Make Friends with People in “Low” Places to Understand Distribution


We had no money. We had no knowledge of the industry. So how did Barefoot Wines become the blockbuster that it is today? Distribution management!

True Grit

Distribution is the life blood of consumer products. Regrettably, it is often overlooked by consumer brand builders in favor of the more glitzy, more fun, easier, and creative aspects of marketing. Yep, distribution is pretty gritty by comparison. It involves packaging, pallets, forklifts, warehouses, sorting, drayage, trucking, delivery, scheduling, inventory, supply, compliance, and more! They are all, however, critical aspects of successful CPG sales. Not very romantic, exciting, or creative – just essential.

Half Cocked

But to listen to the “marketing gurus” it’s easy to get the idea that all you need is a great product, a cute name, a compelling catch phrase, and colorful merchandising materials – and you are golden!  In fact, most of the successful CPG brands have all these in common. So what’s wrong with that thinking? It’s only a partial solution.

Reality Bites!

Sure, all those things are required, but you’ll still fail if you don’t focus on distribution realities first! Distribution defines the size and shape of your package. It determines the parameters for your logo. It is distribution that dictates the size, weight, and structure of your carton, the length and size of your message, and even the colors you choose.  What if you created a killer logo, label, package, and message without knowing the requirements of the marketplace, the limitations of transportation, or the constraints of compliance? You’d fail!

Workers’ Perspectives

We started out without experience in our industry and no money for advice from a marketing company. We didn’t know it then, but they turned out to be assets! With no other obvious choice, we went out, hat in hand, and asked advice from the people who were actually doing the physical work in the industry. “Nobody ever asked me for my opinion!” we were frequently told. And so they spilled!

Practical Problems

They told us about the problems CPG products had getting through the distribution system from their perspective. Maybe it was the missed delivery because the carton wasn’t clearly marked, and therefore it could not be seen in a dark warehouse. Maybe it was the label that was printed to the edges that, when scratched in the handling process, showed the white paper it was printed on – and subsequently was seen by customers as “damaged goods.” Maybe it was the package that collapsed during shipping, or the one that was too tall to fit on the shelf space.

Play by the Rules!

And the list went on. It was quite an education, and not from the white collar folks, but from the forklift operators, the production line workers, the truck drivers, and the store clerks! They knew firsthand about the many follies made by the marketing team that was isolated and insulated from the restraints of distributing a physical product. But these were the folks who were our top advisors on the design and packaging of what is now the world’s #1 wine brand!

We made friends with people in “low” places, people with dirt under their fingernails!  They are, after all, actually getting things done!