Napa Valley Wine Academy

WINE WORK & PASSION EPISODE 3 – Curtis Mann – Albertsons

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In this episode of Wine, Work & Passion, we’ll talk to Curtis Mann, Master of Wine, Group Vice President – alcohol (wine, beer & spirits). Curtis shares insights about working on the retail side of the wine industry and provide actionable advice to help you in pursuit of your wine industry career.  he’ll also share his experience as one of only 52 Masters of Wine in U.S./Canada.

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[00:00:00] Karen Wetzel: [00:00:00] Welcome Curtis. Can you please tell our audience who you are and what you do in the wine industry?

[00:00:03] Yes,

[00:00:03] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:00:03] Karen, my name is Curtis Mann. I am the group vice president for alcohol, so beer, wine, and spirits at Albertsons companies. And that means I lead up a national team for buying for all three of those categories, and I’m also a master of wine.

[00:00:13] Karen Wetzel: [00:00:13] Great. Yeah. Thanks for that. Those are two really big subjects, right? Master of wine and being the wine buyer for the second-largest grocer in the US, so tell us how you got the bug to even get in the wine industry. Before we get into the specifics about the company and your master of wine, how’d you get your, we’re just start.

[00:00:25] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:00:25] I started way back in the day in the early two thousands at UC Davis as an undergraduate student and as a student, right. When I turned 21, I became really interested in wine. I had a lot of friends that were winemakers, and so I got my start in the wine industry and a tasting room. So I worked as a tasting room employee at ZD wines, and that really got me the bug going there.

[00:00:38] They taught me a lot about wine at ZD, and then I just tried to attend as many tastings as I could to learn about it. And that’s really, once I got the bug, as a lot of you probably know it just built and built and built.

[00:00:45] Karen Wetzel: [00:00:45] Yeah, exactly. And when you started at ZD, did you have any wine credentials per se, any initials after your name or things you could brag about?

[00:00:51] No,

[00:00:51] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:00:51] I didn’t. I was 22 and they just saw this kid that was passionate about selling wine. I was passionate about wine before I started ZD and I really try and find a job and they hired me to work one day a week. And the great thing about ZD was, is they committed a lot of time for the tasting room employees to learn about the wine making process with the wine maker.

[00:01:03] And they also paid for some wine education. So I. Was able to take the first level, the Sommelier, a through Z D wine. So I learned a tremendous amount there in the tasting room and it helped really build my structure for a lot of my wine knowledge going forward.

[00:01:12] Karen Wetzel: [00:01:12] So Curtis, tell us how pursuing your credentials, which ultimately led you to becoming a master of wine.

[00:01:15] How did that help you in pursuing the job that you have today? The VP of alcohol for the second largest grocer in the U S

[00:01:20] The

[00:01:20] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:01:20] master of wine is a certification that was built out of the UK retail trade in the 1950s. And so a lot of it is geared directly towards. What wine buyers do day in and day out for me, the theory exam is a lot of what I do on my side from understanding how the wines are made, how they’re processed, how they’re sold, and that’s very relevant to my day in and day work.

[00:01:36] So having to study for all the information about. Quality control or viticulture. And it allows me to really kind of understand the winemaking side of the business and ask the right questions to the wine makers so we can hold them responsible for making their products in a quality way. And then on the tasting side, it helps you taste a wholistically understand quality, which is really important to my customers.

[00:01:51] Balance. And also it helps you assess the wines a lot faster as you practice tasting wines, you become faster and quicker at doing that. And a lot of my job, we taste a lot of wines. You need to be able to process that information quickly. You need to be able to write concise, well thought out notes and all of those kinds of work back into my day-to-day job operation in my current position.

[00:02:05] Karen Wetzel: [00:02:05] Exactly tough job. We have to taste wine all day. Right. But that’s the beauty. I always say, a, job in the wine industry is a lifestyle, not a career. So what advice? There’s a lot of people listening today that are maybe just starting to pursue their credentials, maybe WSET level one or the court level one.

[00:02:16] So talk about what advice would you give them as far as pursuing career credentials as a path to gain employment in the

[00:02:20] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:02:20] industry?

[00:02:21] Yeah. So I think, uh, credentials are an important builder to your career. So they are ways to show that you’re passionate about the subject, that passionate about wine  so they can be a real jumpstarter.

