Fiona McLaughlin has enjoyed a wide and impressive career that has seen her rise through the ranks at Majestic before switching over to the on-trade to head up sales in the south west for Enotria&Coe. She is now looking for her next role in the wine industry and hopes to be able to find the right company to share her experience, and passion for working with and developing teams.
The Buyer’s Onwards & Upwards series looks to share the careers and experiences of people in the drinks industry who are looking for their next role. If you would like to take part then email email@example.com.
Tell us about your background and how you got into the drinks industry?
I was working in New York and I decided to take a year out travelling around Australia before returning to the UK. While in Australia, I found work during vintage at a vineyard in Beechworth. It was managed by a lovely family, the Rayners, whom I am still good friends with today. They were the catalyst for my wine journey, helping me to taste and understand the differences between grape varieties.
One of them was originally from McLaren Vale, one of 13 siblings. He insisted I stop in to meet his family there on my travels. He insisted in the sweetest possible way by giving me a care package, so I just had to stop by.
I ended up staying there for about eight weeks helping prune the family vines. I met the rest of the family where the wine lessons continued along with many great adventures. That year really opened my eyes to wine. I was so fortunate to spend time in various wine regions in the country and have the opportunity to taste some truly stunning wines including their family vineyard wine Brokenwood Rayner Shiraz.
Why did you want to start a career in wine?
I returned from Australia and after having such an amazing time, I wanted to learn more about wine. The people, places, food and especially wine had really stood out for me. It seemed to make sense.
That is when I had the chance to join Majestic and the wine industry in the UK. It was great to grow the passion and interest I had developed in Australia and take the opportunity to gain my WSET Diploma.
You have spent time working on both the retail and distribution side of the trade – what did you enjoy most about your time in those positions?
In retail I really loved helping customers with their wine choices. It’s great to have the time to walk around the store to discuss a variety of wines, as well as use the tasting counter to introduce a customer to something they have not tried before. A bottle of wine should be an experience for the customer, telling a tale of where it came from, taking the consumer on a fantastic journey.
With the on-trade I have always loved working collaboratively; helping customers understand the value of their wine lists. A well-balanced wine list which meets the requirements of their establishment is vital to maximise its potential.
Alongside a great wine list, training their staff is vital to ensure they are comfortable recommending wines, understand more about the wine and the dishes on the menu it matches.
With the off-trade I enjoyed engaging on a wide variety of products both within wine and spirits. It was great to have the ability to focus on brands supporting promotions. Many of my off-trade customers have time to hand sell their products, so it was great to work with them to showcase some of the more esoteric wines in our portfolio as well as the usual suspects.
What was your role at Majestic and what skills do you think you most developed there?
I started as a trainee manager and moved up to assistant manager spending a total of 18 months in the retail side of Majestic. I then went on to spend nearly 10 years as part of the commercial team where I achieved head of sales. Before I left, I led a team of 12 people across the West of England and Wales.
The team was mixed in experience, so training and coaching was key to customer retention and new business acquisition. In this time, I focused on developing my sales, analytical, management and coaching skills, while still constantly striving to improve my team and myself. Heading up a team while account managing and signing up new business meant that I was able to continually develop my skills in these areas.
What were the biggest challenges working in retail?
For me the biggest challenge was lone working. This is never ideal in any retail situation, trying to balance all aspects of the job on these days could sometimes be a bit difficult. It’s why you need to be as organised and motivated as I am. Time management and organisational skills are crucial.
How did you progress at Enotria&Coe?
Initially I joined to look after a team of four in Cornwall, Devon & Dorset. After a good first year, the team was increased to eight people and covered the whole of the south west, including Avon and Somerset, as well as South Wales and over to the New Forest.
I always look to get involved and take on extra responsibility or take the opportunity to earn a qualification. In 2019 I studied for a management diploma, an iCQ Level 5 Diploma Operations/Departmental Manager which I passed with distinction. This allowed me to expand my knowledge and also sharpen some of the skills I had developed.
What do you see as being your biggest achievements so far in your career?
When I joined the commercial team in Majestic, it was still relatively small. I was the only business development manager in the midlands and started with a very small account base. I developed a significant amount of business in the region which led to the recruitment of key account managers, who I would coach and train.
I would win business, then after a period of time pass it over to the key account managers to manage. I grew the account base, trained and developed the team, which resulted in achieving a team of six and a turnover of £6m for the midlands and south west. Being able to build up a region and team from scratch was very rewarding and I have taken that achievement into my other roles.
Having exceeded my targets and grown the regions consistently, I strive to keep this momentum going in the roles I take on.
What sort of role are you hoping to find next?
I am open to a variety of roles, the reason being that I see what has happened as an opportunity. My skillset would allow me to be an account manager, heading up a sales team or a national account manager. I love working in the wine and drinks industry and engaging with customers in the on or off-trade and building a partnership for mutual success.
Given the current situation, customers are going to rely on their suppliers even more, looking for innovation, adaptability and continued high customer service levels to enable them to survive. Any role which draws on these foundations is something I am keen to be involved with and can certainly get my teeth into and successfully drive forward.
What are the key skills and experiences you think you can offer people?
I believe I have a variety of skills and I am very adaptable. I am keen to constantly develop and where applicable develop others. In my career I have focused on two main areas, working with and developing prospects and customers at all levels as well as heading up a sales team, progressing them with healthy challenges backed up with on-going support.
Account Manager: I am customer focused and I build a relationship on trust and understanding of a customer’s needs while providing solutions. I have worked with customers in both the on and off-trade, from independents to groups. Everyone’s time is at a premium, so I ensure that our time together is beneficial allowing us to develop their business.
Team Leader/Coach: I have been managing people for 10 years and I find it extremely rewarding. Working with my team I come from a place of openness to ensure I focus on each individuals’ need for support and development. I really enjoy spending days in trade meeting their customers, and spending time coaching, evaluating and putting plans in place for further development.
It’s great personal reward when I see a person develop, rising to a challenge and overcoming it with the experience they have gained to enable them to be as successful as possible.
How would you describe your personality?
I am passionate and driven about my work supported by the belief that life is for living so I am fortunate to work in an industry I love. I believe I am approachable, positive, enthusiastic and outgoing with a propensity for problem solving.
Being extremely organised, I am often guilty of being the friend who organises all the trips and events… (in great detail if required) My analytical and detail orientated nature serves me well in the roles I have performed and ensures that I am always striving for the ideal outcome for all. I want to be able to succeed and help the people around me do the same, be they friends, colleagues or customers.
What sort of company do you think you thrive in?
I thrive in a business where there are opportunities to be challenged, potential for development and the ability to be autonomous. I enjoy growing and driving businesses forward by building strong and lasting relationships. Company size isn’t important, it’s the culture, people and passion which gives me the drive to succeed. This results in the business being engaging for customers, therefore making it enjoyable, fun and rewarding for everyone.
- If you would like to contact Fiona you can do by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can also contact her via Linked-in through her profile here.