Sorry, Qantas…

…but I think I am done now.

I am fairly sure that you will miss my paltry spend not at all, but just in case you would like to know why, I thought I might spell it out. And this begins with a caveat: your staff are awesome. Lovely, helpful, awesome people who are more and more embarrassed by the shortcomings of their brand.

I fly Qantas in general because it is a local business, it has a good history of taking an ethical stand, and it has been, in general, pretty reasonable. For the extra we pay for tickets, I *do* expect a better offering. And this is where it is getting iffy.

The special meals are generally pretty terrible – even if they do actually adhere to the needed dietary proscriptions. So, I book ‘Asian Vego’ because as a gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, vego diabetc (I KNOW – I am hopeless, but in my defence, I did not specifically request any of those restrictions other than the vego bit; I just have a screwy body.) that is the best option. I know. I have tried them ALL. And the diabetic offering is horrifying in general. Although I only tried it twice, there was more refined sugar and fructose in that box than I consume in a month. And it may have changed. I am simply not willing to take my life into my hands to check it out.

So – Asian Vego. No probs. Breakfast? Yoghurt (sweetened) and some kind of muffin bar? With chocolate bits? And an apple. That’s not even close. On a flight over 2 hours, trapped with no food and having to manage insulin levels. Seems fun, no? And if I were Asian? This would NOT have been close. Dinner on the flight back was… ok. The curry was…. kinda curry-esque? But loads of sweetness, and somehow simultaneously had undercooked noodles and overcooked, mushy veg. That is a particular achievement.

And the booze. In general, the suppliers and the panel selecting the wines for Qantas have been reasonable. They have to fit a price point, and deliver in an atmosphere which actively dulls the senses. Pretty much, a decent job has been done by all and sundry – especially in terms of securing vino from many smaller wineries. Go Qantas.

Not yesterday. Yesterday I appeared to be on a flight sponsored by one of the global behemoths. The wine was terrible. Like, quite obviously created in a lab – added concentrate, tannin AND acid. It was disjointed and generically bad. And no identifying region to be seen. Which is fine – they can probably supply at a price point which makes those deals very attractive for buyers who fully understand that those drinking wine on the flights probably, for the most part, do not care so long as it is wet and alcoholic.

Except being charged $6 for the privilege. If you are going to charge that kinda money, when your tickets are already WAY more pricey than the competition, we expect the bonuses: edible food, as ordered; drinks that are free (or, actually, you know: INCLUDED), within reason. And at LEAST make the wine actually drinkable. No tea or coffee was offered. I am not even sure there was any on the trolley. Water, however, was plentiful. So gold star for keeping the peeps hydrated.

No screens in seats. Just download the app plus a handy strap to hold your tablet (What? We didn’t tell you you should bring your own screen? Ooops. Our bad.) or the dinky tiny little screen way up ahead with some generic news+US sitcom+cartoon jumble. Reupholstered seats, so it does not LOOK like the older model it is, though. So it looked reasonable.

So, my question to you, Qantas, is this: what does the extra spend buy me? Meals? You either can’t feed me or the edible versions have deteriorated significantly in quality. And yes – I get that my dietary reqs make me a difficult proposition. But I spent much of the flight to Syd making notes on options (at a reasonable pricepoint) fitting in to a standard offering. Gluten free wraps. Rice paper rolls (PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN). Roti. Breakfast quiche/frittata/tortilla. All of these can be done as vego or meat-lover versions, in order to keep costs down. Miso soup cups – filled from the urn, sorted. I do not know where to even start with the curry noodles – maybe look at a better protein/carb match so they are actually warm and not disintegrating? And chill on the sugars. If I can taste that much sugar in an environment wherein the senses are dulled? I would kinda like to know how much is actually in there. Because my blood sugars upon return to my house had skyrocketed.

It does not buy me the pretty screens on other routes – presumably more popular and/or longer. The food is clearly an issue – and one which had an ongoing effect on my health management for the ensuing day after each flight. So how is your offering better than that of, say, Virgin? I KNOW when I cannot eat their food, so I schedule a meal around it. I know that no food or beverages are supplied without a cost, so I can expect it. I expect basic entertainment, so I bring my own. The planes are newer, cleaner and the staff are just as sparky and helpful. And the flights are WAY cheaper.