[00:02:29] If you’re looking for a position in the tasting room of a winery or as a wine steward in one of our stores, it shows that you care there’s other pieces to this. Too. It’s not just about wine certification. They have to have some business knowledge and you have to be able to sell things if you want a position like that.

[00:02:45] But I can tell you that when we look at candidates for beverage steward positions, if they’ve got that WSET one or two, then we know that we don’t have to spend a lot of time training them in the wine part of the business. We maybe can focus more on our internal business. So it’s a really important piece to the

[00:03:01] Karen Wetzel: [00:03:01] puzzle.

[00:03:02] Yep. And in our previous episode, Christian and I were talking just about that. Sometimes it can help the credentials can help you overcome lack of wine industry experience in and of itself. You have to get experienced to have experience. And sometimes if you don’t have that experience, but are looking for the job, the credential sort of moves your resume a little higher toward the top of the pile. I think

[00:03:24] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:03:24] sometimes.

[00:03:25] Yeah. And I think that along those lines, it shows the passion that you put in the effort to pass. Say like the WSET that the exam is not incredibly difficult, but it’s not something you just sit down and take, like you’ve shown that you have the dedication to pass an exam. And I think that does show a lot to us when we’re looking at people how dedicated they are.

[00:03:44] Karen Wetzel: [00:03:44] Plus that also gives you a third-party validation, wine education entity, separate from the company you’re seeking to work for is validating that you have a certain level of knowledge, and that can be very telling and very empowering to the candidate as well. So. Great. Okay. Well, we know most of our audience is hoping to find a position working with wine or advancing maybe in a position they already have.

[00:04:08] Can you tell us what types of positions are there? Just in general at retail and grocery, maybe specific to Albertsons, but I know that this isn’t your first rodeo, you’ve worked for a couple of other companies. What is the job market? Like? What kind of positions are there available at retail?

[00:04:24] So

[00:04:24] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:04:24] there are a number of positions available at retail. There is the beverage store. Or wine store position, which is offered up at a good amount of retailers that offer up a higher end selection. So specifically in the grocery industry, Albertson’s fits into that mold when there’s some other regional retailers, definitely that, that opportunity’s there typically that doesn’t require any previous experience. If you have passed the WSET or you have wine industry experience, that might help a little bit, but you can go into one of those positions and really learn about the wine industry. It’s a really good place to start because you get to learn how the customer shops, you can read a lot of books about marketing, but there’s nothing like experience in some cases to learn about that from the beverage steward position, we have what we call operations specialists, and these are pretty typical across the industry. People that work on executing the plan from the buying office. So getting up displays correctly, making sure the store looks nice, cross promotion things along those lines. And then we have the buyer position. And that a lot of times is people that come out of there from a wine steward, and then there are an operations position and then they get promoted to wine buyer.

[00:05:30] Or sometimes we hire from outside of the industry. And one of the things that’s happening in the buyer position is, is that as those positions become more and more complicated, more data oriented, we’re hiring more and more people that have business background, marketing analytics. So kind of a combination of what I have, which is a master’s of business administration with the wine knowledge is really what we ideally look for in a lot of our candidates that are buying wine.

[00:05:55] Karen Wetzel: [00:05:55] So you’re talking about hiring people from outside the industry that have different skills, marketing, analytics, that type of thing. Not necessarily, you can always make that relate to wine because wine is a commodity at that level. It’s more of a numbers game than the sniffing and swirling part. Right.

[00:06:11] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:06:11] There’s a lot of different things that you have to think about when being a buyer you’re right. There are a lot of items that you need to sell, to operate more like a consumer packaged good. At the same time. There’s also quite a few wines that we have on shelves that act like a luxury product. So having the business background to understand the consumer packaged goods side, and then the wine knowledge to understand the luxury side of the business. Is important. And it actually, how a lot of those interact is really key to making sure that you’re an effective buyer. Who’s meeting the needs of many different customers, because we have all sorts of different customers that shop in our stores, . So you have to learn how to figure out where to focus on each kind of category of customer.

[00:06:50] And that’s where the business knowledge is important. And then you can build the wine knowledge on top of it.

[00:06:54] Karen Wetzel: [00:06:54] Of those jobs, which is the job that would get the employee hands-on conversation with customers recommending wines to a customer, maybe educating a customer about a particular what’s in this bottle, looking at a label with a customer and explaining what it means is that really the wine steward

[00:07:12] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:07:12] position.

