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Running Lean and Real Tactics

Donna Pace Founder, & President of Gathering Harvests discussed the key points towards the success for small distributors.


In order to succeed as a small distributor, you will need to run as lean as possible. How can you squeeze out inefficiencies from different business processes? How can you optimize the way you sell wine in the marketplace? To answer those questions, Donna Pace, Founder, and President of Gathering Harvests walked participants at the ABID Conference in New York through a brief review of some of the best practices she uses at her Connecticut-based distributor business.

Real tactics: Employees and team members

The first place to implement lean tactics is with your sales team. Any time you add a new salesperson to your team, you need to learn what their interests and needs are. “Give back to them what they want,” says Pace, “and you’ll be rewarded. Often, you’ll find that it is not always compensation that they are looking for - some are looking for more direction and praise for a job well done, others are looking for a better benefits package, and still, others might be happy with just a few extra days off.

And, thinking about your sales team, are you really treating them as a team? The No. 1 reason why people leave, says Pace, is because sales team members feel so much pressure to hit their numbers, and feel that they are not being treated well when they do not make these targets. If things aren’t working, and if sales team members are not feeling appreciated, you need to be willing to change the process. “Collaborate, don’t compete,” says Pace. In other words, don’t focus on building up your top salesperson at the expense of everyone else. Everyone has a unique strength, and it’s your job to help these sales team members use their strengths during the selling process.

Finally, Pace advises any small distributor just starting out to look at how they can hire U.S. military veterans. “They show up, they’re prompt and they over-achieve,” says Pace. Often, they are willing to do the types of jobs - such as deliveries and administrative tasks - that others are not. And, here’s the best part - since many of them already have very generous U.S. military veteran benefits, they don’t expect you to offer additional benefits. (In fact, their current benefits might be far better than anything you can offer them now.)

Real tactics: Business processes

One easy way to run lean is by re-thinking the weekly sales meeting. Many distributors have Friday sales meetings, but as Pace points out, “Friday is a great day to sell wine.” So think about rescheduling your weekly sales meetings. Also, when you do set up a sales meeting, choose an on-premise account for the meeting site. Spending money in an account, says Pace, is a great way to show commitment to your account and show them that you support them. Choose different on-premise accounts each time, so that you can cover the different territories covered by your sales team.

The same approach can be used for new product launches or educational and training sessions for staff members. Instead of holding the event on-site at your business, think about ways to hold these meetings and events at on-premise establishments.

And, in terms of shipping, always look for ways that you can run leaner. “Shipping is huge,” says Pace. It’s what drives price points and what can directly impact your margins. As a result, you need to be constantly looking for ways to drive down shipping costs. One proven approach, says Pace, is to ask for shipping discounts. This is particularly effective if you are shipping multiple pallets at a time. “If you’re not getting discounts, ask for them.” After all, as Pace points out, shippers are unlikely to offer discounts upfront. You need to specifically request them.

Final takeaways

As Pace suggests, one favorite mantra she likes to keep in mind is “Grow. Build. Learn.” As you build out your distributor business, constantly look for ways to learn new tactics, new approaches, and new tips. And always believe in yourself: “Ideas you believe are absurd, ultimately lead to success. In other words, if you have a hunch that a certain approach might work, feel free to give it a shot. You never know. “You know your market better than anyone else,” says Pace. So don’t be afraid to take on any challenges head-on. Keep growing, keep building, and keep learning.

Overall, the two-day ABID Conference in New York City provided a detailed, comprehensive, and eye-opening approach to the U.S. import and distribution business. Participants walked away with real, actionable steps on how to grow their business and optimize its future profitability.

2019 ABID registrations are now open! The event is on 13-14 May 2019 in New York. REGISTER HERE  to Book Your Seats at the Lowest Price. Early Bird Ends 28 March 2019.