While there is an increasing number of black entrepreneurs starting wine and spirits businesses, many owners face an overwhelming challenge: securing a distributor that can position their brand on the shelves of retailers so they can eventually generate a profit. We caught up with Lawrence Boone Jr. the Sommelier / Owner of Lawrence Boone Selections to talk solutions for the distribution challenges facing black-owned wine and spirits brands.
When it comes to distributing your portfolio of wines to your target market, what challenges have you faced?
We have one major challenge: getting vendors to taste our wines! Most stores and restaurants are not interested in dealing with unfamiliar distributors and are content with the status quo. For example, when we call or stop by an establishment, even before seeing what we have to offer the answer is “no, not interested”. The way we’ve overcome this is through sheer persistence. We’re constantly checking in or stopping by until they’re either tired of seeing us and hope tasting will get rid of us, or the timing is finally right. This is a very tedious and time-consuming process but required to build our brand and infiltrate the market.
Distributors offer the only link to states’ retail stores and restaurants; therefore, a brand can’t be permitted to sell alcohol without one. Now, with much of the wine & spirits distributed in the U.S being controlled by three mega-distributors, it’s become even harder for minority brand owners to secure distribution.
A select few of national distributors and just a handful of regional big companies control the majority of alcohol distribution. These distributors have strong ties with many retail and restaurant chains and most of these entities are afraid or unwilling to upset the applecart. This has forced us to redirect our efforts to the smaller specialty wine/beer stores, newly opened restaurants, and anyone else open to working with independent distributors.
Where do you think the solution lies?
The solution lies in education and awareness. There is a widespread of specialty shops, minority-owned businesses and retail stores out there; however, there is not a centralized way or place to network and learn who’s who. This is the reason I’m joining Andre Mack (Mouton Noir Winery) and Regine Rousseau (Shall We Wine) at the Vine Wine Clubs 1st Black Wine Symposium in February 2018 to get everyone (winemakers, brand owners, retailer, restaurant owners) together to discuss mutual problems and a unified plan moving forward to transform the industry.
What advice would you give a minority-owned wine, beer, and spirits brand?
My advice would be to seek out small boutique distributors when and wherever they are available. They are more likely to dedicate the necessary time and care needed to introduce lesser known brands to a market. If that fails, contact us. We are always in the market for new brands. In the case we are unable to offer distribution, we are always willing to help with contacts, marketing materials, as well as presentations.