In this sparkly sector, sour grapes and teetotallers need not apply
Lawrence Lai, business development manager at INtrade Global, imports Australian wine to Hong Kong. He thinks the local wine market is becoming more mature, heralding demand for talent with the relevant knowledge as the city's wine business grows more specialised and turns into an important part of the food and beverage industry.
As business development manager, Lai's main duty is to promote wine to various customers, including hotels, cafés, bars and restaurants. "A large part of my job it to meet with clients for wine tastings. I introduce the properties of the wine, what kind of food it goes well with and try to negotiate a deal with them to buy our wine. Knowledge and passion for wine are essential for the job," he says.
As with other sales staff, good communication skills and an outgoing personality are crucial. "We have the chance to meet people from different cultures, so you have to be open-minded and know how to respect others even if they are very different. Wine shows and exhibitions are great opportunities for us to meet clients. We also make cold calls to hotels, bars and cafés," he says.
To get the latest product updates, Lai travels overseas once or twice a year. "It is important to get first-hand information, but most contact with suppliers is through phone calls and e-mail," he says.
As a business development manager, Lai has a five-day, nine-to-five job, but sometimes owners of bars or cafés are only available at night so Lai has to be flexible. Days nearing festivals are the busiest because various customers ramp up their wine orders to prepare for a surge in demand.
Lai says most wine knowledge is learned on the job, but he welcomes university graduates with hospitality or business-related backgrounds. A newcomer can start as a wine sales representative and has to learn the relevant knowledge and jargon.
"I will do wine tastings with them. Everybody has a different feeling for wine and it is important to know how to properly express this with clients. Another essential trait is you must be able to drink. You definitely cannot be in this job if you are sensitive to alcohol," he adds.
Good performers can be promoted to the posts of senior wine sales representative and business development manager.
The starting salary for a wine sales representative is HK$8,000 to HK$10,000. Senior representatives can expect to make HK$15,000 to HK$20,000.