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Vice President Athenee Importers

Monday, January 3, 2011

A peak into the mind of an importer - an open letter to wineries seeking representation

As an importer of product from Greece, 2010 was a challenging one.  Strikes were once again a huge thorn in our side - it's extremely frustrating to have orders for product that you cannot fill.  Hopefully 2011 will bring an end to the turmoil in Greece and an end to strikes that aside form plunging Greece further down the economic spiral, will help us meet demand with steady supply.  It may be wishful thinking but it's January - one can still be optimistic, right?

With the bleak economic picture in Greece, many wineries are looking to sell their product out of Greece.  Many feel that they will at least get paid in a timely manner by those other than their compatriots.  Over the past few months, we have received inquiries, samples and telephone calls from many wineries - some already known and others up and coming.  What amazes me is that there are MANY people involved in the Greek wine industry that have not done their homework and think that it is easy to export their product.  I have sat with potential suppliers and when I begin to ask them questions about their products, philosophy, vision and future plans, I am met with a blank stare.

As a result, I think that to start the year off right, I will give those hopeful of exporting to the US market a bit of insight as to what is needed & what to expect.  This doesn't just apply to Greeks - hopefully this information will be useful to wineries from other parts of the world as well.

If you are a winery looking to approach an importer, here are a few key points that you need to be prepared for:
1. Familiarize yourself with an importer's existing portfolio.  Every reputable importer has a website.  Go through a list of the wineries already being imported - do your wines fit a hole in the importer's portfolio or is it similar to other wines already being imported?  In many instances, importers are looking to offer their distributors a well rounded portfolio with wines from all regions of the country.  If you see a gap somewhere, that can be an opportunity to have your wines and winery taken into consideration.

2. Pricing.  Are you going to charge for your wines in Euro or in Dollars? If you are charging in Euro, your wine, without even factoring in freight, taxes, etc... will already be about 30-40% more expensive. You need to factor this into your price offering.  No matter how great a wine is, by the time you factor in FX rates, taxes, freight and traditional markup, it will cost reasonably more than what you sell it for in your home country.   As a result of the financial collapse, many wineries have 2, maybe 3 vintages holding in tanks.  There is an immense pressure to reduce inventory whatever the cost.  You are seeing many well known wineries releasing 2nd or 3rd labels at lower price points in order to move through their stock.  You are getting great values in this category and while it may be only for the short term, there is enough stock to supply demand for the next year or two (or three).  The bottom line is that you are competing against the world's wines for market share - buyers are driven by price. Even if the wine is good but they feel the price is too high, they will pass over it because there will be 5 wines similar to it waiting to fill the slot.

3. Labeling. I have seen my share of hideous labels from many countries.  You would think that with the globalization of wine, labels would become modern, cleaner, easier to read.  In the US having an English only labels is key.  One of the worst things I see is the use of the cliche Greek columns, warrior heads, etc....  Americans buy with their eyes - if they think a label looks cool they tend to buy the wine.  If the label looks like it's out of the 1980s, your potential customer will pass your wine over for something more appealing. On your back label, include 2-3 sentences describing your wine.  Give the customer just enough info to get them interested in the wine so they take it home & experience it for themselves. Keep the labels clean, simple and in English.

4. Develop POS/Marketing material.  Since many consumers are easily influenced by the written word, POS like shelf talkers and info sheets are crucial.  You do not need to go to the expense of actually printing them - having it available on your or the importer's website is all that is needed.  Those that need the info will print it themselves.  Having a plan in place to present to a potential importer shows us that you are serious about the US market and want to invest in it.

5. Spend time in the market.  The only way you will really learn the market is to spend time in it.  As importers, our schedules are filled with market visits, education and promotional activities.  There are only so many hours in the day.  If you want your wine to sell, you need to establish a connection with sales reps and buyers. Even one visit a year can establish relationships that will help your wine's sales in the long run.  You need to be prepared to visit a minimum of once a year for a week to 10 days.  Importers realize the cost associated with this and we truly appreciate it.  We will pack your schedule and  make you work 'till you drop:-)

6. Be prepared for the long run.  

7. Be available electronically.  As with anyone in business these days, quick responses to e-mails & texts is essential.  There are times when we are in the market and a question comes up that needs addressing.   While I'm not an advocate of constant connectivity, a reply within 24 hours is greatly appreciated.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I have not even begun to discuss the legal aspects of importing.  Those are subjects that importers guide you through once you decide to work together.  The bottom line is that working with a winery as a long term relationship.  We like to connect on a personal level as well as on a professional one.  It's important to be able to put a personality to a wine & brand and it helps make things more "real".

The first quarter of 2011 will be a busy one for us with the Road Show and the release of the 2010 vintage.  I wish you all the best for 2011!!

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