The world of premium spirits is a vast, hissing and simmering cauldron of flavour. Every drink aims to push the boundaries on the senses, to breach the comforting brackets of familiarity – transforming that sip of gin into synaesthesia, where taste, smell and the feel of liquid on the tongue are each carefully crafted components of an overall EXPERIENCE. Hundreds of Pop-up drink fairs and conventions are erected across the country – thousands across the globe – to compare, contrast and blend new experiences from around the world. The company I would work with for three months straight after I left University was a drinks company, but their product was non-alcoholic. It was a mixer – something to blend these weird and wonderful flavours with. The twist: they were all-natural mixers, with an ethos hell-bent on exposing and toppling a tonic market saturated with artificially sweetened, flavoured and branded products.
My internship began with a tip-off from WEXO’s Robin who notified me that a new, exciting opportunity had appeared and that it may be of interest to me. After having a quick look over the internship details, I decided that this was exactly the something that I had been looking for –the chance to try something new.,to throw myself into an area that I was interested in, but knew little about and to dabble in something that would seriously benefit my critically experience-malnourished CV…
After an interview and a weekend excursion to the unfamiliar realm of London, I was called by Tom – Fever-Tree’s Sales Manager – who alerted me that I had been accepted and my internship would begin immediately. I was to be working with him in what the drinks industry refers to as the ‘On-Trade’, meaning individual or collective premises that worked outside of main grocery channels, such as bars, pubs, clubs and hotels. I would be visiting these venues alone, garnering specific information on each ‘account’, gathering feedback and finding out the best ways in which the product could grow in conjunction with the account’s consumer-base, geographical region and, if applicable, its group.
An ‘account’, I soon learned, very rarely existed as an individually licensed, autonomous entity. A pub would tend to belong to a ‘group’ or even a large, multinational brewer. My three months, Tom announced, would predominantly consist of travelling to and visiting a colossal amount of groups and businesses, while he constantly assessed me. The path to Sales-Mecca would, I soon learned, consist of episodic, enriching periods of guidance and confidence-nurturing from my mentor, but more often than not would involve hurling me repeatedly into volatile situations and watching how I dealt with it, possibly with a very small morsel of sadistic satisfaction.
Although horrifically nerve-wracking during the first few weeks this method allowed me to develop a certain skill-set desperately necessary in a Sales role: thinking on your toes and making the most of the resources available to you. It was initially a terrifying experience; I’d be walking into a pub or restaurant, asking for the bar manager above the hubbub (this would instantly turn a few heads in my direction – the man feeding his dog cold chips at the table closest would look up and grimace at me as I stood there shivering in my salesperson shirt and chinos), waiting a good five minutes whilst sweat began to ooze out of my hands and armpits until they came over and grasped my clammy palm, ready hear my delivery. “Hello!”, I would say, “I’m Will from Fever-Tree”. That was my planned opening, the rest would hopefully follow.
Yet grudgingly I began to revel in this method of learning and within two weeks I was allowed to set out alone “in the field” with a suitcase full of products, botanicals and a Salesman swagger. Within three weeks I was comfortably “cold-calling” – the method of entering an alien premises, attempting with your Fever-Tree chat and a favourable spread of the product in an ancient cocktail magazine to strum the apathetic strings of the Manager’s heart until Tonic-induced ecstasy is splayed upon his business plan. All this while trying to retain that rehearsed, comforting and assuring, “I’m-totally-in-charge-look-into-my-dark-confident-pupils”, rock-steady, if a tad unnerving, Sales-stare. Tom, my boss, did it on cue. He’d walk proudly into premises and come out the same upbeat, down to earth fellow as if all he had received inside was a gut-warming pat on the back. Inside the pub or restaurant his demeanour would quickly change and a clearly researched and idealistic figure emerged, at once comforting the client and finding ways to push buttons and tap into an interest he or she didn’t realise they had in a product they’d never heard about. It took me a few months of repeatedly cold-calling venues to really get the gist of it.
Sales is all about communication. Once you have this fundamental nailed down, skills can be embedded and your persona can be polished. What I took away from Fever-Tree was a confidence I know I wouldn’t have developed unless I had been thrown headfirst into the deep-end, and I desperately urge anyone who hasn’t to do so immediately. In the end I chose not to continue on at my internship because it was ultimately an area of expertise that wasn’t me. That said, it has genuinely been one of the most fulfilling, eye-opening and fun experiences that I have ever had. I would recommend the company to anyone who genuinely has a passion for the drinks industry and communicating to the ocan of people within it. The people were immense, and I’d like to thank everyone at Fever-Tree for the chance to work at one of the most professional and inspiring workplaces in the UK. In particular I’d like to thank Tom Armstrong who was a genuine mentor to me, who I looked up to a great deal and who made the experience just that bit more special. I also learned a lot I’m sure!