Probably the most transformative change during Covid-19 has been how quickly people have gone online and embraced ecommerce. It has opened up huge new opportunities to those drinks and hospitality businesses able to capitalise with effective ecommerce platforms. Martin Litt is here to help companies make the most out of online with his new business – Quaff Digital – that he has set up on being made redundant during lockdown. He shares his story as part of The Buyer’s ongoing Onwards & Upwards series.
If you have lost your job and are looking for a new role the Onwards & Upwards series is here to help you share your story and experiences. Contact Richard Siddle at email@example.com if you would like to take part.
How did you first get into wine and the drinks industry?
At the age of 19 I fell into a sales job with Vicomte Bernard de Romanet, now merged with Pieroth. I was a ‘wine advisor’ (with zero knowledge of wine) selling cases to the public via home wine tastings. Expensive wine, by the case, in Rotherham and Barnsley – it certainly taught me plenty about sales and about how the general public experience wine. I can’t have been too bad, as I stayed four years and ended up running the Midlands sales office for them.
What sort of roles have you had and what skills and experiences have you picked up along the way?
I like to say that I’ve done everything in wine other than make it. I’ve hosted tastings for individuals as well as groups of 50 plus, presented at exhibitions, tried my hand at being a sommelier in a Michelin starred restaurant (never again), and worked retail and telesales for Laithwaites.
I have also managed sales regions and offices for Romanet, dabbled with vineyard management, commercial blending, export and on-trade development for Lyme Bay Winery and buying and stock management with Swallow Drinks. I have also worked several Decanter World Wine Awards as a runner and room manager, and most recently I have enjoyed judging at the People’s Choice Wine Awards and IWC.
What have you enjoyed most about the roles you have had?
I’ve loved seeing the industry from many different perspectives across my career so far. I’ve had the opportunity to learn and understand the priorities from everyone involved in the ‘wine cycle’. I now know what drives growers and producers, buyers and wholesalers, on and off-trade vendors, and the consumer or collector. I find it fascinating to see how everyone sees wine differently.
I think my favourite experience so far was working with global rock band Bullet For My Valentine to develop their own-label mead – Waking The Demon – with Lyme Bay Winery. I so enjoyed the whole process of bringing together the band, music label, merchandisers, and winery from conception to delivery that it never once felt like work. My partner even designed the website.
You have built up both wine expertise but also interest in digital and e-commerce – how did that come about?
I can’t claim any tech skills more complex than a spreadsheet, but my partner has been designing, creating and maintaining ecommerce sites for years. She’s been trying to convince me to go self-employed for ages and, with Covid causing my redundancy, it seemed an obvious move to make now. Seeing how she has helped businesses transform and grow has always inspired me to do the same in my area of expertise – now I have the opportunity to do so alongside her.
On being made redundant from Swallow Drinks you have helped set up a new consultancy business to help other wine merchants work online. Can you explain how it why and how it works?
My partner and I pivoted her existing business to incorporate my experience and Quaff Digital was born. We want to help the wine industry as much as we can with our expertise. There will be wine businesses out there that need a real focus on their online presence and website. With lockdowns and second waves threatening it is more important than ever to ensure your business can operate to the best of its ability 24/7.
It is also probably fair to say that the wine industry isn’t the most tech-savvy. With this in mind Quaff Digital wants to offer a solution to these businesses that takes into account the specialism and intricacy of the wine industry.
Having someone who understands your product when putting together a content strategy or email marketing campaigns makes all the difference. Understanding what customers want from a wine vendor, a product portfolio, and from the website itself is crucial. This specific insight, however, is very difficult to come by – this is where we come in. By offering exactly that we can ensure a service unmatched in the industry.
I’ve spoken to wine merchants who don’t like their own website and don’t sell their wine online – realistically this can’t continue and we want to be the ones to help change it.
You are also looking for new roles as well for yourself – what would you most like to do and why?
Alongside Quaff Digital I am looking for project or part-time work for businesses that have a lot on their plate, but can’t commit to taking on a full-time member of staff. That could be product development or a BDM or brand manager role. I particularly enjoy product development – working for either producer, brand owner, or mediating between the two as I have done before.
