A boutique distributor of fine wines looking for a local San Diego winery to fill out his lineup approached me at a wine tasting event and tried a sip of our "Merleatage." He, his spouse and their two companions returned to our serving table several times to sample them all and the tastes turned into glasses. The distributor's timing was perfect - as wine was piling up to the ceiling in the winery - aka our modest two car garage converted into a crushpad and storage area - we really needed to start selling more. But, occupied by my daytime job I don't have time to sell it - and our help don't speak English - while the daughter moved to San Francisco to be a comedian. So, I had reached the point - as painful as it was - to give up margin and to work with a distributor as our sales force to turn our inventory into cash. Besides, if I hired a sales rep, it would probably cost me as much. A distributor made sense.
At a follow-up meeting at the distributor's tasting room we re-tasted our wines and compared them with other wines he was selling. His wines were good and he was buying them at a wholesale distributor price of $12 a bottle. Good wines from Santa Barbara and Lodi and Napa. At this price, there is no profit for us, but the inventory pressure was high, the wines in the barrels needed to be bottled and stored so I bit the bullet and we shook hands. "Charge my Amex card at the end of the month - we pay net 30 days," he said. His enthusiasm was infectious - no wine shop or fine restaurant would be able to resist his sales pitch for our wines. Soon, our labor of love would be available throughout San Diego County - and the cash flow would allow us to buy new barrels and more bottles and first-grade corks to produce and bottle the highest quality wines.
The next week I delivered eight cases with an extra case for samples. I produced a tri-fold brochure. I set up a PayPal account and sent my first PayPal invoice. The invoice was received by the office manager. At 15 days I emailed the distributor - "How's it going?"
"We have two placements already,"he wrote. At 25 days, I emailed the office manager, do you have the PayPal invoice? Yes she replied. On day 30 there was no payment. At 40 days they didn't return my phone message. At 45 days their telephone line didn't work. At the 46th day I drove to their office and it was closed.
The good book says to forgive your debtors and I have "let it go" and perhaps some of the wine will be a seed that someone somewhere will drink and contact us and become our best customer ever. I had an epiphany - wouldn't it have been better to just give it away?
And this is how the superhero named BootleggerMan - or is he WineMan? - could they be the same person? - began.
I gave away a case of wine to the church. And a case of wine to the office of my daytime job. And a case of wine to a reseller of our products from my daytime job. And another case of wine to the church. And to our business consultants and to the group raising money for breast cancer research and to the group raising money for Big Brothers and to ....
Wine for the People. Wine for the Teachers. The Bootleggers Express Always Delivers.