James is the new accounts manager for northern England and Scotland at Alliance Wine. His nine years as a rep have included roles at Tanners and Inverarity Morton
I love the north of England; I’m from Manchester. Driving through the Pennines or the North York Moors on a day like today, there’s nothing better. It’s a great life being out and about and seeing people and I love that every day is different. I’ve got customers in Northumberland, so I might be there and then down to the centre of Manchester, and I am taking over Alliance’s Scottish customers too, so it’s really exciting and so diverse with so many different kinds of people. I can’t wait to meet everyone.
In my car, I listen to the radio – news and sports. James O’Brien on LBC in the morning and then 5Live. I find commercial radio a bit too much. You can start singing the jingles and still be singing them when you get home. The children look at me like I’m an idiot!
There’s plenty going on in the north. I think in the past perhaps there could be a sniffy attitude from the south. In my 20s if I was at the London Wine Fair I would always feel that the thinking was, “oh, here he comes with his flat cap and his whippets!” But the wine trade has changed, the north has got some fantastic businesses selling great selections of wine and it is a much more inclusive and dynamic place now.
I worked in wine shops for 10 years and I know how hard it is. The hours are long and you have to think about staff issues, all the finances and a whole host of mundane but vital things. However, there was nothing better than selling a bottle of wine to a customer for them to come back a week later to thank you and ask what else you recommend. It was a thrill. I get the same feeling now I am a rep. Working with this diverse portfolio I can do the same, and there are always loads of different wines to recommend next time around.
I’ve missed all the tastings that my customers host. Seeing the end consumer and answering their questions is always a great chance to see how the wines are received by the people that drink them. It’s great insight and I enjoy helping our customers on the day, but also understanding their customers better. It’s all about being supportive, and at those key times of the year when tastings can really make a difference to a business, boosting the sales. It’s nice to know you’ve played a small part.
If you’ve been stuck in the shop over the last 18 months and you haven’t been to any tastings and had those normal connections with people in the wine trade, I like to think a chat with a rep can reassure you and help get a good idea of what is going on with other people, to keep everything in perspective.
My role is to understand who my customer is and I am working really hard on unearthing all the little gems in this new portfolio so whatever my customers are after, I can help them. I started off as a waiter and that has set me up very well, deciding if a table is one you could have a laugh with or wants to be left alone. You become very good at understanding people, very quickly.
I’m always blown away by just how fantastic the shops are. They are full of enthusiastic staff who know their stuff, they are always looking to innovate and try new things. There’s a whole new generation of people coming through who are much more interested in funky wines, and labels, and they are looking for a story too. I am itching to get in front of customers to show the array of wines I can sell. We have so many cool labels that really leap out at you, and great stories for people to learn too. I know those wines will fly off the shelves and make a real difference to the bottom line and the end-customers’ satisfaction.
Feature sponsored by Alliance Wine.
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