A Shift In Sales Philosophy
Since taking over at the end of 2009, David OG and I have been very cautious with our buying (as any new buyer should be) and we've been even more careful with our volume. Like other stores in the midwest and the east coast, we probably could have purchased multiple Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, or Elmer T Lee casks simultaneously, so that we always had at least two going at all times, but instead we only did one at a time. This happened for two reasons - 1) we only bought a barrel if we REALLY liked it. 2) we wanted to bring in the barrel, announce it, and move it out before committing to another large purchase. We weren't sure how large the demand was for our exclusive casks, but when the barrel of A.D. Rattray Clynelish 27 sold out on pre-order, we realized that we had created a larger market for our whiskies.
Thanks to all of the local whiskey enthusiasts, we're able to make riskier and more exciting purchases because we know that there is a demand here in the Bay Area. However, I'm seeing more orders leave the state and that means people from all over the U.S. are taking note and I want to be able to supply that demand. It's become the case that when we bring in a barrel our customers only have about 2 or 3 weeks to decide if they want to buy it and then it's gone forever. This puts pressure on the customer to decide quickly, and the scarcity could definitely be seen as a marketing tool where no one wants to miss out on something, so they buy because they would rather have it than not get a chance later. While that's a model that has been very successful for us, I don't think it's ultimately how I want to run the whiskey department. My philosophy has always been focused on education, creativity, and inclusivity, however, it's the exclusivity that has driven our sales.
In my opinion, there is only one way to remedy this situation and I think everyone is going to like it: buy more casks. If we always had a strong rotation of numerous K&L whiskies then each one wouldn't seem like such a "gotta buy it right now" bottle. You might think I'm crazy for wanting to slow down the sales of each purchase, but I'm getting my heart broken by emails/phone calls from customers who want to purchase of bottle of the Mannochmore 28 or the St. George 11 and are devistated to hear they missed out. While the demand we have created for our casks is amazing, the frustration generated by the small window available to buy them is palpable and real. How can we reach out to new customers when our best products are constantly sold out? Having more casks to choose from at any given time would mean less attention would be given to any particular one, slowing down the rate of purchasing and giving our customers more time to try and then purchase more should they want to.
Here's the problem, however. I've literally been begging distributors to find me more barrels. Get me samples, let me give you tens of thousands of dollars right now! The process is mindbogglingly slow. They must get me a list of barrels available from which I must choose only a few to sample. That selection then has to be relayed back to Scotland, where the samples are drawn from the barrel. The warehouse must then file the proper paperwork and prepare the bottles for shipment to the distributor. A month later, I might get these samples, which represent only a fraction of the overall selection. I then taste and decide. This usually creates one more big problem: what if I don't like any of them? The process then starts all over. Considering it takes at least another two months after selection to get the barrel bottled and shipped to the U.S., it could be months before we see it at K&L.
But what if I were to go to them? On Monday I plan on sitting down with our owners and laying out the case for my first Scotland trip. David OG and I need five days of massive tasting to help secure more booze for K&L customers and we're going to do it or die trying. We have insanely high standards (to the frustration of many distributors) and we will not buy for the sake of buying - even if we know it will sell. That's just not how we roll. The West Coast needs more independent casks of high quality single malt whisky. There's only one way to make that happen at the speed we need it done. Go to Scotland and take care of business.