LVMHKL (or How to Do Some Business)

"Let's do some business together."

What does that phrase actually mean? Exchange money for goods? Work with one another to achieve a common goal? Develop programs that are exclusive to one's immediate commerce?

Sure. All of those, I guess. In the case of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey and K&L Wine Merchants, it means all of those things and more. Over the last three years, we've become one of the top Ardbeg accounts in the United States. I haven't checked the numbers recently, but I've been told there's no one who sells anywhere near as much as we do on the West Coast. This is not an anomoly or some freak occurance. Neither is it random or coincidental. It's the result of a carefully-crafted plan. It's mainly because we've "decided to do business together."

How did this wonderful relationship start and what does it actually entail? Let me tell you. It started like any friendship does between two people. When David and I took over the spirits department in 2009, we were both really big Ardbeg fans. We had a passion for the brand and went out of our way to support their products. Lester Lopez, the LVMH representative for California, spotted this enthusiasm and began checking in with us to see if he could help. We organized consumer dinners, public tastings, hot deals, and exciting promotions to help build more equity for the brand. It all worked.

We took an aggressive price stance. We were the first retailer that I know of to knock the Uigeadail down under $60 and for a while we were running the 10 year for $35. This sent our Ardbeg sales numbers through the roof. As we all know, limited edition releases for every liquor brand are based on quantities sold during the year. That meant we started getting huge shipments of Supernova, Corryvreckan, Alligator, and the subsequent whiskies that followed, more so than our nearby competitors. This built up an ever bigger frenzy. We were really cooking at this point. All of our hard work reflected the fact that we believed in this brand and it was nice to see that company reciprocate its appreciation.

I can't say enough about how helpful Lester Lopez is. It's gone beyond business at this point. I think of him more as a friend than an LVMH rep. I know that our Champagne buyer Gary Westby feels the same way. He keeps me up to date on stock, pricing, what's coming in, what's running out, special offers, and tasting LVMH product. He's so good at his job he makes everyone else look terrible by comparison. None of this would have ever happened without him. Whenever master distiller Bill Lumsden comes to town or Ardbeg brand manager David Blackmore, Lester always brings them to K&L first. Just recently we had lunch with Glenmorangie CEO Paul Skipworth and business development director Mark Harvey. They wanted to meet with the guys from K&L, who they had heard was one of their strongest U.S. accounts.

We had a fantastic dialogue going throughout the entire meeting. We talked history, strategies, future projects, and possible promotions. I told them my perspective as a retailer and they told me their perspective as business heads of a huge whisky company. It was fascinating, insightful, and genuinely helpful to sit down with a couple of guys from the business side of things. Nothing was off the table and all of my questions were addressed seriously, although mostly off the record (which is fine with me because they aren't the point of this article). As someone who is trying to explain to customers why they should choose one whisky over another, a meeting like this is invaluable. Not just because it shows me that this particular company actually cares about our relationship, but also because it allows me to see how the world outside of K&L might revolve. It allows for perspective.

After the meal we tasted some of the Glenmo Pride, we revisited some of the other high-end selections, we previewed the forthcoming Ealanta (a 19 year old whisky aged in new, charred American oak), and then said our goodbyes. Just checking in, wanted to talk a bit, offer some support, and say thanks for the business. That's how it's done in the liquor world. That's how great relationships are formed and that's how they're maintained. Everyone wins when this type of business happens. Our customers get great products at great prices, we make higher profits due to increased business, and LVMH sees their sales numbers blowup for the Calfornia market.

Why do I bring this up now? For a few different reasons. I wanted to let the guys from LVMH and Glenmorangie know how much I appreciate their support. I wanted to let our readers know that everyone from this company that I've ever done business with is a class act – yes, you're giving your money to a large, luxury brand, but one that actually strives to live up to that label. Finally, I wanted to draw a stark and discerning contrast between Glenmorangie, a large whisky company that has its act together, and an even larger one that does not. I have a feeling that one of the biggest single malt labels we sell at K&L might go missing from the shelves this holiday season, which would be a shame. We've been trying to do business with this company, but we're just not getting anywhere. It's very frustrating. Why continue to support a brand that says one thing to your face, but does another thing behind your back?

In the end, it's all about looking out for each other's best interests. I can safely, proudly, and happily say that LVMH has K&L's best interests at heart and our customers' as well. That's the foundation of any great relationship. It's how business gets done.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll