Click Clicks

Click Wholesale Distributing

Every serious Northwest wine drinker knows that finding just the bottle you're looking for can be a frustrating treasure hunt. Over the last decade, winemakers, wine-shop owners, and restaurateurs have gotten just as frustrated as consumers, thanks to mergers that have left the distribution pipeline clogged and inefficient. Mergers are supposed to promote efficiency, and if you're a Gallo or Mondavi, they probably do. But any firm not shipping at least a hundred thousand cases a year may find it hard to get distributed at all. Even if they persuade a mega-distributor to carry their line, the sales force is driven to push the big-selling star brands at the expense of smaller fry. But every impediment is also an opportunityfor somebody. Here in the Seattle area, for no one more than Peter Click and partners, whose Click Wholesale beer and wine operation has grown from near invisibility to a strong presence in the beverage business in less than two years. Click made his name in Northwest wine circles as an importer of Australian wine, a hot and growing market area. He ramped up his visibility as importer of the Fat Bastard line from France, the fastest-growing brand in international wine commerce. When merger mania led to distribution chaos and sales-force layoffs, Click saw a chance to capture a wider market share. He hooked up with Jim Florio, a 20-years-plus wine-sales veteran, Peter Knox, equally experienced in restaurant wine sales, and Rick Steckler, a distribution expert with deep roots in the artisanal beer business. In little more than 16 months, their firm Click Wholesale Distributing has gone from a blip on the screen to a major player in the premium wine and beer game. The partners are candid about how they got their company off the ground: by cherry-picking high-end wine and beer producers neglected by the big guys, not to mention cherry-picking the very best sales and operations personnel, some laid off by the biggies through downsizing, others frustrated by the impersonality of the merged workplace. "We were filling a void," says Knox. "It's that simple." How does that affect the wine consumer? Consider the case of Kiona Vineyards, one of Washington's larger (25,000 cases per year) quality wine producers. Over the last few years, Kiona wines vanished from many store shelves, displaced by big-name national brands more important to goosing a distributor's bottom line. Since joining the Click product line six months ago, the Kiona label is making a comeback, thanks to the assiduous sales efforts of Click's founding partners and the can-do sales force they've assembled. As important as Click's personal, hands-on sales style is for getting fine small-production wines into shops, their phenomenal assemblage of artisanal domestic and foreign beers may be a greater contribution to the public weal. Beer is notoriously more perishable than wine and is frequently compromised by careless handling. Strolling the spacious aisles of Click's spick-and-span climate-controlled warehouse, you almost envy the serried stacks of bottles their TLC treatment. Pity you can't look for a "Click" on the bottle; it could serve as a Good Housekeeping label for beer.

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