By Dennis Carroll, Head Hooligan
Years ago I wrote an article that was my take on “Ride Withs”. In the article I wrote about the genesis of the ride with:
“Somewhere in the history of the supplier/distributor relationship, the “ride with” was born. In some office, in some city, someone came up with the idea that a supplier should come into a market to “work” with some of the distributor’s sales reps in order to build a bridge between supplier and distributor, help the distributor’s sales team understand the wines, introduce the supplier to some key accounts and ultimately sell some wine in the market.”
I went into some detail about the odd marriage of supplier and distributor rep, meeting somewhere for the first time and spending the day together presenting products to the various on and off premise accounts. Over 40 years of business experience, the ride with continues to be one of the strangest things in which I have ever been a part.
Having been quarantined in my home for over four months now, I have had plenty of time to think and reflect on how we will sell wine in a post pandemic world. I don’t think people are going to want to travel in airplanes, ride in rental cars and Ubers, sleep in hotel rooms or eat from hotel “free” breakfast buffets (no more fighting over the waffle maker with a 10 year old). In many physical ways, the world just got a lot bigger. You will need to think long and hard if you want to jump in an airplane to go across the country for a meeting lasting a few hours. Before the Pandemic, it was standard operating procedure for most winery personnel to do just that.
In fact, far flung travel has become a normal occurrence for many around the world. Air travel has been transformed from the time I was a young boy through the pre-pandemic world. I remember what a big deal it was, as a 10 year old boy, to fly from California to Kansas City on the long gone airline TWA. My mother bought me a suit at a store in San Francisco for the flight. We had real silverware for the flight with the TWA logo on it. I’m also sure the tickets were more expensive than what you would pay now for a Southwest flight to Kansas City.
Needless to say, that was not the travel we all experienced right before the pandemic. Airports were more like bus stations, and if anyone was in a suit for an airplane ride, they looked out of place. Of course anyone out of sweat pants or shorts looks a little out of place now. The world became smaller and smaller for more and more people. We lived fast over great distances.
Then the pandemic hit. The virus took hold of our lives’ narratives and continues to linger. I believe the lingering effect of the virus will change the way we all collectively sell wine across the three tier system. I said above that our physical world just got a lot bigger. I also believe our communication world just got a lot smaller.
Ride withs and account calls have been a cornerstone for a suppliers ability to stay connected to the distributor and the market. That has been all but eliminated in the short term, but I would argue it has also been forever altered. Technology is going to replace many of the aspects of how wine is presented, ordered and delivered in a post pandemic world. Our ability to communicate across the country with Zoom and other Zoom-like technology is giving us the ability to reach more people than ever before. People are more comfortable communicating this way. The concept of a corporate office that has to be traveled to is becoming obsolete.
I’m not sure how this gets incorporated between supplier/distributor/account and ultimately the customer. I do know it has changed. Wine Hooligans is trying various methods to use these tools in different settings to see what will work for all of us. In many ways this new way of selling and connecting with distributors and accounts is more intimate and hopefully more effective than having to physically be present.
So maybe in the future someone will write a paragraph like this:
“The post pandemic world changed the way we communicated with each other and ultimately changed the way wine was sold across the country. Somewhere in an office in some city, someone asked, does the ride with really make sense? Does it really build a relationship between supplier and distributor? Does it really help build a brand? Or, is it something we always did because, because, well, we have always done it that way.”
Yes, I am suggesting it may be the death of the Ride With. RIP.