Saturday, October 23, 2010

How NOT to sell wine.

Just because I know nothing about wine doesn't mean I don't think I know everything about everything else.

Previously confessed, I did indeed work for, ahem, Starbucks. That aside, they were (once) very good at training you to a T. Nothing was left to chance. It was all precisely worked out for you to assure a latte in CA would be exactly the same as a latte in NY. All you had to do was do it, and there were all sorts of little rules, regs, and acronyms to get you there.

Of course the mere doing it is what turned out to be the rub. There would be times I'd be at work listening to a customer say they wanted a lighter bodied coffee, but then hearing the "barista" suggest Sumatra - a full bodied, earthy Indonesian coffee. They would do that because that's the coffee they liked. They weren't listening, weren't matching up the product to the need, and ultimately weren't serving their customer. Who can succeed in running a customer-driven business this way...other than Starbucks?

Which is why I've been to almost every wine store in LA - once. I go into wine stores a self-professed rube, a partial ruse to test their customer service skills. I do this because every time I go into a wine store and ask for guidance because I don't know what I'm doing, the sales associate merely walks to a random wine, picks it up, hands it to me, and tells me to get that one. This is based on never once asking me a question about anything at all. One guy asked me 'red or white.' And the price range. *

Of all the bottles of wine in their store, why that one? What is it? Why will I like it? Why won't I like any of the other ones? What's special about it, different, necessary? How does it fit the nature of my palate? What can I walk out of that store knowing that I didn't know when I walked into it?

I was in a local store yesterday that I already don't prefer but was time-pressed and needed a gift. I knew of an Italian wine the gentleman usually drinks. I wanted something comparable, but maybe different, more interesting or daring. The guy didn't even let me get these parameters out of my brain before putting a bottle of something into my hands, because he liked it. I'm getting better about this sort of thing and asked why he liked it. All he could say was it was good for the price. I talked over him to get my little parameters out, and he led me to another aisle where he put another bottle into my hands. Why this, I asked, but another generic non-answer. He said he had no bad wine in his store. Pressed for time I bought it, but I have no idea what it is.

Looks like I'll be making the time to find my next wine store.

(*note* Wally's Wine is the exception.)