What U.S. importers look for in a supplier partner

We’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of U.S. importers over the years, and we often ask them, “What makes a great winery client?” In summarizing the responses from various importers, key points start to gel around some practical suggestions for international wineries looking to export to the U.S. Here is the condensed version:

  1. Job #1: Sell the importer. Know how your brand will complement their portfolio. Show how your wines fit trends, will make them money, have a compelling story, are priced right, and have great volumetric potential.
  2. Do your homework. Wine-searcher.com is your new best friend. Go online and research competitor product lines, pricing, and positioning so that your offer is competitive and realistic. Know the sales channels where you are most likely to succeed.
  3. The real work begins after the first shipment. We’ve heard that importers in other countries provide more sales support than U.S. importers, so don’t expect U.S. importers to do all the selling. Present them with a comprehensive marketing and sales plan including media plans, market visits, PR and scoring plans, etc.
  4. Start by focusing on a few states. By demonstrating success in 2-3 states, you can entice importers in other states.
  5. Provide a professional presentation. Include items like a winery fact sheet, tech sheets, winemaker bio, accolades from third parties that are recognizable to the U.S. trade (e.g., Decanter), etc.
  6. Consider secondary markets. There are a number of great wine markets outside of the usual suspects of the New York tri-state area, California, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois. Do some research to uncover those secondary markets.
  7. Bring a global mindset: A French winery, for example, is not just competing with other French wineries, but also with Australia, Italy, Washington state, and Chile.
  8. Know the difference between your “brand” and your product: Your product is what you make; your brand is what you stand for, your story. These are often confused.

These are some practical suggestions. But you should also Google, “How to do business in America” so that you understand its business culture. A few quick suggestions:

  • Get to the point. For example, summarize what you want and why in the first sentence of an email, not at the end.
  • Be on time. Arriving late to a meeting, or being unprepared, is considered disrespectful.
  • Know cultural values. Americans, in general, place a lesser value than Europeans do on tradition and history, organizational hierarchy, and youth versus experience.
  • Follow up. Follow-up a meeting with an email within 24 hours that summarizes who will do what and when.