The sound of laughter coming through my closed door is loud, I had to get up and ask “what was so funny?” It’s lunchtime at Chatterbox – and most of our team is eating together. Last week we made the decision to all take the same lunch hour – “it’s good for morale”. Be careful what you wish for...
It’s been a little over a year since I took over the helm at Chatterbox. The day I took over – morale was low. Management was in flux, ownership had changed, our office was sterile and so big it sucked the energy out of the group and our sales team was isolated. It was no way to live – more importantly, it was no way to feel while you were selling wine. Something had to change – and it had to come from me.
My start in the wine business was as a waiter at Tra Vigne in St. Helena. I had cooked for a decade on the East Coast and had every intention of running a kitchen – but I needed to make some money. It was 1999 and there was no bigger hub for wine – Tra Vigne was filled with the who’s who of our industry and I was in the middle of it. More importantly, I remember so clearly what it did to my senses. Just pulling up for a shift on a hot day, the rosemary in the garden would intertwine with the burning oak from the pizza oven. The scent was intoxicating. We waited on people sweating and drunk from tasting wine too early in the day. Then saved their half-drunk bottles to share after hours in the church parking lot on the Oakville Grade.
I don’t remember a happier time – there were gifts every day, great food, great drink and great people – I just happened to be present enough to recognize how lucky I was. I feel old writing this – but it was a simpler time and god, I miss it.
A year into my time in the Valley, I was hired by the Bounty Hunter to sell wine over the phone. Luck or lightning, I don’t know which, but, I was struck with the ability to sell wine. During my tenure, I average just under 3MM a year in wine sales. So much based on the great economy at the time – but in all honesty, I think it was because I loved sharing the stories about the people and the wines from a place that has nurtured me as it does the vineyards that surround us.
Today, many years later, I am a member of a tightly-knit group. Chatterbox Wine Marketing is made up of 17 ladies and myself. We are more friends and family than co-workers. We hire and train people that fit our group. Our mantra, “we are in the wine business, it’s supposed to be fun”.
Chatterbox has 100% retention during my tenure as General Manager; which is huge. I’m most proud of the fact that our team has embraced storytelling and connecting with customers – even if the customer doesn’t purchase on the call – they leave with a vivid reminder of their visit to the winery.
In sales terms, we’d call it engagement, but, I truly feel like you’ve extended the romantic relationship between your winery and the customer. Our sales team takes pride in talking to your customers about wine – not just trying to take the order.
It’s 1:32 now and lunch time is over. It’s quiet now as everyone has returned to their desks to finish their afternoon calling. I already miss hearing the fun
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