By Andy Young

Any wine brand, producer or company that is serious about distribution in the United States should attend the Australian Trade Tasting, according to keynote speakers Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey.

Houlihan and Harvey founded Barefoot Wines and they will be sharing their experience in building that brand from nothing. It is now the largest wine brand in the world.

Speaking to TheShout about the Trade Tasting and their presentation, Houlihan said: “We learned a lot in setting up. People used to say to us, ‘how come you are able to distribute around the world, with all those crazy international laws?’ I said ‘because we can distribute it in the United States, with all those crazy interstate laws’.”

Listening to the pair speak about their experiences and their brand it is immediately clear that they have an incredible amount of knowledge and they are keen to share it. 

They said that they will be talking about how to develop strategies for gaining traction in certain states and for increasing sales without having huge upfront costs and the pair will be going into more detail on this during their talk.

Houlihan told TheShout that the number one problem in the US was compliance. “We would recommend that exporters to the United States enlist the aid of a professional compliance specialist,” Houlihan said. “We did that. I can tell you some of the laws in some of the states, but they change quite radically quite often.”

Other considerations from Michael and Bonnie are regarding distributors.

Harvey said: “There are two massive distribution companies in the US and while it is tempting to pick them because of their nationwide contacts, the question to be asked is ‘with such large portfolios will they be able to give your brand the attention it requires?’There are smaller distribution companies looking at more specific areas, but then you have to ask yourself will they pay the bill on time.”

Then there is the world of brokers and while this can just mean that there is a fourth person taking a piece of the pie Michael admits that there are “a lot of new, young, go-getter brokers who are doing a hell of a job of selling and they know that there are a lot of brands out there that can’t afford to have their own sales person in every state and every city in the United States.

“These brokers say ‘If I have your brand I will do every bit as good of a job for you as your own salesperson would do’. Now most of them are lying,” Michael added, “but a few of them are telling the truth.” The pair also has more advice on brokers and what they could mean to your brand in the US.

One of the many reasons to go and see what Houlihan and Harvey have to say is that they have been there and they have done it. They have come up with a brand, they started with nothing, they got it into distribution, they built it up, they became a national best-seller, they became the hot brand of the year for two years running, with the fastest growth rate and they attracted the largest wine producer in the world, E&J Gallo, who then hired the pair as consultants for a year to show them how they did it. 

They also have an understanding of how sales work in the on-premise world of the US. Described by Houlihan as “problematic”, producers have to make almost every sale themselves, have to organise distribution and many restaurants may only end up buying one case at a time, especially if you are a new product. Houlihan added that with on sales there can be as much of an issue with staying in store as there is getting in there in the first place, and if you are a fast mover you could even be in more trouble.

“The main reason that people should come and hear us talk,” Houlihan said, “is that we have real world experience and we actually did it. We were faced with all these challenges and we are going to give hints, tools and secrets away at the trade tasting. 

“What I would say is if you are serious about selling wine in the United States, then bring a notebook or a tape recorder. We have a company called Houlihan and Jones, it is a beverage alcohol consulting business and all we do is help producers get distribution, achieve cash flow and get their brand to a point where it becomes an acquisition target. That’s what we do and we are the real McCoy.”

As well as learning from their experiences attendees of this workshop at the Australian Trade Tasting will also receive a copy their New York Times bestseller book “The Barefoot Spirit – How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America's #1 wine brand.”

The Australian Trade Tasting takes places in Melbourne from 31 August to 2 September and in Sydney on 7 September, Michael and Bonnie will be speaking in Melbourne on 2 September on the US export market focus day. Tickets are available from the Australian Trade Tasting website.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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