‘tech’ business, moving at the speed of light, but this business does seem to evolve pretty rapidly lately. Are we running so fast that we’re leaving money on the table?

At Great Lakes Wine & Spirits, we are extremely proud of our portfolio or our ‘book’ as we refer to it. To a large degree, a wine distributor’s success is based on their portfolio and the potential consumer base and appeal of those wines. Hence, representing wineries like Sutter Home or Estancia (for example) is more appealing in some respects than representing say, Screaming Eagle, since there is a large consumer franchise and potential for growth with the former and not so much with the latter. Of course, not all accounts desire the same types of wines and it is likely that most of the restaurants that pour Sutter Home have limited demand for wines like Screaming Eagle. And there has always been a small number of restaurants that go out of their way to seek out wines that are not readily available, or widely distributed, presumably to offer their guests something ‘special’ and ‘unique’. Increasingly, however, we have more and more restaurants asking for wines of limited availability, small production, and not available retail. Through we indeed have hundreds of such wines; we assert that going too far in this direction can be a big mistake. Please read to see why.

First, though consumers are now much more knowledgeable and confident about wine, we are not yet a ‘nation of wine drinkers’, and even for that group that are there is still a long way to go. So for most wine consumers, seeing a name that is familiar or at least vaguely familiar can boost their confidence when ordering. The Wine Geek himself was in a Chicago restaurant recently and there was not one wine on the list he recognized. Zero. For the first time, he knew what many consumers feel like when looking at a wine list: Bewildered.

Wine Geek Speaks - What Customers Want

And like it or not, there is something to the ‘power of cheese’. Whether it’s print ads in Martha Stewart, or ‘press’ in Food and Wine, John/Jane Q. Public sometimes thinks this ‘acclaim’ validates a wine. We’re not sure what your opinion of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is, but we contend if you gave 100 consumers a choice between taking home a box of that versus a box of Phil’s Macaroni & Cheese, Kraft would 95 percent of the time. Again: a car from Mercedes-Benz (a very big company by the way) or Bob’s Car Company? (We know what we would buy). Note too that just because ‘they only made 200 cases of this wine’, it doesn’t mean that it’s good! We’ve tasted a few such wines along the way that are so bad that when we hear that they only made x number of cases we think, thank goodness.

As for only offering wines that cannot be found in stores, here is the problem: you customers want the opportunity to buy the delicious wines you’ve turned them on to and drink them at home. How can they do that if it’s not available? Once upon a time there were ‘grocery store wines’ and ‘premium wines’. But now there are good wines and not-so-good wines, regardless of where they are sold. Fortunately grocery stores and club stores want to offer their guests the best, just like you do. And assuming your restaurant has ‘fair’ markups there should be no issues. These grocers and club stores, by the way carry Grey Goose, Bacardi and Heineken, and chicken and steak. Most of you reading this likely carry those products, and we cannot seem to find anyone to explain the difference.

So…by no means are we advocating that everyone should have the same list. Nor are we advocating lowering quality or standards. We simply supply the suggestion that having a broad range of products might serve to broaden you customer base, a good thing in any circumstance.

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