[00:07:13] Yes, that’s mainly the beverage store and the wine store that that person is the one that has the direct relationship with the customer. And so they’re going to spend the most time directly engaging with the customer, trying to understand what a customer wants. We have in many cases, a thousand or more items on shelves.

[00:07:29] And so you’re really trying to help that customer. Find something new and interesting and a lot of cases, and that’s why they’re looking to you. So there is an opportunity there. I would say the operation specialists in the wine buyers, they don’t spend nearly as much time in the store, but they do spend some time engaging with customers to understand how business works.

[00:07:47] But most of the time that front facing person is the beverage steward.

[00:07:52] Karen Wetzel: [00:07:52] From that point and not necessarily just for Albertsons, but across the general retail industry. Is there training provided by companies when you mentioned you don’t necessarily have to have wine knowledge to get a job as a entry level wine steward, but how do they end up learning?

[00:08:06] Is there internal training? Is it best for them to pursue credentials on their own so they can look at advancement? What are your thoughts on that?

[00:08:14] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:08:14] I think there’s a balance between what we can provide, which is we do provide some training and we’re actually looking at providing even more training. And then there’s you as yourself, as somebody who’s dedicated to the industry is interested in wine can take the next level.

[00:08:29] So we are going to be building some educational programs for our beverage stewards. We already have some built, but we’re going to go even further so that they can learn about a little bit more about wine regions and the types of wines that are in our stores. But there will probably will be never a replacement for the WSET level three, for example, or the diploma.

[00:08:48] Definitely not for the masters of wine. So we have a number of beverage stewards who they take our training and then they step up to the next level and they do those WSET level three and diploma or whatnot. And we have a couple of buyers one buyer specifically, who is actually a stage two student in the masters of wine program.

[00:09:03] So we’ll help you. And then you can also help yourself basically.

[00:09:08] Karen Wetzel: [00:09:08] Yeah, I think that, but I think that’s probably true of every position. I wasn’t handed my wine credentials or handed the opportunity. I had to do some of them on my own and then pursued some through work. I’m just trying to help our audience understand what their investment is, and also understand that the companies you work for will also invest in you to some degree, but it’s everybody puts something into the mix.

[00:09:30] So thinking about these. Job titles that you mentioned the operations specialist and the buyer. So if I’m a sales rep at a distributor, I’m hoping to get a job at a distributor at a sales rep. Who’s the sales rep talking to the most, most often

[00:09:44] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:09:44] there’s different levels of sales reps at distributors as there are obviously in our business.

[00:09:48] And so you have the kind of district manager, or maybe a entry-level sales rep who will talk to individual stores. Talk to them about putting displays on the floor. Typically that sales rep is not. Adding new items to the set, they’re there to take items that are on the shelf and get more placements of them.

[00:10:05] So there’s quite a few of that. So you would talk to individual stores or maybe district managers, district managers for the grocery chain. There’s also the sales reps that call on the buying office. And those typically are a higher level position. And those are the ones that are presenting wines for.

[00:10:21] Assortment decisions. So new items coming in, or they might be managing on discounts for items that they currently have in the set. So there’s a number of different positions at the distributor. Say supplier winery level that execute that

[00:10:35] Karen Wetzel: [00:10:35] as a buyer, any decision about what new is going to be brought into the store would come from the buying position. Also there’s potential for a mandatory displays that get pushed down to the store level. And then at store level, would it be fair to say that then the wine steward has. A little bit of freedom to pick the best spot or to work with the sales rep to get the best final point of sale material signs and all that. Is that fair to say sort of the chain of command, how that happens.

[00:11:02] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:11:02] Yeah.  It’s different according to every grocery chains. So sometimes there’ll be more. Freedom at the store level. And sometimes there’ll be less freedom at the store level. And sometimes depending on the grocery chain, there’ll be more local items available for the wine steward.

[00:11:16] So they’ll actually have a responsibility for maybe possibly buying a small set of items into a store if there’s a local set. So it’s not set in stone across the board. Everyone does it differently. But in general, that is the operation of a grocery chain from a buying side.

[00:11:30] Karen Wetzel: [00:11:30] I want to just summarize these three positions and what the audience needs to know, if any of those sound interesting to them, what they need to

[00:11:37] have.

