Six draining months as a sales rep (and five things I loved about it)

I’m sure some of you saw it coming. You’re relatively intelligent people. (Or at least, I assume you must be intelligent, with faces like that.)

I got a job in the craft beer industry. 

I did it for 6 months. 

I quit my job in the craft beer industry. 

That’s the short version. You can stop reading there if you like. But for those of you interested in hearing the longer, vaguely-linear story…

You’ve probably memorised my first post, in which I said I wanted to work with beer:

I love beer. And they say, ‘Do what you love’. Now that I’ve moved house and am changing jobs, I’d love to work with beer. That just seems to make sense.

There’s just one problem.

It’s not always as simple as that.

(For funsies, I just googled ‘don’t do what you love’ and read the first four or five articles. Give it a crack… there’s some good advice!)

Here are two main problems with that advice (well, there are many problems with it, but I’m going to mention two):

  • There are very few jobs that are exactly and only what you love (as well as drawing, a cartoonist has to market themselves, meet deadlines, liaise with publishers; as well as playing music, a musician has to plan shows, organise finances, deal with venue owners, etc).
  • I am fairly certain there is not a single job that will pay me to drink coffee on the couch with a book, potter around the garden with few results, and then eat chips and drink beer while espousing my opinions loudly.

Still, when someone emailed me through Schoonerversity with the offer of a sales rep job with Redwood Distribution, I leapt at it.

I got my job with Redwood Distribution. I was so innocent...
I got my job with Redwood Distribution. I was so innocent…

“I’ll get to talk about beer for a living! I LOVE talking about beer!”

Well… yes. I do love talking about beer.

But guess what? It turns out that sales reps do not ONLY talk about how good beer is. (The times when the job involved this—LOVED IT.) They also have to keep heaps of admin. And deal with an awful lot of problems. And chase up a billion leads that go nowhere. And deal with a load of rejection and changed minds and sorries and non-replies. And meet targets. Which all makes complete sense, and which I should have expected (and kind of did, even if I talked it all down in my head).

However, I think for me the biggest issue was not that the job was difficult. All jobs come with a bunch of baggage. You learn to live with it. You get better at dealing with it. No, for me the bigger issue was the way that the job was in my head when I wasn’t meant to be working. You see, sales rapping filled my head All. The. Time. (Which is not quite as fun as being full of beer all the time.)

I didn’t write a single thing here on Schoonerversity for 6 months. Not sure if any of you missed reading it… but I missed writing it! The problem wasn’t that I was sick of beer, or anything ridiculous like that. (“Yes, I’m sick of beer now. Also sick of puppies, chips, and oxygen.”) It was simply that my brain was hijacked 24/7 by sales repping. Just the nature of the beast, unfortunately. I had no capacity left in my head for creating.

And so for 6 months, I didn’t create. I didn’t blog, draw, garden, or crochet. (Okay so I’ve never crocheted before. But it was certainly never going to happen while I was sales repping.) While you waited with bated breath, anxious that you hadn’t seen a post for ages (“Maybe if I hit refresh one more time…”), I was likely on the very laptop I could be blogging on… but working with a spreadsheet or checking stock or sending emails or something else that isn’t blogging. Or I was ‘not working’, but thinking about work. That happened a lot, too.

So at some point, I decided to leave it. It wasn’t a great fit for me, and I wanted my brain back. The new venture I’m beginning requires it.

For all my whingeing, though, let me be clear that there was a buttload of stuff I loved about repping. I won’t diagram a buttload, but I’ll list off five things here.

1. Perks. There were definitely some perks.

This is always the first thing people ask about. While I wasn’t swimming in free beer as I had dreamed, I did get to sample a bunch of the amazing beers in my portfolio and go to a couple of events for free.

La Sirène dinner with the brewer, Costa. I have some beautiful memories of that evening... and a few foggy ones.
La Sirène dinner with the brewer, Costa. I have some beautiful memories of that evening… and a few foggy ones.

It’s important for the rep to get these things to do the job well… and it’s also a pretty sweet deal.

Not all of these beer samples were for me... but some were.
Not all of these beer samples were for me… but some were.

2. I got to peek behind the curtain of the craft beer industry.

Though the average punter can sometimes get into a chat with bar staff/venue owner/store manager/brewer and learn a few things, for the most part the consumer only gets to see the beer industry from a certain angle. That’s pretty standard in every industry. But it’s always interesting to peek behind the curtain, look under the hood… whatever analogy you want to use for ‘see how it works from the inside’.

For example, sometimes an awful lot of thought and planning goes into what’s on tap in a bar. I chatted with Tim from The Scratch once while he was working on his beer calendar, and deciding which beers would go on over a month. He took into account styles, ABV, breweries… it was a very well thought out process.

Buuuuuuut sometimes it’s much more haphazard. Like the time he told me they ‘accidentally’ had 30 beers averaging over 10% ABV for the Weekend of Darkness. Just because they got excited and picked all the ones they liked the look of. (30 beers averaging over 10% ABV makes me drool just thinking about it.)

3. I got to know some rockin’ people.

Why are so many of the people who work in the craft beer industry so awesome? I don’t know. It’s a mystery as old as beer itself. But they are. And it’s great getting to spend plenty of time with them as part of your job.

Sir, please don't provoke the bar owners.
Sir, please don’t provoke the bar owners.

4. What’s hard for the rep is good for the consumer.

You know what’s extremely difficult about being a craft beer sales rep in Brisbane? There are an awful lot of excellent beers around.

You know what’s fan-freaking-tastic about being a craft beer lover in Brisbane? There are an awful lot of excellent beers around.

5. I grew a greater appreciation of the champions who work in the craft beer industry.

There is so much mundane legwork, so much crap to be dealt with, so many hurdles to be overcome, so many times you want to rip your hair out… but people deal with this (for much longer than I did!) so that we can drink and enjoy all the incredible beer we want.

Dan Dainton - Brewer, opera singer, and all round top bloke.
Dan Dainton – Brewer, opera singer, and all round top bloke.

To the brewers, the sales reps, the bar owners, the venue managers, the bar staff, the bottle shop workers… You’re the real heroes. We would salute you, except we have a beer in each hand and don’t want to spill any.

4 Comments on “Six draining months as a sales rep (and five things I loved about it)

  1. Enjoyed this read Mick. When I think about it there are a few reasons here that I probably sub consciously experienced given I was already in sales in another industry and the expectations of both would have been weighing on my mind.

    Best of luck in wherever you’re headed now hope to keep in touch.

    • Glad to hear it, Ferg! It certainly wasn’t an easy gig… but I’m so grateful for the experience. It definitely broadened my perspective of the industry!

      Also: the beer was grrrrrrreat.

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