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Recently, one of our users started working with a new distributor after self-buying for years. They asked for advice about how to approach product proposals, and benefit from their relationship with their sales reps. Our response follows, for owners and managers in a similar position.

You (should) know your business better than anyone.

Whether you’ve been working with the same reps for decades or are just starting to work with a brand new distributor, your superior knowledge of your business makes you the most qualified person to make product purchasing decisions for your bar.

But this doesn’t mean that your liquor, beer, and wine sales reps can’t help you move your business forward. Here are three steps to ensure you get the most out of your distributor relationships, without compromising your own plans or ordering product that simply won’t sell to your clientele.

1. When Evaluating Product Proposals, Consider Your Particular Needs

When sales reps get access to new products in their portfolios, they are often pressured to sell it to as many clients as they can. Your distributor will be trying to prove that their investment in this new product is worthwhile. If your sales reps think it is a good fit for you, they are likely to propose to feature it at your bar.

So, how should you approach these proposals?

Because sales reps have unfettered access to these products, you should be wary if you don’t have similar knowledge about these products as a bar owner/manager. If possible, taste a sample and have them educate you on it. If it’s a new product, keep in mind whether it can be something you can educate your customers about.

You know your business better than anyone else, but be open to new opportunities.

You probably have a better sense of how the product will fit into your selection and whether it will really appeal to your clientele.

That being said, you should never get too comfortable with your existing product selection. That can lead to complacency, which can leave you and your establishment behind the industry’s constantly moving trends.

Take each new product proposal seriously, and do the necessary research to make an informed decision about its fit for your clientele.

2. Research New Products

Naturally, some of that homework will entail market research.

If you took this product, would you be the only establishment in your area offering it? If you would be the only one, why is that? How much benefit/danger/risk is there in introducing it to your market?

And if you wouldn’t be the only establishment offering the product, what lessons can you learn from others who are offering it?

These are only a few of the questions you need to answer in order to properly evaluate this proposal.

This will come down to what fits best with your program, its goals, and your staff. Ultimately, your staff needs to be able to sell new products to your customers with the right amount of knowledge and confidence if you’re going to have any success.

If you or your owner aren’t completely sold on a proposed product, there are alternative options.

You can have your sales rep come in and do a tasting during a service to see how receptive your clientele are to it. If your rep really wants to foster a relationship with you and your establishment, this shouldn’t be a huge stretch of a request for either party. You can also run tests of products yourself by offering limited runs of new products as specials to your clientele.

3. Be Aware of the Different Kinds of Distributor Reps

Something that often gets lost is that this is a business relationship. If you become too friendly with your sales rep and don’t stand your ground as a wine or liquor buyer, you may suddenly have 18 bottles of a random product in storage and no plan of how to use it.

Of course, this is a people business and you can still be friendly with your sales rep. Just remember that trust has to be earned and retained, and you need to be an active participant in these sales.

Some sales reps will actually try to consider your clientele and your mission. Others will be hard enablers, and persistently focus on meeting their own quotas. There is nothing wrong with either approach, but it’s in your interest to be cognizant of the person you are working with. Let them come to you and present their best.

Your sales rep should see trends in your product purchasing decisions, and work to better learn about you and your preferences over time.

As experienced managers and owners will attest, working with a reliable, trustworthy sales rep can feel like a real living partnership. That’s when you know you’ve achieved the relationship you need with your sales reps to get to the next level with your bar.


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