Distributor Sales Rep

The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Of America (WSWA, for those of you in the business) will hold its annual meeting next week. There have been lots of changes in the second tier over the past few decades. From marketing to logistics to the people on the street, spirits wholesaler operations have become much more professional.

But it wasn’t always like that as this story from Bob McBreen who worked at Seagram from 1984 to 1990 illustrates. (Bob was a GM in Missouri and a Manager in Massachusetts.)

Bob was working in Massachusetts in the 1980’s when the 375 Spirits Co. (one of the Seagram companies) introduced Mumm Cognac.  The idea was to use the Champagne credentials to enter the highly profitable Cognac business. In typical Seagram fashion, the new product introduction to wholesalers was an elaborate affair held in a hotel ballroom complete with a French themed dinner.

After dinner the team got down to the business of introducing the product to the distributor sales people. The focus was on the quality, romance, and the story of selling a cognac with the specialness of the Mumm name.  They educated the sales folks on the geography of the Cognac region, the type of grapes used, the distillation process, and the magic of aging… with terms likes Angel’s Share, Grande Champagne eaux de vie, quality grade differences, etc.

After an extensive tasting session with emphasis on the different characteristics of such a high quality product, the salesmen were asked if they had any questions. One hand when up.  It was from a salesman who had been in the business for years. “Yes Irving, what is your question?”

“Does this shit come in half gallons?”

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Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves

The Bronfman family changed the face of the booze business in America. Old Mr. Sam, regardless of what he did or did not do during prohibition, was smart enough when it ended to hold off shipping goods until they aged, had great taste and would command a premium price.

In his grandson’s office – that would be Edgar Bronfman Jr. – there was a photo of Mr. Sam with the caption, “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” That was his way of saying from nothing to nothing. In a biography on A&E, Edgar Jr. looked into the camera and earnestly said, “not on my watch.”

Not long after, at the turn of the century, the “genius,” as he was referred to, sold the birthright for a song.

No worries…the family holdings must have gone from $8 Billion to $3 Billion, I suppose. But, still a boatload of money.

Not quite shirtsleeves but prophetic nonetheless.

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