On Monday evening, I went out for dinner in Brentwood with an old friend who recently started his own wine label. Having come over from another industry, he’s still learning the ropes, so every now and again he likes to pick my brain about strategy. The plan was purely social, as it had been a while since we had seen each other. The location, however, was strategic. He had chosen the restaurant because the sommelier had abruptly stopped purchasing his wine.
“Let’s sit at the bar,” he said on arrival, always the strategic choice for industry folk. After the bartender greeted us, my friend asked her: “Is Adam working tonight by any chance?”
“No, Adam went to work at another restaurant,” she answered.
“He used to buy my wine,” my friend responded, giving her the name of his label.
“Oh! I love that wine,” she exclaimed; “Everyone here does. Plus, it sells really well.”
That’s when my friend turned to me and said: “You see? It sells. Why would they stop carrying it?”
The answer, however, was already clear: “Because Adam left,” I answered.
“So because Adam left, the restaurant is going to go in a completely different direction?” he asked.
“Yes, exactly,” I answered. “Being a sommelier or a buyer is often very much like being a curator. No one wants to live in the shadow of their predecessor. Everyone wants to make their own mark or be their own person. That’s why personal relationships are so important. You’re competing for space in these personal curations.”
“What good is the relationship if the person eventually leaves?” he asked.
“The job or the location of the relationship may change, but the relationship can still continue. You need to figure out which restaurant Adam moved to and go visit him there. He’ll likely want to continue buying your wine in that location. You also need to meet with whomever took Adam’s place here,” I answered.
“That makes sense,” my friend said, “but it’s so much work. You have to keep track of old relationships, while constantly forging ahead with new ones.”
“Yes, exactly. That’s what distribution is all about, dude!” I said with a laugh. “That’s why I joined a distribution company and that’s why I moved to LA. Keeping up with old friends, while making new ones is exactly what I enjoy about working in the booze business. In fact, that’s what life is all about for me. Isn’t that why we’re drinking together right now?”