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Reflections of a Wandering Liquor Salesman, Part 3

Reflections of a wandering liquor salesman …

1st of September 1984 was the first day of the rest of my life … I’ve just turned 63 … how did that happen ? I still feel like a new boy, and sometimes when I go into meetings, I doubt my right to be there. When people refer to my long experience, I look around and wonder who on earth they’re talking about. Only when I look in the mirror, do I see what they see … ‘no spring chicken’ !

I studied Natural Sciences at King’s College, London, but on completion decided there was no money in Biology, so I went on to do an MBA at business school. When I finished, I thought banking would a be an interesting profession, so I applied to Wells Fargo Bank in London (it seemed a grand name, and one I was familiar with from the John Wayne films!) … in a very direct American way, they told me I was quite unemployable and suggested I ask my Dad for a loan and set up my own business.

That worked for a while, but I found it hard having to ask my Father for my salary, or a new car, and my Father was nothing if not competitive, which made me feel I was walking on hot coals for many years, but it enabled me to learn the industry, and I learned as much from him what to do, as what not to do !

I remember (partly by accident) finding a buyer for Dad’s business in 1984 , Capital Wine & Spirit Co. Ltd, & deciding that it was time to set up my own business. The date was 1st September 1984. I often tell new entrants into the Liquor business, if I had known then how hard it would be, and what scary moments I would encounter over the years, I would never had the nuts to set up on my own. Many times over the years I envied those who got themselves a job with its inherent safety and enveloping benefits and safety nets. But youth is blind and precocious and I began with just an old desk beside my bed and a telephone… no customers, no products and no suppliers.

I recall some months later looking out of my office window and seeing some bank hoarding advertising it’s advisory services, with some copy like, “70% of businesses go bankrupt within the first two years…” and I reasoned that the rest go bust (some time) after two years ! There have been many moments when I wondered where the rent would come from, but some big hand up there, seemed to provide when the need arose.

With virtually no money, I started as a commission agent selling wine, offering wholesalers mixed containers of Italian wines earning a 5% commission on the sales, and somehow I managed to keep the boat afloat. No sales for the first 5 months was scary, and my Father’s words echoed in my head … “ you’ll never make it as a commission agent selling wines”. My suppliers at the time, Casa Vinicola Gottardo in Dolo, (Venezia), staked me to visit the USA and Puerto Rico to sell their wines and whilst in Los Angeles, I met up with the Company that used to sell my Father Tequila, who confided they weren’t getting on with the new Buyers and would I be interested in taking on the brand?

That offer took me from being a commission agent to a bona fide liquor importer. Shortly afterwards, a similar meeting happened with J Wray & Nephew, the well-known Jamaican Rum producers and this cemented my new direction. to be continued ..

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