It’s lunchtime at Chatterbox, and the entire team is eating together just outside my door. Last week, we decided to try letting all our Boxters take lunch at the same time. “It’s good for morale,” they said. “Be careful what you wish for,” seems more appropriate, because those ladies are LOUD. It’s hard not to appreciate their happiness and sheer excitement being together. We’ve got a really great sales team.
It’s been a little over a year since I took the helm at Chatterbox. It was a very different atmosphere back then – morale wasn’t super, management was in flux, ownership had changed, and our office space (huge, sterile, and mostly empty) kept our sales team isolated from one another, sucking the energy out of our group. It was no way to live – more importantly, it was no way sell wine. Something had to change – and it had to come from me.
I started in the wine business as a waiter at Tra Vigne in St. Helena. When I moved to California, I had spent a decade cooking and had every intention of running a kitchen, but, as so often happens, 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 the industry, and I was in the middle of it.
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 too early in the day, then saved their half-drunk bottles to share after hours in the church parking lot on the Oakville Grade.
It was such a happy time – gifts every day, great food, great drink and great people – and I just happened to be present enough to recognize how lucky I was. I feel old writing this, but it was a simpler time. It’s also the source of everything I know about wine sales.
After about a year, I was hired by Bounty Hunter to sell wine over the phone. By luck or lightning, I don’t know which, it turned out I was really good at selling wine. During my tenure, I averaged just under $3MM a year in wine sales. Much of my success was due to the great economy at the time, but in all honesty, I just loved sharing the stories about the people and the wines from this place that had nurtured me, as it does the vineyards that surround us.
Many years later, I still feel that strong connection with Napa Valley, and I knew I needed to bring that feeling to Chatterbox. Today, I am a member of a tightly-knit group – 11 Boxters, 3 managers, and myself – more friends and family than co-workers. I’m proud to say that, during my time as General Manager at Chatterbox, we have had 100% retention (we even got one person to come back!), and our team has embraced storytelling and connecting with customers; we make sure that, even if a 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 truly, the goal is to extend the romantic relationship between the winery and the customer. When we partner with a winery, our salespeople bring the products to life; they authentically enjoy talking to customers about the wine and the winery, not just trying to take an order. It makes me proud to work with this amazing group of people.
It’s 1:32pm now and lunch is over. The joyful laughter gradually shifts into a gentle hum of content conversations throughout the office as the team returns to their desks to finish their afternoon calling. And while I already miss hearing the fun, I know that it will be there tomorrow.
Our team of professional, friendly and happy salespeople would love to represent your winery and help with your next direct to consumer campaign. Give us a call, and come experience the Chatterbox magic for yourself.