Most people have a degree of loyalty with airlines. If the price is not significantly out, they will happily pay a little extra to fly on the recognised home-town brand. You know why? Because, in general, they have flown that airline domestically and have an expectation. Domestic is kinda the trial size of the long-haul-international. Dear Qantas: if your trial-size is failing this badly, why would I ever fly with you to, say, Rome? When being on a flight for that long without suitable sustenance could become a health issue, rapidly? When the comforts I used to expect are stripped away and the costs remain static, or go up? When you charge more, and deliver less?

Sorry Qantas. I wish it were not this way, but I am kinda done.

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Synaesth-what?

I just read an article about someone ‘losing’ their synaesthesia. That it had evaporated with age.

Mine arrived as a part of an indefinable pain disorder. At first I thought it was a side effect of the morphine. And it may well have been but it hung around. It coloured my dreams and my memory. My sense of smell is vivid – as in, actually highlighted with colour. Cassis? That identifier often used with cabernet? Not purple. Not even red.  For me it is violet – and more to the blue end of violet. Eucalypt is clearly a dull gold. It just is. I don’t know why.

This alignment of colour and character makes judging and the writing of wine notes an interesting process. I need to dull my colours and revert to more “standard” terminology. A venue buyer asked me about a wine last year. I told him it tasted blue. Without thinking. It did. To me.  It really did. Luckily said buyer saw a blue fruit synchronicity and agreed.

Synaesthesia is a weird concept. My memory and my ideas are coloured. This helps me to arrange them and to recall them more easily. It is also utterly random and outside of my control. Wanting bright, new linear rieslings to taste a green/gold colour will not make it happen. They taste like a mandarin colour. Mostly. Except when they aren’t. I can’t dictate to the weird bit of the brain that does this.

It does occasionally force me to think differently though. To assess the flavour initially without an edit feature. Then to impose some of the more conventional terminology over the top.

Applied to the less conventional end of the scale, it is almost exacerbated. I refuse to use the term *natural*. Whilst I understand the original intent, there is no rule to define this magical term. Natural how? Or why? Is there a scale? And if so, who creates and monitors these definitions?

Not that I object to the styles. Or even to making the wines to whatever style a maker may choose. I would prefer MY wines to skew to a vibrancy defined by careful vineyard management and minimal screwing around in the winery. Preserve the fruit. Make a gorgeous glass of wine.

But the beauty of the wine game is that we ALL have different palates. Different preferences. A differing degree of malleability regarding our preferences. If a wine finds a market, it has marketability.

To a degree. I find – for me – the fetishisation of (what I consider to be) fault to be a complicated issue which will render an ongoing miasma in terms of marketing and saleability of our wines.

I adore the variety and complexity of our world. But it casts issues on occasion.

I would not dictate on style. Each to their own. And if it can be sold, go nuts.

It’s a small world, after all

Once a winery or brand hits a certain size, distribution becomes a necessity. Whether that is by travelling and hand-selling, or by appointing an agent, or by appointing a distribution business to handle the sales, warehousing, invoicing and so on.

Whatever happens, these producers, agents and distributors all need to pay for the expenses incurred by their businesses, and make a little moolah. Simple, no?

And for many, distribution is the holy grail. A channel to market. With people out spreading the word and pouring the booze. Five days a week (mostly; well, sometimes.; well, generally.).

From a winery point of view, there is a decent amount of negotiation involved in settling on a suitable distribution option and securing the agreement. Just finding the right people who you trust with your brand is a massive deal. Let alone the teensy bit of legal acrobatics that goes with securing a mutually beneficial agreement and ongoing business. Reading distribution agreements is:
a. BORING;
b. Detailed;
c. Dedicated to the notion that these documents are prone to favouring one party or the other at certain points, and this must be acknowledged, and often negotiated; and
d. BORING. And absolutely necessary.

Back in the day (pre-interwebs-on-phones), this distribution management involved a mountain of faith on the part of the winery. Winemakers would only get out on the road once or twice a year, and would rely on phone calls with brief details, and sales figures. There was not a lot of wriggle room.

Now? Now I can ask my mate in Melbs via the twitters whether Rep X had been in yet for the contact I had set up. I can double check the wholesale prices they have been given. I can ask my restaurateur buddies in Sydney how the rep went with the spiel and sales bit. If they were on the ball. And the venues and the stores can check the RRP in SECONDS by jumping online. They can check in a heartbeat whether a rep is fibbing with the old “independent/on-prem only” line. Pop the deets in a search engine and Robert is your father’s brother.