[00:11:37] So from the wine steward perspective, entry-level not necessarily have wine knowledge, but it’s always a plus. And that there would be some training involved. And that’s a lot of customer interaction sounds like maybe from an ops specialist point of view, maybe that’s a promotion from a wine store. Would that be fair to say. Often, or

[00:11:56]Curtis Mann, MW: [00:11:56] usually what happens with our ops specialists are they’re promoted from a core position, one of the entry level positions at the store. And so there are some times beverage stewards that get promoted. There there’s other parts of the store that they could get promoted as the ops specialist, but generally that’s what happens.

[00:12:11] Karen Wetzel: [00:12:11] So they might become an op specialist without the wine department experience. In other words,

[00:12:17]Curtis Mann, MW: [00:12:17] You could, it just depends. I mean, again, it’s different in different chains, but generally they’re not going to promote somebody into the liquor ops specialist specifically, if that person doesn’t have any wine knowledge now, I mean, there’s always exceptions to the rules.

[00:12:31] You may be really good at setting up displays. And so even though you don’t have wine knowledge, you might get put in that position. But I think that the wine knowledge definitely helps. Like I said, most of our beverage stewards are clerks that then got promoted into the ops position.

[00:12:44] Karen Wetzel: [00:12:44] And then for the buying position, it sounds like you can come up through the ranks, but that you also, if you’re not in the industry, but you have other key skills, like you say, CPG skills or analytics, marketing, that type of thing, that that’s also an opportunity to get into a buying office maybe without so much wine credential, but other assets is that fair to say.

[00:13:07] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:13:07] So if you’re looking to get into a buying position without the store experience, then. You need the wine credentials.

[00:13:15] Karen Wetzel: [00:13:15] Yeah. That would help augment what you don’t have in work experience. That would be a way to lift that up a little bit for that person.

[00:13:22]Curtis Mann, MW: [00:13:22] The way to come in without having the store experience or the ops experience would be, have a very strong wine knowledge background. With a business analytics background and that would help. It’s not definitely not going to replace the store experience, but you can come into that position and then learn the stores and not have to spend time learning the category because that’s one of the things that can be the most challenging. So when I started my buying career, well, actually I started at a small on-premise operation, but one I’m thinking when I started my grocery buying career in 2013, that’s where my. True advantage came was that I had the business, the MBA and the wine knowledge so that I could learn how the stores worked without having to spend hours and hours, trying to figure out the difference between barbera d’asti barbera d’alba, or what is the central coast region that I’ve never heard of.

[00:14:11] So I had all that information in my brain, so that was much faster, so I could worry about, okay, how does this product get to the store? How to different distributors work, how to different wineries work as in getting the product to the store, what the store is expect of me as a buyer so I can have build relationship with them. So I think that’s what, just to be clear, like those buying positions are very difficult to get. And so you’d really have to put together all those pieces to get them. If you hadn’t worked your way up through the store, I mean, even for the store, right. It’s really challenging. They’re very sought after positions. And so at the store level, you really have to perform on that side.

[00:14:43] Karen Wetzel: [00:14:43] And, you know, I know I have gone over this a couple of times. And the reason for that is we have so many different people online. Some have zero wine experience and maybe even very little work experience. Maybe they’re fresh out of college. Maybe they didn’t go to college. So there are positions for that person with hard work and with a little enthusiasm. I’m just trying to give our audience an idea that whatever your resume looks like, there’s probably an area where maybe you’ve got these skills and maybe you just need to add this skill to it that you can actually accomplish. And don’t look at your resume and say, well, I don’t check all those boxes. There’s ways you can. Check those boxes. Just take some initiative and get a few credentials and that type of things take control. I guess I’m famous for saying, I tell my coaching clients all the time. Don’t let a job description get in your way of applying for the job you want.

[00:15:32] Because sometimes there is no unicorn, no one ever checks every box and just try to check as many as you can and you have control over. You don’t have control over whether you’ve. Already have experienced, but you do have control over your wine level knowledge, and that’s something you can do without waiting for somebody else to give it to you.

[00:15:50] So that’s where I’m going with that. So people listen to your thinking. Well, gosh, you know, I never thought about the retail side of things. What is the state of wine? I’m the wine piece within the grocery world retail world.

