The Devil Drinks Whisky, Too

I was actually at the Prada store in Livermore yesterday while shopping for winter clothes. Because it was the factory outlet and not one of the fancier flagship stores, this incredible men's leather travel bag was only $1750, rather than $3200. Even still, I was honestly tempted. Laugh if you want, but fashion and booze go hand in hand. You think you'll never spend big money on them until you start to understand what makes them work, then all of a sudden you're spending insane amounts on big name products. Think I'm kidding? Think you're too smart to be swayed by advertisements, reviews, or Parker points? That's what young intern Anne Hathaway thinks too, until Meryl Streepplaying her best Anna Wintourreads her like last year's trashy beach novel. This happened to be on TV last night, so I sat through it again. A really good movie, especially if you care about your clothes.

-David Driscoll


And Still More on Customer Service

There was an article in the Chronicle this morning about how the new Levi's stadium in Santa Clara hasn't helped to reduce the bad element at 49ers games. The author suggests that high prices have lead to more secondary market buyers, due to the fact that season ticket holders can no longer afford a season's worth of tickets. Because it now costs an arm and a leg to attend a game, you have people who are frustrated and/or trying to get the most for their money (possibly pounding a case of beer in the parking lot before the game starts to cut down on costs).Ultimately, the case is made that the push for more moneyfrom ticket sales, merchandise, and alcohol consumptionhas lead to more problems with behavior. You can read the piece for yourself and see if you agree. There's a bit of classism at work, but there are some interesting points.

What I found more interesting were the points made by some of the commenters: namely, that the 49ers need to do more to screen out the troublemakers and prevent them from attending. Some even suggested that capitalistic desire may have ownership looking the other way; just taking the money and turning a blind eye to the hijinks that follow (if you haven't kept up with this story, a fan was recently paralyzed after being senselessly beaten by two thugs in the restroom). While trying to run a business and provide good customer service, the 49ers are stuck between two difficult choices: either screen your fans and decide who can and cannot enter your stadium, or risk irritating long-standing fans don't want to put up with the riff-raff.

I thought about this story a great deal today, as I received a few emails this week from readers who didn't think it was any of my business what K&L shoppers did with their bottles after purchasing them (this was in reaction to my piece about bottle flippers and us trying to prevent their prevail). As someone who publicly strives to provide good customer service, these folks felt the need to remind me that good service consists of making the sale, providing the product, and keeping my opinions to myself. Each reader definitely had credible points of view. Because who wants to be lectured by the people you're giving your money to, right? Just STFU and give me my Pappy, jerk.

However, while I am a huge 49ers fan (going to the Stick at least twice a year) and was initially excited about the new stadium in nearby Santa Clara, I don't plan on attending a game until this problem gets addressed. As someone running a business, I believe it is entirely your job to look out for your core customers and make sure that they're protected from outliers who could ultimately ruin their experience. In my case, that means making sure that bottle flippers and cherry pickers don't snag all the most desirable bottles before I can allocate them to my best K&L customers. It's absolutely my business who does and doesn't get a bottle of Pappy at K&Lliterally. If I don't make sure the right people get the right bottles, I'll lose the business of those who count on me to do so. In the end, I'm not willing to sacrifice my core constituency (or my core principles) for the prospect of a larger crowd.

I know a lot of 49ers fans who are only watching from home these days. They don't feel like dealing with the drama. I don't ever want our best K&L customers to feel like they can't count on us. Every day is gameday in the retail world.

-David Driscoll


Quick Economics

Two of my colleagues and I went to see Austan Goolsbeeformer economic adviser for the Obama administrationspeak in San Mateo Wednesday night. He was incredibly animated and surprisingly hilarious. I really enjoyed his presentation. Here are some interesting tidbits he addressed that I think relate to whisky.

-Bubbles tend to form within sectors that show irregular growth. For example, if the housing market were to continue growing at a 13% gain per year that would be an incredible investment opportunity. It's such a great return on your money that you'd be insane not to invest in property! Except that growth like that tends to be followed by a sharp decline. He specifically mentioned that the greatest irregularities tend to involve things that rich people spend money on. The average price of collectable contemporary art, for example, which apparently doubled from 2013 to 2014. I think you could also include old and rare whiskies in this category.

-Austan Goolsbee does not think that Silicon Valley or the housing market in the Bay Area (which show this kind of unprecedented growth) constitute bubbles. One of the most interesting points he made contrasted the difference between Detroit and Silicon Valley. Detroit made American cars back in the past, and they still make American cars today. American car sales have plummeted, however, so that market is collapsing. In the early 1980s Silicon Valley manufactured microchips and computers. Today, however, it's mostly social media and cloud-type businesses. No one here actually makes the laptops and hard drives we use to do our business, like they did thirty years ago. His point was that successful markets and businesses adapt. If you keep selling the same thing and that thing goes out of fashion, then you've tied your fate to the current fad. Silicon Valley has continued to change as needed, constantly moving on to the next new technology, so he doesn't see the financial success of the tech industry as a bubble; rather as intelligent adaptation. If tech companies continue to succeed, then expect tech salaries to remain high. If Bay Area tech salaries continue to stay high, then expect housing prices to remain high as well.