What sort of companies do you think would be best suited to yourself and Quaff Digital?
Quaff Digital would be ideally suited to wine merchants that have a website, but historically have done most of their business through their shop. Obviously with the lockdown and current rules around social distancing it has been a very difficult time for them. Quaff Digital can create a website and marketing strategy that these merchants are proud of, that reflects their passion for their business and, crucially, ensures they sell more wine to replace (and overtake) the sales they would normally be making in store.
We find the biggest stumbling block for the customer is the website itself. I think my partner’s greatest strength is her ability to take something complex, like a website, and explain it in such a way that any one can easily understand. Between us we can answer all the questions about selling online and lay to rest all of the doubts and misgivings. We also offer maintenance care plans so we don’t make a website, dump it on our clients, and disappear – we work with them to ensure that it is a fully collaborative process throughout our working relationship.
What difference can you make to their bottom line?
If a business is unsure about its website and how effective it is then consider this: imagine if someone came to you and offered a new member of staff?
This person knows everything there is to know about your entire product range – producer, grapes, alcohol, tasting notes, food pairings, history, geography, topography – the lot. They always ensure customers have a great experience, and are always helpful. Not only this but they up-sell every customer they come into contact with, arrange delivery, and take payment. 24 hours a day. They won’t take weekends off, they never get ill, and never have to do the school run. They are also your biggest advocate and personal fan, showing your expertise, telling your story, and providing customers with interesting articles and blog posts alongside their shopping.
This member of staff will cost you less than £25k a year. You would rip their arm off for that member of staff.
That member of staff is your website.
And yourself – what companies would you like to work for?
Any company that has a genuine passion for the liquid they sell. I enjoy working with people who are excited about their work and have a passion for it. It doesn’t have to be limited to wine (I’ve done a few bits and pieces with mead, after all), but that is certainly where my expertise is.
How would you describe your personality and what skills you bring?
I was a nerd long before it was cool. I have never found myself bored of wine. Being lucky enough to work in this industry has led to what I jokingly refer to as my ‘accidental work ethic’ – the only people I know who work harder or longer than me is my partner, Kate, and Paul Sullivan at Lyme Bay Winery. I foster a ‘can-do’ attitude tempered with (sometimes brutal) honesty, and I always want my clients and customers to get the very most out of their dealings with me. I do what I say I’ll do, when I say I’ll do it, and I’m never, ever late.
I love presenting wines and discussing wine with consumers. Answering questions and getting excited about how people have discovered wine, what their own experiences are, and trying to get more people interested in this beguiling liquid. I hate any snobbishness around wine.
I dislike being micromanaged, but I love responsibility and having a team around me that is open to robust debate on strategy, happy to approach discussions with an open-mind, and comfortable with complete transparency and trust.
Any advice to anyone else who has been made redundant recently – what has worked for you?
It’s super tough out there and the industry doesn’t seem to be receiving the support it should be just yet – the only advice I can give is to stay positive, network as much as you can, and ask for help if you need it. I’m sure there are too many suffering in silence.
I’ve seen posts on social media offering help in finding opportunities, or even just being an ear to listen if someone is struggling. It is this generosity of spirit that I am proud of in our industry. There are positions out there, and there will be many more once our industry starts to recover.
Outside of work what do you most enjoy doing?
Working from home means I’m never really ‘outside of work’ but in my downtime I really enjoy drawing or reading, especially with my kids. I’m a super enthusiastic (though not super talented) guitarist, and a lifelong supporter of Chelsea Football Club – but please don’t hold that against me.
Anything else you would like to say?
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Richard Siddle and The Buyer for the opportunity given to everyone who needs a platform to have one. It’s a wonderful initiative during a difficult time and it shows real class. Thank you.
- If you would like to see how Quaff Digital can help you and your business please click here.
- If you have lost your job recently and are looking for a new opportunity in the drinks, retail or hospitality sectors and would like to share your story on The Buyer then please contact Richard Siddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.