Distribution is fundamentally a business of trust. A business of relationships. An agent or distributor trusts the brand to make a consistent wine and to support sales. And to not go outside the lines by selling to a venue within a sales territory managed by that agent or team. The winery trusts the agents or distribs to be smart. To sell into good venues or outlets which respect the wines and pay their bills. To make the margin they need, and to build business. To work hard and to bring in new business all the time. The restaurants and retailers trust reps to bring them the wines which will fit, at the right price and to not waste their time. They trust them to not bring a wine in with an RRP of $22 and a Woollie/Coles/Clearance Channel advertised price of $12. The punters trust the venues to not put truly shit wines on their lists, and to know what they have on hand and how it suits their venue, locale and palates. They trust retailers to recommend with a degree of sense and a broader database of knowledge than the punter might own.

And sure. Sometimes it does not work. Some staff (distrib/agent/retail/on-trade/winery) take a while to best identify their approach, their method, their spiel. Some take time and don’t necessarily hit the ground running. Some do. This timing bit? PART OF THE TRUST FACTOR.

I ran into a sales rep a couple of months ago. He had had a big day, and was fairly smashed. Lovely. Not rude. Not incoherent. Just talkative and drunk. With no filter. He told me his business LOVED me because I build up a winery’s sales in hard accounts and on wine lists and get them to a point where they are a good takeover option. They hit up the winery, offer a distribution option with a team of reps and BAM. Done.

Cheers dude. Yeah. I know. That’s ok. Getting a brand to that point? For me? Is a job well done. Move on. But my agreements now have a sunset clause covering existing sales for three months after the termination of an agreement. I find that fosters a little more trust on both sides…

Someone else on the west coast? Agreed to take on a brand. Promote it. Talked the talk. Was so engaged in it all. A true believer. A new venture, but with some runs on the board. Eight months later they have changed the wholesale price by 45%, which effectively made the cellar door/website rrp an AWESOME deal. They said it was because they couldn’t make money on the agreed price. But they did not call. They did not advise what they were doing. They were just cranky that they were not selling anything. Except: they NEVER told the brand. They adversely impacted the brand reputation without a care by monumentally manipulating the brand price-point. And then issued a borderline threat to the brand – decrease your prices or we stop selling it. DUDE. You were not selling it ANYWAY. And apparently have NO plan in place to do so even if the prices were lowered. I have seen the portfolio. EVERY brand has a manipulated price-point. Scarcely a brand in there has a wine at a price that would reflect their rrp. Trust – DESTROYED. (Besides – seriously: if your business plan is to increase sales by increasing the price that much on a product with a clearly identifiable rrp? You’ve got bigger problems…)

A restaurant. Orders a wine. It fails to show up. That happens. And yes, the warehouse should have been on the ball, and the venue should have put their hand up before 8pm on a Friday night, but still. No sauv for the weekend. Their rep? Begged, borrowed and stole enough stock to get them through til Monday. Trust – on the way to being destroyed, but saved, and because that rep moved hell and high water to fix it.

A winery. Sends a wine of a different vintage/style/quality with no heads up? They just expect a follow on and are possibly trying to conceal something. Do I even need to say it? Trust – DESTROYED.

Different winery – threatens to penalise the agent financially for a customer business failing to pay bills. Which is in contravention of pretty much everything, but is also a fairly solid way to decimate any remaining trust and goodwill within someone working in the industry. It takes very little to undermine a business and doing it to yourself seems a teensy bit silly.

Seriously people. Faith must be earned on BOTH sides. A teensy fracturing of that can have an incremental effect. Be good. Earn the trust. Put your hand up when things go wrong. Be forgiving when you have the chance. And learn to walk away when you should. Is a distributor who breaks your trust better than none at all? Is a restaurant with a great reputation who does not pay bills worth the debt? Is any winery irreplaceable to a distributor or agent? To any restaurant or retailer?

Why would you trust your business there when you do not trust the people? It is a small world. Know thy neighbour. And don’t screw them over.

Be ready

Opening a new business means being ready to go from the day before you start. 

In restaurants, that goes double. The moment you open you are up for assessment. And in the social media world, that means immediately.

Train the staff. As in, not just table numbers and how to carry three plates without going arse-up, but in hospitality. When people walk in – greet them. They’ll have questions. Listen closely and reply clearly. If you don’t know, admit as much, let them know you’ll find out and do so quickly.

