Does your life occasionally echo that Ink Spots refrain? The VOR and I have become used to missing that Saturday dance and get disproportionately excited about any invitation out. The downside to such unbridled and child unencumbered joy is that we often arrive too early, and are either obliged to help cook, set up, or as so often happens, find ourselves at the mercy of the uncrowded room, fellow early birds and elephants therein.
The VOR, being a woman, is immediately at an advantage with openers such as ‘I love your hair, shoes, dress’ or the marvellously complementary ‘You look great, have you lost weight’? forever endearing her to her conversational companions.
I, on the other hand, am the kind of man who knows little of car engines, the myriad charms of accountancy, the stock market, house prices, football or the crippling cost of school fees and am often caught with my proverbial pants down.
Low rather than high powered, I smile benignly, nod appreciatively and endeavour to achieve the general state of alcohol induced anaesthesia required to survive most ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ male exchanges - eternally aware of the all seeing eye of the VOR checking that I do not say anything rude or inappropriate.
If someone is aware that I am involved in wine, openers such as ‘I hate Italian wine’ (general) or ‘Don’t you just loath Sauvignon Blanc’ (particular) are not uncommon. To my knowledge I have never said ‘Isn’t the law boring’ or ‘Invasive surgery - who needs it’? Although a comment about Ugg boots being great for concealing fat ankles continues to haunt me.
Too near a generously overstocked bar I was moving swiftly from the Ink Spots through Mose Allison to Dr John, swearing silently not to deliver any comments about puffy talocrural regions, when my solitary reverie was interrupted by ‘X’.
‘God, pass me some of that I’ve had one helluva day’ - not indicating whether it was bad or good - I relinquished my grip on the bottle of neutral and acidic fizz.
Wearing that most versatile and indestructible modern business combo of grey suit and open necked blue shirt, he fixed me with his gaze, shook my hand firmly, then held it a little too long for comfort.
‘X’ he said, giving me his single syllable name. ‘Julian’ I replied, secretly envious of his unshakeable confidence whilst bemoaning my less dynamic three syllabled moniker.
‘Just smashed our monthly sales targets’. I think I said ‘Cool’ which is a word I probably shouldn’t use at my age, but at least I was engaging in the dance.
‘Investment in staff training has really paid off and now that our sales team have product knowledge we expect significant month on month growth’.
‘What do you sell’? I asked. ‘Wine’ he replied. ‘Didn’t they already have previous knowledge’? I countered, concealing my amazement as I recharged his glass.
‘Well, it’s desirable but not entirely essential, basically it’s just rapid FMCG turnover, same as any commodity, it’s about volume, traffic and money, the key is to close the deal’.
Warming to his theme he informed me that DTH (direct to home) sales – my acronyms were improving with every sentence - were now worth about £800 million which roughly translated to around 13% of the total market share,
‘That’s around 10 million consumer’s regularly buying wine online. The big high street retailers collar 28%, while the other well-known suppliers, such as us, net around 25% of all online sales’.
‘So what your secret’.
‘Exclusive products, large margins, good customer service and unbeatable opening offers’ he replied.
Familiar with his system, but conscious of my legal team of one, I said that if I were a consumer I would have reservations over ‘real’ value for money - or should I say VFM - and felt that impossibly cheap introductory offers, implied that the wines sold were more competitively priced than other retailers but that after the initial sale they reverted to a higher price.
‘Good point, you obviously know your stuff, but the fact is most of our customers are pretty lazy they prefer us to choose for them then automatically re order’.
‘And if they don’t’?
‘Then our sales teams cold call them and entice them back with more special offers or bigger discounts to sweeten the deal’.
‘But what about the quality of the wine’?
‘For the vast majority it makes no difference, but we have higher level products to cater for those who think they know what they’re doing’.
‘Are your customers not concerned that by buying exclusives they’re unable to compare prices with other retailers so have no idea of their real worth’?
‘We don’t just do exclusives, our higher range products are traceable but it’s all about quick turnover old boy’ he said. ‘Our customers are wine drinkers not wine lovers, and everyone’s a sucker for a free gift’.
‘Perhaps I’m in the wrong business’.
He was about to belatedly ask me what I did, when the VOR (Spidey senses tingling) took my arm, and with perfect timing, swept me away saying ‘Darling there’s someone you really must meet’!