Go wild in the country

07 March, 2008

Taking tastings on the road is a great way to spread the word about drinks

At the recent SITT events, the OLN forum highlighted the importance of customer tastings

to promot e business. In fact,

tastings

are the single best way of increasing footfall

and will usually provide an increase in sales too. From experience, I know

the lure of a free glass of something will certainly get people through the door .

At the very least, you'll have an opportunity to speak to some of your customers,

reassess some of the stock yourself (always an interesting moment), and

communicate some of the passion

you have for your chosen speciality (because as we know, the money alone is never enough). Although it can be terrifying having to say something beyond "hello ... card in there please ... thanks, goodbye", you'll eventually warm to it, and

perhaps even enjoy it after a while.

We've been doing some tasting s recently

- not on the premises, but out in the wilds of the pubs, restaurants and boardrooms of the north of England.

Using the word "wilds" to describe these

is a little misleading. They are usually fairly polite events

and, in fact, the hardest thing is getting people to loosen up and enjoy themselves a bit, although on one occasion, everyone loosened up a bit to much

and I lost control of an event that culminated in several pints of Thomas Hardy Ale being chugged (yes, they actually went "CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!"). And all this in a genteel legal practice in central London. It's always the quiet ones

you have to watch.

But back to the recent tasting events. These aren't really the sort of events that generate sales for the business (although the mail order service always gets a plug), but they are more to spread the word about beer as an interesting and ­diverse foodstuff - a sort of mini-generics campaign.

Of course, we don't do it solely for love - money is made, but in a quantity perhaps slightly disproportionate to the amount of effort we put in. They usually take up a day's worth of travelling, heaving beer around, cleaning and polishing glassware

and forgetting something (it's always just one thing, never catastrophic, but always irritating).

In fact, the least fun bit is the journey back, as we're usually knackered

and know that more unloading and tidying awaits us

at the shop. As designated driver, I don't even have the pleasure of a slightly tipsy snooze (to be honest, I usually get about 20 minutes' nap, but don't tell Dan

- I'm sure it'll unsettle him).

The drive to and from an event isn't just dead time either. As much as I'd love to spend it listening to ear-splitting nosebleed techno, there is always something to discuss. On the latest outing, we were talking about customers returning bottles

they felt were faulty. Oddly, we have more beer returned than wine, although of course we sell a lot more beer, certainly by SKU if not by value. A lot of the time, it might just be people buying a beer that was a bit wilder and more chewy than they are used to, but most have the good grace to bring back an almost-full bottle and explain their problem.

We always replace them without question, even the old chap who returned a bottled of gueuze that "tasted funny" ("they all do, sir"). They leave happy

and, whether it's selling a bottle of beer

or putting on a tasting, that's really what retail's about - making people happy.




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