Know the terminology on the menu. Know how to recognise it when enunciated. Know the restaurant layout and how it best works. If one bit of the room is too hot/cold/noisy, know where to guide people to be most comfortable. Don’t send them to an empty space in another room that is not set up. Be helpful. Wait upon them. They are here for a service, a meal, a drink. They might be scoping the next venue to host ongoing corporate events. Or the best place to dine solo regularly and be content. They might be a one off. They might just be wanting another glass of wine…

But you don’t know what they are. Being precise in your offering is knowing that every minute of their time with you counts. 

Forgetting someone after their main has been cleared. Not offering coffee, tea, dessert, a digestif? Is money lost. In no small part due to the fact that they will feel ignored. And people who feel ignored don’t come back. 

Most people have a budget to spend out in the world. Enabling them to spend more of it with you – and to be happy about that – is the gold standard.

Restaurants are a tricky business. Being prepared, and training your people, knowing where queries might arise and having answers ready? KEY. 

Kinda like knowing what the fish of the day actually is some time before 1pm…

Taking the communication out of telcos

A slight diversion. Many of us have telco issues, particularly in regional areas. We kinda live with it because there is little to be done other than to rant and rave. They own the market. They dictate terms. 

And those terms are designed to minimise contact with their customers, and to make actual complaints borderline impossible. 

With Telco 1, I wished to end my contract. Multiple issues. No clarity. Continual connection issues and the “help” avenues were anything but. 

I changed to Telco 2, who this morning inferred that I was fibbing about the outage I was experiencing, needed to switch it off and on again, and that there was no outage because no one else had reported one yet.

I tried social media as I couldn’t find another channel to actually just NOTIFY the supplier that there was an issue they might like to address. I was told there were no outages, before acknowledging that outages only show up if a significant volume of calls/alerts are received. That wasn’t helpful. They told me to call the nbn. Because not ENOUGH people had reported an outage. 

Which is possibly because there is no avenue other than physically calling the nbn people (not the supplier – they bill me but are a different office and they can’t refer calls or issues or anything). I was cut off multiple times as wait times turned – in theory – to connections. I tried the website. The live chat option. Which also cut me off but I persisted. They again inferred I was fibbing or just stupid enough to be wrong. 

So that was fun. After banging my head against these particular brick walls trying to do the right thing and let my supplier know there was an issue, I cracked it. A teensy bit. 

I did kinda insist that I wasn’t incompetent and had a general dislike of being treated as such. Via the live chat facility. Which does not resolve properly for mobiles, leading to typos and a conversation that was slightly nuts. 

He apologised. I asked how to report an issue. He said he couldn’t. I got cranky. He told me to make calls to get it resolved because the nbn live chat (no link to that anywhere on the telco site) was busy? Or not working? Or something? But go on. Try it now anyway. 

Was disconnected when I gave up and called again. 

Dear telcos: make it EASY for us to report a fault. Have a clear form on your site. Then we are done. We’ve informed you. You know there is an issue and can deploy techs/engineers/fix-it-types straight away. Simple. 

Otherwise we get cranky at your inability to know about issues, let alone to address them. 

So far today I’ve been told that I’m wrong (or fibbing) multiple times. That I need to “cycle” the nbn unit countless times. I’ve been apologised to multiple times by people who couldn’t know what it was for which they proffered apology, and to zero result. 

Let us register a fault. Enter an email address for updates. And go on our way. Fobbing us off and telling us that as customers we have to either live chat with someone who cannot possibly help; or check earlier fora because I’m sure that will help with my current clear outage; or my personal favourite: send a letter by post – NONE OF THESE are an effective use of anyone’s time. And it makes us angry. Frustrated. And looking for options. We might request recompense. We might tie up employee time dealing with our frustrations. We might just get snarky on social media. 

This is simply avoided. Accept that you have some responsibility for the service you purport to provide. Allow us to simply register faults (with some way of determining the veracity of such). Don’t treat us like braindead hedgehogs. And work to fix the issue.

This would actually save time on SO MANY LEVELS. And time is money. So you are welcome, telcos. I’ve just fixed stuff for you. 

Where do I send the bill?

Finding value

I started my business to work with people I liked, who make vino I like drinking. Simple, no?

I didn’t want to deal with the industry twerps who engage in belittling reps for fun. Or with wineries who changed the rules on their staff half way through the game. Good vino. Good people. Good sales. 

And essentially I want these businesses around me to succeed. So yes. On occasion – or, if I’m honest, as a rule – I give extra to my tasks. I conduct tastings on my own time at no cost to the wineries. I provide advice to many at little to no charge. I let many pick my brain without a fee. Because I want them to succeed. 

And to date, there have been only a couple of moments wherein I have felt the need to terminate an agreement, or switch things up. 

