Dan Sharp has not looked back since he first walked into his local Majestic store in Muswell Hill, north London, fresh out of university, to see if they had a job. Fast forward a few years later and after a brief sojourn into the coffee industry, he is back enjoying a career selling wine, now in his new role as head of the south of England for Boutinot. Richard Siddle asks what brought him back into the sector and what he sees as being the key factors a major wine supplier has to get right.
“Being amenable and understanding to a broad range of characters is something I am looking for when recruiting new sales team.” Dan Sharp gives us an insight into his role running sales for Boutinot across the south of the UK.
Why did you want to work in the wine industry?
My family home in Yorkshire had a grape vine in a greenhouse, my creative father decided to make wine from it and after picking, myself and my sister took turns to tread the grapes barefoot in a sanitised black bin, after adding yeast from a Boots kit (back then Boots sold wine and beer kits) the “wine” bubbled away in a glass demijohn and I was fascinated by the whole process. I can’t have been older than seven at the time.
A few years later the precious bottles were tasted and I had my drop mixed with water (this was the 1980s!) it was not the best wine of course but I didn’t have a lot of experience to judge any difference!
Later in life I was still fascinated from a consumer perspective about the beverage industry, particularly branding and advertising , I eventually completed my marketing dissertation on beverage advertising. By then I had begun quite a journey exploring wine and cooking together, particularly food pairing, and so when the time came it seemed the right fit to head into the trade.
How did you get into it?
A school friend of mine was working in Majestic and telling me all about the training and career possibilities. Post university I walked into Majestic in Muswell Hill where I was living at the time and asked for a job, got interviewed the same day and started the week after. I had worked in shops like Dixons on weekends for years so I was used to retail but this was different. Like many experienced, the learning curve was quick but enjoyable and I began to see the future options for a career in the wine trade that I had never fully understood before.
Tell us about your new role at Boutinot?
We have over 140 people in the UK and the London satellite office is where myself and the South 0n-trade and trade marketing team work from which is what I head up. We are covering a very broad range of national on-trade, regional groups and independent restaurants. It’s been a settling into my role working alongside an experienced as well as youthful team of people. I never knew the scale of Boutinot previously: 38 million bottles of wine sold a year with a mix of our own production from Old World and New World wine estates (known as our ‘Homes’), as well as distribution of an incredible selection of estates covering over 1,800 wines in total.
I was surprised and imagine there are many many other like me who just didn’t know the scale that Boutinot has achieved and the growth trajectory of the future.
What do you see as being the most important skills to get right as a wine sales person?
Not every person in the wine trade is the same, just as our customers are not all alike either. Being amenable and understanding to a broad range of characters is something I am looking for when recruiting new sales team. It’s something I realised was important in my own career. Our soft skills should not be neglected either, listening and observation are key but so is asking the right questions at the right time – that is something that can come from making mistakes and by remembering / digesting your conversations over the year
Passion for product and recounting the stories from production and the region is also key – we can’t all go to the vineyards see the vistas and breathe in the local smells of hot soil or mountain breeze but the next best thing is having that story telling conveyed (with passion) to you so that you can almost feel it yourself.
How do you look to work with a customer – what are the key areas you need to concentrate on and get right?
First and foremost is always to understand if we are the right company for that customer, coming at it from both sides and thinking objectively. Whether we have approached a group directly or been introduced some way or other, this is the foundation, and from there you learn and listen. Your ideas may be perfect for the customer but they may also wrong or need tweaking and this comes from understanding each other.
Showing up to meetings as a team which covers various roles is also important at times, including marketing, training and development, someone from finance too if needed. This is not just about getting everyone in the room but also it helps your internal team members understand more about your customer and the challenges of the marketplace which may bring new ideas top. And at the very least, other teams feel included in the broader areas of the company business, helping long term company relationships to get off on the right foot.
What are the main sales trends you are seeing at the moment in the London on-trade scene in terms of styles of wine, grapes, regions and price points?
Duty changes may influence this more in the future years which is one thing on our radar. What’s hot this spring and summer is Vinho Verde and lighter easy drinking whites. Lightly chilled red is beginning to creep in with rosé still carrying momentum as well as our love of sparkling wines continuing.
If you believe the recent Statista projections for the UK wine trade, sparkling is the category growing by volume and value, the matching of still and sparkling wine duty in August may also give that category a little bump. Less funky and arguably more approachable orange and natural wines are popping up on smaller wine lists as something interesting to try.
What do you see as being the next big sales areas – or areas that have the most opportunity?
Custom and exclusive label still have a lot of room to grow but balancing the volume with the supply chain management possibilities.
Alternative formats are growing – albeit from a small base – but with more momentum currently. Canned wine is gaining popularity as customers seek alternative way to look at glass reduction and on-the-go options. Bag-in-box and keg wine are on the up too, especially where speed of service needs to be balanced with a sustainable approach, all this across many business types from sporting and concert venues though to restaurant, hotel and causal dining.
It took some time for the stigma of screwcap to decrease and alternative format to glass will take longer still as the change in perception needed is clearly much larger. We are keeping an eye on re-fillable for the future, perhaps for retail. Across Europe major retailers are introducing bulk refill aisles mostly on dry foods and laundry products to reduce packaging waste. I see no reason why a wine system can’t be become a part of that future, perhaps topping off bottles with a burst of argon.
Wine regions and styles are another topic entirely, perhaps the duty changes may influence that in the future years too. What’s hot this spring is Vino Verde with rose still carrying momentum as well as the love of sparkling continuing. If you believe the recent Statista projections for the UK wine trade, sparkling is the category growing by volume and value, the matching of still and sparkling wine duty in August may also give that category a little bump.
- If you want to find out more about Boutinot go to its website here.