[00:16:02] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:16:02] Yeah. So the grocery world is a great place to be from a wine perspective. One of the major advantages that grocery has is that everyone has to buy groceries. So you have a captive audience

[00:16:12] Karen Wetzel: [00:16:12] and it’s an essential business as we’ve learned since COVID

[00:16:15] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:16:15] right. So we have definitely benefited from COVID to some extent, I’d have to say that we are very concerned about our restaurant brother and because. The restaurant industry really drives a lot of the trial. And so they drive a lot of the new trends and whatnot.

[00:16:30] And so it’ll be interesting to see over the next six months or so, how things change back and we’re really rooting for them, but for now, because we aren’t essential business and there are definitely some increased traffic, it’s a good place to be. And the other thing that’s really interesting about the grocery industry, and this is where the masters of wine is drives home, is that the majority of the business. In the wine industry is in commercial wines and in those five to $10 bottles. And so you really get it. It’s a great place to be because you learn how wine is sold. How is most of the wine sold in the United States? And you get to see what customers drink. So. That’s why it’s fun to be there. Everyone talks about the high end stuff, which we do sell some of that. But like I said, this, you get that perception of what people really drink. It also grounds you. I mean, grocery is a very, it’s a humble business. It’s not super glamorous, but it’s still fun at the same time. So you get an, a lot of great people to work with and that just want to do that job. Just want to get customers what they want.

[00:17:24] Then there’s not a lot of fluff around it, I suppose. Put it that way.

[00:17:27] Karen Wetzel: [00:17:27] You mentioned that with big stores, you can have higher quality wines. How more expensive wines, how many skews, how many types of wines, how many different bottles of wine do you have in a nice wine department in a fairly large store? Do you think?

[00:17:41]Curtis Mann, MW: [00:17:41] It varies between locations across the United States. Since we have stores in 34 different States that sell wine. So we have some stores, we have our kind of high-end stores that carry between 1,002 thousand sku’s, which are    stock keeping units. Right. So items on that, they’ll vary from $3. Opening price point wine to Opus one, or when some of the stores we’ve got a Chateau, Margaux and Masetto and all sorts of crazy high-end allocated thing.

[00:18:07] Karen Wetzel: [00:18:07] I want shop in that store. I’m going to hang out there.

[00:18:14] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:18:14] Yeah. So we have a, quite a diverse set of products. And as you can see, that’s why sometimes things get quite complicated because selling an opening price point wine at $3 is much different than selling. A Chateau Margaux at a thousand dollars,

[00:18:29] Karen Wetzel: [00:18:29] as you mentioned, that kind of come to mind. First of all, is I hope this opens our listeners minds up to the fact that we think of, Oh, it’s a grocery store wine. And we think of this one $8 bottle of wine, a nondescript wine sitting on a shelf, but that day has kind of gone.

[00:18:44] I mean, yeah, there are definitely grocery store oriented wines for sure. They paid the bills. But I think in today, most stores have a pretty good selection of wines that are not necessarily just geared to grocery you. And I talked to a couple of weeks ago, Curtis and I was dating myself a little bit when I said I started in the wine industry in sales many, many years ago.

[00:19:05] And we called them the gamut brands, Gallo Almaden, and Paul Mason Ingelnook and Taylor, and that was. All the store. And they were always in at least a Magnum, maybe a three liter jug. And that was really all they carried. But boy, when I think of just in my 30 plus years in the industry, what I’ve seen, how much I’ve seen change and it’s really remarkable and how the buying working with buyers. And I used to call on retail chains, headquarters, and just. How the position as a buyer has had to evolve and even the wine steward, if you’re in a high-end store, I think the skillset is not just that you can talk about the high-end wines, but I think it’s an art to be able to talk to the person who’s coming in. Maybe the soccer mom who just wants that nice Pinot Grigio in a Magnum, and then five seconds later, you’re going to have to pivot. And talk to this person who might be interested in that Chateau, Margaux and all things in between. So it’s an exciting place to learn. I think it’s a, if you’re a people person, if you’ve got that ability to pivot, when you’re, open-minded enough to understand it’s all wine, as long as they’re buying wine, it’s good for the store.

[00:20:12] Right. I think that that’s an exciting position to have. I love that idea of working in that diverse environment between the consumer and also the diversity of the wines on your shelves. So. Anyway, that’s my little 2 cents.

[00:20:25] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:20:25] The other thing that’s nice is that we have food inside of the store. So there’s a lot of opportunities to really think of how to get that customer, that kind of perfect combination for dinner.