I’ve been lucky that way. 

But perhaps the word has escaped that I let my brain be picked. Or maybe I am just a teensy bit nervous. Because I have – both personally and through friends in the game – begun to see a rise in businesses forgetting that it takes time, energy and money to generate sales and to market themselves. 

For the most part, it is businesses who have done some degree of this work themselves in the past. And have not accounted for this time as a cost to generating business. Because it’s just their time. 

Sure. If you see your time as having zero value…

As a small business, we should all put a solid value on our time and our input into said business. As a writer, we would count in words. As a seamstress, in stitches. As boot maker, in, well, boots. Whether it is the ephemeral – words – or the literal and solid – boots – the work and the time invested in it has value. 

For a sales person, much of that value is in the contacts. The relationships. The knowing which venue and when, and which ones are tottering. That can take time to relate to sales but it ALL has value. Whether that sales person is a big company rep, an agent or a winemaker spruiking their own wares is irrelevant. The investment of time, the accumulation of contacts and knowledge, the cognisance involved in successfully matching wine with venue? Has value. 

Our experience has value. The knack of adapting accounting software to the wine industry. Of how to set up effective social media. Of event management. Of media management. Of wine list training. Of good sales practice. 

And things of value, should be accordingly given a price. Anything we do as a small business should be accorded a value. Then whether we pass on that value as a cost becomes a separate decision. 

As an exercise, I totted up a basic cost for an imaginary client – an amalgam of several clients over several months. I gave each task a fair cost, and worked out exact hours spent, billable time, expenses. And looked at what I had actually billed for those tasks. 

I have fallen, to a smaller extent, into the same hole I advise against above. Doing the job because it is there and needs doing without actually reporting or billing my time. Like a winery who does not account for their time managing sales, I’ve been nice about getting stuff done because I want people to succeed. Letting people get away with picking my brain as if it had no value to me. 

But it does. So: new rules. I value my time. It is my business. 

Any small business should be accounting for billable hours. Expenses. Experience. 

A butcher does not give away the bacon once it is cured. An accountant does not hand out free, professional advice. A vet cares for our pets but bills us for their expertise and tonics. As they should. 

Small businesses – and especially wineries – are no different. Samples should be counted, and accounted for as a part of the business. Expenses incurred generating sales – from petrol to parking to snacks to delivery costs to time spent – must be a part of our business model. 

Spend money to make money. But know exactly where it goes…

Feb

Sod off, world. It’s easy to die. I just wish my body would stop failing. 

But like any business, there is a method. I feed it and it fuels my existence. I nurture it and it gets better at being effective. I give it wine and it makes my soul sing  (sorry). I train at the gym and I use a third less insulin and the pain occasionally recedes. 

I’ve got nothing for the staph infection but nor do a multitude of medicos.

So – a business. Any business. It needs input – cash, at a very basic level – and expertise. Winemaking. Packaging. Channel to market. Marketing. All of these can be exponentially expensive for a small business trying to scrape itself off the bottom level. 

Have a clear directive. Have a brand identity if no actual label. A concept. A why-me moment. Go to bottleshops. Bars. Will what you do stack up or stand out? For style or packaging or price point?

Style? Look to how Brown Brothers fostered and developed King Valley prosecco as a key part of the wine market. Packaging – can’t go past Some Young Punks for rewriting the game and tapping into the zeitgeist at a key point: that is, before everyone else. To nowadays whereupon it is now kinda trite and done and occasionally obsolete. Price point? Yellow sparkling. Oyster Bay. Yalumba Y. Yalumba anything, as they manage to (mostly) tread that fine line betwixt broad commercial appeal, retail punch and on-prem lead. 

So: identify the general market. Work the brand and identity to appeal. Trade in authenticity. Have a link between grapes and bottles. 

Tick. 

Now what?

Have a voice. A clear voice. Driving the brand. An idea of where you want to be and how to get there. Because changing the game plan too early on leaves buyers with a distinct lack of confidence. People – buyers, somms, punters, restaurant managers – all want to believe in you. Give them a reason to do so. Give them a story which is credible. And true. In THAT order. 

And good vino for the money. Try the competition. Know what you are up against and how to better them. Be effective. Know your costs.

And know how to drive the sales to market.

Know this before you start looking at vineyards. At fruit.

If you want to understand the channel to market? Understand it forwards and backwards. Know the numbers. And understand what value you deliver and where you might sit on a shelf. 

Should anyone buy your wine….