Hiring Salespeople

I’ve always been curious about the hiring process for wine stores. Some wine stores the workers there have an incredibly LIMITED knowledge of wine. Is Sales experience more important than Wine knowledge? I would assume it might be a bigger deal especially at the larger stores that have a lot of clients coming in to find lower end wines and don’t really want to be bothered by an encyclopedia of wine?

What % do you impart to each when making hiring decisions? =)

PEOPLE skills are paramount. I tend to look for people with at least some experience on the floor in fine dining restaurants. They will generally have some clues about food and are good at triaging customers into “Self Service”, “wants to look a bit first” and “Needs help STAT!”.

If you take a look at our offerings (see the web address below) you will see that we have to do extensive product training on even the most experienced wine oriented folks as we mostly sell things that even they have never seen before.

Charlie -

The problem with so much hiring on the retail level is people hiring friends or frequent customers, regardless of wine knowledge. So someone like you who is young, energetic with wine knowledge gets looked over because “you don’t know the right people…”

One of the biggest problems with employers looking for retail associates is not who has the most knowledge, but who knows how to manage time and who knows how to sell.

I’ve hired wine geeks who will sit there for hours talking about wine with a customer - that customer walks out with a $40 bottle of wine that you just made $10 on - but paid your clerk $15 an hour to sell that wine (hence you just lost five dollars) In this industry, you run into talkers - but you need to be able to multitask and work as you talk (harder to do than you think) - geeks are usually the worst salespeople.

AND - I’ve hired people with no wine knowledge who can sell the hell out of the inventory - I had this guy once (he pronounced Chardonnay as Kardonnay) who would fill up shopping baskets like you’ve never seen - with people standing in line to talk to him -

The whole key is be persistant with the place you want to work - keep going back and keep bugging the right people to hire you - offer to work for minimum wage until you prove yourself (I left a job in the late 1970s I was making $9 a hour for to get into the wine biz and make $4.85 an hour)

You show that store what you can do - and you will be priceless - and can dictate your salary -even part time -

Thomas stole the words out of my mouth. From 20+ years experience in the biz, I can surely tell you that wine geeks do make the absolute worst sales people 99.9% of the times.

Just a little story: back in the old days, when I worked for D. Sokolin & Co on Madison avenue there was an old timer who used to work part time at that point. His name was Sol K. (never knew his actual last name). This guy didn’t know SHIT about wine but at the end of the day he would have a stack of orders triple the size of anyone else there. Mind you that these were the days of cold calling. No email, internet, nothing. You actually had to talk to people all day. Can you imagine that? This guy could sell you piss in a bottle and make you believe it was Montrachet. Then we had a guy whose name was Knut (forgot his last name). This guy was an encyclopedia. He could tell you the history of wine and everything in between, all day long. Unfortunately he could not make or close a sale for the life of him. Every single experience with employees has been the same through my years. The more they knew about the product, the worse they were at selling it. I truly believe that knowledge too often gets in the way of raw salesmanship. You’re basically alienating most customers (who are not wine geeks) and tend to go off on a tangent with stuff that most people are not interested in knowing about.

It’s a fine balance but in short I’d rather have a guy that knows just enough about wine to have passion but can sell the hell out of it than a guy who’s a deep well of information but can’t make a sale. I’m not paying people to give lectures, I pay them to sell wine. With the internet, unfortunately selling wine (as in actually generating a lead and making a sale) has become somewhat of a lost art.

Thanks for the detailed info guy, I’m not looking to work in wine retail,but was just curious how you guys hired people. There are some stores with salespeople with horrible people skills, then some that have great people skills but couldn’t recommend me a wine if their lives depended on it.

Even though it would be “fun” working part time away from my full time job :wink: I worked in retail for 3-4 years while in College and full time for a year.

p.s. i’m sure everyone who’s not in the wine biz glorifies working in the wine biz, so I bet working wine retail is nowhere near as fun as I think it is.