[00:20:35] There’s a beyond just what’s on the shelf. There’s also the understanding that we’ve got. Prepared food. We’ve got food that you can prepare yourself. We’ve got cheese, all the different things that then can work in concert together with the wine. So it’s a pretty diverse environment from that side. And as a beverage steward, you just don’t only work in the wine department.

[00:20:53] Sometimes, sometimes you might help out on the deli side or you might help out build displays across merchandising and things of that sort. So it’s a good experience from that side.

[00:21:03] Karen Wetzel: [00:21:03] Yeah, for sure. And if you don’t mind, I’m gonna, I’m gonna have a little shameless plug here for the Academy. A dear friend of both of ours, Peter Marks master of wine wrote a course for the Napa Valley wine Academy.

[00:21:14] And it’s called how to pair any wine with any food. I think it’s like $50 course. It’s super easy to take, but if you were looking to get into become a wine steward, or if you’re already a wine steward, It’s a great course to take, because it gives you a really good idea of how to talk to customers about pairing wine and food.

[00:21:31] So anyway, you can check that out at Okay. That wasn’t meant to be a commercial, but it just sort of swerved my way and I wasn’t going to let it pass.

[00:21:39] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:21:39] Yeah. Well, it’s a good commercial. Peter.

[00:21:43] Karen Wetzel: [00:21:43] Any class from Peter is always going to be a good one. He’s been a mentor of both of ours, I think. And he’s been my mentor for many, many years. And I know you guys are at least good friends and. You came up through the MW program behind him. So,

[00:21:56] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:21:56] yeah, he taught my WSET level three. So one of the reasons why I decided to keep going and go all the way into the masters of wine program.

[00:22:06] Karen Wetzel: [00:22:06] Yeah, that’s awesome. In fact, I’ll mention it again at the end, but he’s going to be my guest next month. We’re going to talk about how to become a wine educator and how to have that as your career. So that’ll be a fun podcast. So moving back to what we were talking about though, what kind of company petition in the world of, why, w who’s your biggest competitor talk a little bit about the synergy between restaurants and grocery.

[00:22:26] I always thought that they were competitors, but I really appreciate that you explained that they really are the trial place. And then people come to the retailer to purchase wines. But who else does your competition do you think?

[00:22:37] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:22:37] Well, we have a lot of competitor in our space and we have a lot of other grocery competitors.

[00:22:42] We have clubs, stores, we have big mass retailers that have gotten into wine. So wine is in a lot of different locations. A lot of retailers realize how important wine is to their overall business and how it can accelerate their sales. So it seems like every day there’s a new format coming out. And a lot of people offer good wines around the world.

[00:23:02] And that’s actually why it’s up to us as a retailer to be on top of this, to expand our offerings, to make sure that every item in the store means something because we’re competing against so many more people. And then obviously the online businesses becoming more and more important. So we have drizzly, which was just bought by Uber and we have other online competitors that are. Competing with us in our space. We’re mainly brick and mortar, but we do have a little bit of online business. And so it’s getting more and more complex. I mean, honestly, every day there’s a new news article about this new competitor or this new way to sell wine. And the laws are becoming more flexible in some cases.

[00:23:40] So more outlets can sell wine and more outlets can deliver wine. So it’s quite a bit to digest. And it’s part of the reason why, especially on the buying side, when you become a buyer, you have to have some business knowledge to really understand how to block yourself in against the competition and make sure that you’re doing everything you possibly can to make your customers happy.

[00:24:02] Karen Wetzel: [00:24:02] Exactly. We talked a little bit earlier. We just briefly touched on the idea of salespeople, whether it’s the wine steward, working on a display at local level or the ops people following through on that, are those in the buying office, making the decisions as to what goes on the shelf. And what gets on display to begin with?

[00:24:19] What role do they play in your world? In other words, you’ve got salespeople calling on you. And again, I used to do this, so it’s one of the reasons I’m asking is, and I’m dealing with a buyer. What motivates that buyer to want to buy my wine on a work with me, or start a program or get an ad in your flyer.

[00:24:34] What motivates you to work with one supplier or one distributor? One sales rep over another.

[00:24:39] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:24:39] This is my opinion on my side. And so some buyers may take a different approach, but one of the biggest things is professionalism really kind of being buttoned up, having your presentation put together in a way that if you’re coming into a buying office and you’re presenting a wine that it.

