Worth It/Not Worth It

One thing you quickly learn in the liquor retail business is that not only do different people have different tastes and preferences for flavor, they also have different thresholds and opinions concerning value. One customer may not want to spend more than $30 on a bottle of whiskey, while another may not want to spend less than $100. If you're not able to effectively communicate value (or whether a whisky is "worth the money") along various price points and levels of quality, then you're not going to be much help to your clientele. You need to be able to see things from various points of view, and if you don't have the requisite experience to do so, then really you're just talking out of your ass. One customer may want detailed tasting notes and to compare pricing with other competitors. Another might care more about the uniqueness of the product, or the exclusivity rather than the price. As one of my customers told me yesterday: "In the end, this is all going to be filtered out by my kidneys and end up in the toilet. I'm literally pissing my money away, so you might as well give me an experience."

There are two words that always need to be included when you use the terms worth it/not worth it: to me. For example, you can tell me that the Whistle Pig "Boss Hog" isn't worth $174.99 to you (and I might even agree with you), but I've got hundreds of other customers who would say otherwise. Why are they willing to pay that much for a 13 year old rye whiskey? Because they think it tastes good and they think the price matches the qualitative level. In my opinion, being an effective retailer doesn't mean you tell people what's good and what isn't (that's for people trying to sell themselves, rather than a bottle of whisky). To me (key words), it's about trying to understand what people want and then giving it to them. To do that, however, you need experience.

When I was in Paris a few weeks ago, I had just finished up lunch with my wife at Pret a Manger at the end of Champs Elysée, when we stumbled upon this placard. When I say we had "just finished up lunch", I mean we had stopped eating literally two minutes before walking across the street and noticing the Maison de la Truffe.

"Oh shit," I said to my wife. "I've never really had truffles before and I want to."

"We can come back tomorrow, right?" she said.

"No, there's no time. We either do it now, or we don't do it,"

"But we just ate."

"Can you eat again?"

"Look who you're talking to."

So we went in and had a second lunch, mere minutes after finishing our first one. I wanted the experience of ordering a $75 bowl of risotto. Why? Because I wanted to know what freshly-shaved black truffles tasted like. If you don't know, then you can't effectively tell customers which wines would pair best with a truffle menu, now can you?

Was it worth it? Totally, because now I know, and as I once learned from G.I. Joe in front of the TV every Saturday morning, "knowing is half the battle" in the retail gig. The other half is translating that knowledge into a recommendation that your customer will ultimately enjoy.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll