We’re off to see tequila guru Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s in the Richmond to settle a concern and seek advice from the wise one over a potential product partnership. Tommy’s is ground zero for tequila, and his margarita is an IBA [official list of cocktails] new-age classic. Bermejo is also the tequila ambassador to the United States.
Midway through our margaritas and chile verde, Bermejo steps in from his lunch break, his smile wide as usual. I’ve only seen him once since the Valentine’s Day story I wrote about him.
He turned to business as he stood on the other end of the stick, palms on the bartop as he voiced concern over pricing on a particular tequila he buys from Ellis. On a recent trip to a liquor outlet, Bermejo noticed the store was selling a certain brand of tequila at a lower rate than what he receives from Ellis and Wine Warehouse.
“For a guy who picks up pallets of this stuff, you’d think that I’d get the best price on it. What’s up with that?” Bermejo told Ellis.
“I’ll have to look into it,” Ellis replied. “If I find something wrong, I basically have to tell the liquor store to raise their prices.”
After Ellis did the research, it turns out that he and Wine Warehouse no longer do business with that particular liquor outlet and he has no idea why they are selling it at such a low cost.
Selling top-shelf booze at a cut rate can have detrimental effects for a brand and the market.
A process often called “dumping” drops the demand for the brand as consumers see it.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, but once you see something for cheap, people won’t want to pay what it should cost,” Bermejo said.
“This is a partnership,” Ellis said. “It’s in both of our best interests to sell these products at the price it deserves.”
As we’re heading to another tasting, Ellis turns to Bermejo, who proudly stands with his arms crossed next to his tequila shelf. Ellis wants Bermejo’s input on a locally owned, family-distributed tequila he hopes to represent through Wine Warehouse.
“What do you think about it?” Ellis asked Bermejo, who gave it a quick think before sticking his thumbs up.
“They’re doing it right. Why, you trying to take the brand on?” Bermejo asked.
“We’re working on it,” Ellis replied.
The Cold Walk-in
Before business comes the handshake. And as we’re rounding about our day, Ellis wants to introduce himself to whoever is doing the purchasing at a new Mission district watering hole that appears to lack the right “tools” to succeed on its back bar. In a cocktail-centric city like San Francisco, Ellis might just be the guy to break the news to them that the bottle of Jose Cuervo on their shelf isn’t going to fly.
“Here’s my card,” Ellis said to the bartender on duty, who said she’d pass it on to her manager. “You should call me.”
Ellis prefers to roll into future business prospects solo, for a more personal approach.
Unlike other booze reps who come in packs of five, he’s not trying to pressure anyone.
“People like buying from people they like. Period,” Ellis said. “Some people gang up on bar managers, trying to pressure them into buying something.”
In one way or another, the booze does most of the talking. He’s just there to introduce it and answer any follow-up questions.
Ellis’ charm, quick wit, and his attempt to sell bottles of bitters with one-liners like “This stuff is magic; I’d wear this stuff as after shave,” seems to be a pleaser for bar managers and liquor store buyers, keeping them interested in the products he represents.
I’m sipping pisco on the rocks, Ellis tequila neat — both with beers to chase — at an empty Madrone’s with our backs hunched over the bar. The DJ’s selection of smooth bossa nova adds to the cooling effect as the golden hour sets into the warm evening. The bar is empty — the DJ doesn’t mind and neither do we.
After multiple tastings, settling a pricing concern, seeking advice from the guru on a potential agave brand and a cold walk-in, we’ve encountered just about every possible situation a liquor rep could come across.
All in a day’s work.