[00:24:54] Makes sense for the retailer too often. I see a lot of suppliers come in and just say, Oh, if you do this, my sales will go up. And I’m like, well, that’s okay. Not about you. That’s great that your sales are going to go up, but does that mean my sales are going to go up? Are we going to work together on this?

[00:25:10] Or am I just going to sell your product? And then your customer is going to go to a competitor next month because the prices are different. Professionalism, having yourself buttoned up there more and more why knowledge? I deal with a lot of folks that are becoming, especially at the distributor and supplier level, becoming better and better on their knowledge of wine.

[00:25:28] And that’s becoming more and more important because as customers have traded up in the grocery industry, we still sell a lot of commercial wines. But we’re selling more $14.99 more $19.99, more $24.99 wines. And those wines typically have some sort of extra feature to them. So the AOC or doc or whatever region you’re from, or a region, a new world region, like a GI or something along those lines, that’s going to provide an extra value.

[00:25:58] To that item then to the customer. And so more and more the most successful at least that the folks at call on us or at Albertsons, they know what they’re talking about. And they can find interesting things within their book that would fit into our shelves. Because if we have a thousand items on a shelf, what does this item mean?

[00:26:18] How is it different? How is it unique and how is it going to excite the customer and the wine beverage store? To be honest, right? How are you going to get the beverage tourists excited about selling it? So I’d say professionalism and why knowledge are important. And then the business understanding of course is number three, right?

[00:26:33] Like you have to understand what our motivations as a company are and how does it fit into yours, which fits into professionalism too, but understanding the world of wine and maybe where your item fits from a competition standpoint, along those lines.

[00:26:45] Karen Wetzel: [00:26:45] We talked about when we teach sales skills block and tackle, but it’s really, it’s the features and benefits. The feature is the knowledge. Here’s the list of what it is. It’s a doc it’s from this region, it’s small quantity, small production, whatever. That is just the feature you have to then be able to say, and this is what it will do for you, Mr. Buyer. This is what it will do for your store. This is how it will impact your sales.

[00:27:09] And when I used to teach a lot of sales skills, when I was with a big supplier, that was. Sort of a light bulb moment for people we think, Oh, we got 91 points and they had this laundry list, but don’t expect the buyer to know what to do with that information. You have to tell them what it actually does for them.

[00:27:25] And again, we’re off the topic here in a way, but we do have a diverse audience and I know a lot of you are either. In sales or aspiring to be in sales. And that’s good advice for those of you who do that as well. We’ve talked a little bit about the qualifications and we may be covered that, but is there anything specific like experience versus credentials for instance, and I guess it would depend on the position.

[00:27:47] We talked a little bit about that, but I guess both have to come hand in hand don’t you think?

[00:27:52] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:27:52] Yeah. I think that there is a good opportunity for. Credentials to help build your career. But experience is important. I think, experience and potential. Sometimes we could, if we see somebody who has got a lot of analytic knowledge and is really able to process data and understand data and interpret data, they may not have to have as much experience at the store level, but in general, That experience is helpful.

[00:28:20] And yeah, I just say that you don’t get hired into a position and this goes all the way to the master of wine. You don’t get hired into a position just because you’re a master of wine. It, it has to do with all the things that you did in your experience. And then you got the master of wine and the combination of those two things, at least that’s my experience.

[00:28:36] On the diplomas the same way. It’s such a great certification, but if you’re really looking at it on the business side of things, you have to have some business background at the same time with the diploma. And I think the combination of those two things is incredible. You can really be a shining star, whether it’s a retail buyer for an independent chain or a grocery chain or a restaurant group or whatnot, there’s quite a few people with these certifications and the business knowledge that have done really well for themselves.

[00:29:00] And really well for their companies. We’ve seen tremendous returns from some of those folks. So I think it’s important to say that the two of them really go hand in hand.

[00:29:09] Karen Wetzel: [00:29:09] So the easiest way it sounds like to get into the retail wine industry is at that wine Stuart level. And so what’s the outlook for that?

[00:29:17] Are there jobs right now? Is this a good time to be looking for a job to enter the industry as a wine steward?

[00:29:23] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:29:23] Definitely. Yes. There are a number of positions across the country, in the beverage steward role. We definitely look for folks that they sometimes are. Full-time sometimes they’re part-time jobs.