-Recovery or return from either prosperity or recession (in other words, back to the way things used to be) can only happen if "the way things used to be" wasn't itself an anomaly. One of the jokes Austan made at the beginning of his speech was about recovery from the recession and a return to more prosperity. He said experts first claimed we would experience a V-shaped recoverydown, then back up like a V. Then, when it didn't happen, they said, "Well, it might turn into more of a U-shaped recovery with a longer period at the bottom." Then, when the following year didn't bring more gains, it turned into an L-shaped recovery, which doesn't really resemble any type of recovery whatsoever. In his opinion, the moment that economists are hoping to return to (in this case, 2005) was itself not a period of prosperity built on a solid foundation; therefore, he didn't think we would be going back anytime soon. He also added: the two predictions in the economic world that are most commonly false are forecasts for bubbles and recoveries.

-David Driscoll


Opposite Day (or How Not to Get Pappy)

In brief, here is my advise to help you get a bottle of Pappy this year from your local retailer. It's more of a list of what not to do, however, rather than what you should do.

"I'm a really good customer."

No you're not. You know why? Because "really good customers" don't tell people they're "really good customers." "Really good customers" don't ever have to tell people they're "really good customers." They just are. AND your local retailers already know who the "really good customers" are. Trust me, if you have to tell your local retailer you're a "really good customer" then you're not.

"I spend a lot of money here."

Everything is relative. What seems like a lot of money to you isn't to someone else. I, personally, do not believe in plutocracy, hence why we don't just give our K&L allocation of Pappy to the people who spend the most money with us. We do a raffle to keep everything fair and give people who spend more moderate sums of moneybut who are loyal shoppers nonethelessthe chance to also enjoy the finer things in life. HOWEVER, if you have to tell your local retailer you "spend a lot of money here," well.....see my point about being a "really good customer." Did you spend $197,000 here in one hour last weekend? No? Because that's what a guy from Hong Kong did. Seriously. And he never once had to tell me he was spending "a lot of money."

"I hear you guys do a raffle. How do I enter?"

Here's the thing: we do a raffle at K&L, but it's not like we're just throwing names into a hat and blindly picking people. You still have to meet a few important criteria (which we will not be divulging to you). If you have to ask your retailer about the raffle, then your chances of winning are probably zero. The people who have been shopping at these stores for years already understand how these raffles work, so they're not asking. By asking, you're giving yourself away as someone who hasn't shopped there for very long. For example, if you just found out via this blog that K&L does a raffle, then you have no chance of winning. You have to have been a part of our insider whisky list for sometime to qualify for any limited edition raffle bottles. I can promise you that other stores are doing the same thing. It would be completely stupid to give your most-prized possessions away to completely random shoppers who may or may not ever come back again. New shoppers do sometimes win, but never customers without a solid order history.

"I got a bottle of Pappy last year and would love to get one again."

If you got one last year, then I'm definitely going to give it to someone new this year (who didn't get one last year and might never have been able to get one previously). You might want to keep that bit of information to yourself.

"Hi, I was wondering if the Pappy is here yet?"

The more you call, email, or ask, the more annoyed each store will get. Having a retailer loath your existence will definitely not help you get a bottle of Pappy.

Bottom line: actions speak louder than words. Just be a cool dude and don't constantly try to prove yourself through words. I find that people who tell me they're smart are usually pretty stupid. In fact, usually when people feel the need to tell me something about themselves, the opposite is usually true. Trying to bully your way into a bottle of Pappy with bravado is going to get you nowhere.

Just play it cool.

-David Driscoll


Important Wine Tasting in RWC

If you've got five bucks and fifteen minutes, then it behooves you to drop by the Redwood City store tonight between 5 and 6:30 PM tonight and taste the Te Whare Ra selections with winemaker Anna Flowerday. These are some of the best direct-import wines we have at K&L and the Sauvignon Blanc might be the best we have from any region of the world. Ryan Woodhouse, our new Southern Hemisphere wine buyer, has done for our Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa wine department what David OG and I did for the booze. He works his ass off because he loves what he does and it shows in his commitment to his category. Two years ago I wouldn't touch most of the heavy-handed shiraz wines and overly-grassy white wines from down under; today, however, I think his discoveries are some of the most exciting wines we have at K&Lperiod. With the direct-import pricing we get from using our own middleman, these wines are insanely inexpensive for the quality. Come by tonight and you'll see exactly what I mean (plus, we've got the winemaker herself in town).

Te Whare Ra makes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. All of them, plus maybe a few extras, will be available in tonight's event. For $5 you can't drink any better than this in the entire Bay Area. If you even remotely like wine, then you should come by. These are crowd-pleasing expressions that will excite even the most general of drinkers, while simultaneously stunning the more-experienced aficionado.

Get your ass over here tonight!

-David Driscoll