Well, that would depend on where you’d be working. If you worked at The Wine Connection you’d have a blast. Basically four nice guys who are all a little nuts (except me of course) who curse and make fun at each other all day…while drinking and selling the greatest wines in the world. How bad can that be? [wow.gif]

I actually have been seriously contemplating taking on a PT job at a retail shop. I have been watching the typical Craigslist, etc for postings, but have only seen 1 or 2 that looked like they would be what I would want to do. I am willing to start at the bottom, as you have said, but I also want to make sure that I will be enjoying what I am doing, since this would really be to enhance and share my passion for wine. I did submit a resume to one posting, without even a thank you for your interest, but the job has been filled or something like that in response. Which was discouraging because it really made me think that the reality was that this biz was more about who you know than what you know (I also have about 10 years of retail sales experience in my past life).

Thanks for all the tips, everyone! As you said, it’s more about persistence and tenacity than anything else (and that goes for all pursuits in life, I suppose). So if this is something I am serious about going after, I will need to dedicate more effort to it.

So true…The Wine Connection sux though. I hear that they use the reviews of Jeff Leve to sell their BDX.

On Shelftalkers . . .

I think it’s the same way with hiring servers.

The most knowledgable usually don’t get the highest tips.

We had one server (now gone) who would get amazing comments from customers about his wine knowledge. But if you actually talked to him about wine, you’d realize in an instant that he didn’t know jack.

I know I should never have tolerated this, but…

ironic timing here as I’m getting ready to hire somebody to sell wine. good thoughts from this crew, as per usual… [emot-pwn.gif]

The best are wine knowledgeable AND a good salesman. That is hard to come by, but in the end, I think I prefer good salesman to wine knowledge and I have learned that the hard way.

Most people want someone that they can relate to.

Yes, and all I ask of a woman is that she looks like Giselle but has dual PhD’s in Classical Literature and Physics, loves to cook and clean, has loaded parents, encourages me to go camping with my friends, and has a slight case of nymphomania.


Please read all that I said…thanks…

Actually It’s Jeff’s picture on the shelftalkers that gets most of the positive comments. It’s the same one that Dan has framed on his desk.

I blew it up and moved it to the ceiling of my bedroom…next to the lifesize Jay Miller FATHEAD!

95+ for that Daniel . . .

I’m just catching up with this thread. As someone with considerable background in the hiring and managing of sales people, and some considerable background in establishing guidelines for hiring and promoting of employees of all types, you’ve got to be careful hiring geeks.

All the dot.coms and big techie companies were bound and determined to hire people with heavy tech backgrounds (EE degrees and the like) for sales positions. You can’t do that and succeed. The person who’s got a sales orientation isn’t the person who would choose a geeky major in college as a rule, and a smart person with a sales orientation can usually learn what needs to be learned to sell the product.

I know a guy who is an absolute encyclopedia of wine. He was part of a tasting group I used to belong to, and he’s an absolute freaking bore. There is NO WAY he could be successful on the floor of a retail wine shop because he’s annoying to boot. He has the personality and people skills of a toad.

Look for bright, personalble people with sales background and orientation. Teach them about wine if you must but also be careful. Sales types are generally pretty independent, so you’ve either got to have some fairly relaxed rules or find someone who is also manageable - a rare commodity.

You mean this one?

I did, Dan. Just having fun and agreeing with you that it would be difficult to find someone who is both a wealth of wine knowledge and a good salesperson (and who would be willing to work for the pay - no doubt someone of that ilk would have a multitude of opportunities).

We have to make choices somewhere. I love to talk about wine but would be a terrible salesperson. When hiring tasting room employees, we would much prefer someone with a working knowledge of wine rather than a ton…they should be able to hold a conversation about other wines and regions but not make people salivate over producers and wines they’ve never heard of. Similarly, you don’t want someone who will turn visitors off by whipping it out (figuratively) and trying to intimidate them with esoteric wine knowledge or bravado about their homemade wines (true story - had a guy who used to claim [to visitors to an appt only TR] to have taught Tony Soter how to make wine and who made the best fortified wine in Napa in his basement; he didn’t last long).