[00:29:33] Obviously. It’s a little interesting with COVID right now, but as we come out of COVID, we’ll be back to doing posting tastings and. We’re looking for talented beverage stewards because those beverage stores are really important in creating a relationship with the store. So with Albertsons, within our different banners, like Safeway or Tom thumb, or Jewel-Osco, how are we building a relationship with the customer?

[00:29:53] So that beverage steward is important and we do have some open positions that. We would love to see people with wine knowledge apply to

[00:30:00] and how do they find then you go to What’s the address? How’s your turn for a shameless plug.

[00:30:08] Careers  on the Albertson’s website, oftentimes we post on independent sites too.

[00:30:13] So they do become available. And on the future, I think we’ll be pushing some of them more, a little bit more wine jobs. I know in the past we’ve done that. So you should be looking for them there. If you’re looking for a beverage steward position.

[00:30:23] So you’re going to or you’re going to wind,

[00:30:27] correct?

[00:30:28] Yeah. Or possibly some other, the indeed or LinkedIn. Yeah.

[00:30:32] Karen Wetzel: [00:30:32] Okay, cool. Very good. So to that end, if I’m going to go apply, raise my hand and come to a store and apply for a job at Albertsons tomorrow. What are two or three things that you can tell me that would help me get the interview and land the job?

[00:30:49] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:30:49] If you can show on your resume, your passion for the wine category, why do you want to be a beverage steward?

[00:30:54] And I don’t know specifically how you do that. You show that through possibly education, you show that through maybe some of your previous experience. I know it’s an entry level job, but maybe when you were in. College or if you work part-time jobs somewhere else that showed your passion for wine, maybe it’s a server at a restaurant or something along those lines.

[00:31:12] That’s going to help you from that side. The passion piece is important. If you can show that you’re competent in sales, like you’re engaging, you have a good ability to connect with the customer. That’s going to be also really important. Then the final thing is, I don’t know exactly how you do it on a resume, but I would say when you get into the interview, definitely.

[00:31:30] It’s grocery retail is you work hard. You work really hard, and it’s a great place to learn when you just have to show that you’re a hard worker you’re willing to get in there and get your hands dirty. And you may be selling to a customer a lot of the time, but you also may be at times having to stock shelves and work on that side.

[00:31:45] So getting that message across to the person that interviewing you or who’s looking at a resume is a good opportunity.

[00:31:51] Karen Wetzel: [00:31:51] Well, that’s really great advice. And Curtis, thank you so much. This is a fairly new podcast. I know you I’ve met you a few times and I thought this is a great place because it opens opportunities for a lot of different people.

[00:32:04] And it also lends itself to conversation about other jobs like sales and all of that. And I appreciate very much your experience that you shared your expertise with our audience. I gave them some great advice and really allow them to pursue that dream of working in the wine industry and fulfilling their passion because that’s what it’s all about.

[00:32:23] So, thank you very much for your time and for your expertise. I appreciate that. I also want to let the audience know, first of all, thank you for listening . As I mentioned next month, Peter Marks master of wine will be our guest, and he’ll be talking about entering the industry as a wine educator and views all of his hiring experience and managing experience to let us know about that as well. So that’ll be on the docket for next month. So, Curtis, thank you again. I really appreciate it.

[00:32:50] Curtis Mann, MW: [00:32:50] Thank you, Karen. Thanks so much for having me

[00:32:53] Karen Wetzel: [00:32:53] take good care.



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Karen Wetzel

Karen Wetzel is a highly regarded, experienced Wine & Spirits Industry professional and a well-credentialed Wine & Spirits Educator. With over 30 years in the industry, she has experience in most every aspect of the distribution and supply chain and her expertise can help you jump start or advance your career. Starting as a sales rep, Karen has held key positions within the distribution and supplier network including Category Manager, National Accounts Manager, Director of Sales and Director of Wine Education. She has helped countless others advance their careers through mentorships and best-in-class sales training courses. She has also developed wine & spirits education programs for employees, distributors and restaurant/retail trade partners with the goal of helping them thrive in our industry. Karen is a WSET Certified Educator, has her WSET Level 3 in Wine & Spirits and WSET Level 2 in Spirits and holds expert certifications for Napa Valley, Rioja and American wines from the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Today, Karen teaches at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. She also develops career development content and coaches Wine & Spirits Industry Professionals.


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