Passionate People: Fred Mullins

Alan Belniakbusiness, passion9 Comments

This is the second in my series on passionate people.  You can read the first entry on passionate people where I profile Steve Lewis .  You can also read over there for what this series is all about.

Fred Mullins at Panzano Market

Fred Mullins at Panzano Market

Fred Mullins

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to Fred Mullins.  On paper, Fred is the General Manager at Panzano Market, and the Wine Director at both Panzano Market (” Panzano Provviste e Vino”) and Tomasso (“Tomasso Trattoria and Enoteca” .  After meeting Fred, the whole title thing flies out the window.  Because after speaking with Fred for more than three minutes, you’ll instead label him with words like “wine enthusiast”, “oenophile”, “wine lover”, “savant”, and “passionate”.

How I Met Fred Mullins

I met Fred (officially) a little while ago at a wine tasting.  Instantly, Fred made everyone feel welcome.  Among the group of 15 or so of us, there were mostly new wine drinkers, a few in the middle of the pack, and one who knew his stuff.  Its situations like these that can be intimidating.  Fred moved us through four or so wines.  Instead of saying the variety, year, name, and a fun fact, he instead painted a fairly detailed verbal picture of the wine.  In most cases, he’d been to that wine producer in Italy and had been on the premise.  He described the kind of earth in which the grapes were grown, talked about food pairings, history of the wine, and the like.

Fred’s Approach

When we tasted the wine, he didn’t tell us what to taste – he asked us.  We went around the room and offered opinions.  He guided the conversation, and then got excited to tell us what he thought of the wine, but only after we finished.  I instantly recognized Fred not as a server, a sales person, or even a wine manager.  Fred is a story teller, and he wants us to get as excited about wine as he does by telling a story.  Fred says, “For good or for ill, wine has been placed on a pedestal.  There’s a lot of complex language that’s used, and it can be intimidating.  That’s not the idea.”  The idea is to have a great experience, and that’s what Fred sets out to do with each and every encounter.  “I don’t care if I sell wine.  I mean, I do, but that’s not really it.  I’d rather that people have a good experience when they’re here at Tomasso or next door at Panzano.”

“Dammit, Just Bring Me Something”

I asked if Fred’s knowledge and passion for wine ever resulted in a home run.  He shares this story…

A gentleman came in and sat in the restaurant.  He’s a Francophile , and really wanted a specific Pinot Noir.  He described what it was (this man knew his wine), and I recognized it.  Alas, I apologized that I didn’t carry it.  The gentleman insisted that it was likely next door [at Panzano] and that I could just grab a bottle.  That, too, wasn’t the case.  Exasperated, he says, “Dammit, just bring me something”.  So I find a nice sangiovese – not one I select for just anyone – and bring it over.  Mind you, it’s not expensive ($32 a bottle) – but I think he’s going to like it. I explain that the producer has a nice touch, really works with the soil, is long in the palette, and that it finishes well. [case in point: as Fred is telling me this anecdote, he describes the wine to me for about 20 seconds!] The gentleman takes a sip and concurs that it tastes good.  But the wine really opens up after about 20 minutes.  As the evening went along, I noticed him really start to like it.  He was really examining the label and pointing out details of it to his wife, and so on.  He ended up buying three bottles that evening, between the restaurant and the store!  He’s now a loyal customer, stopping in at Panzano about five times a week and Tomasso three times a week.  On top of that, he’s often bringing in some friends of his who have never been to either place.  He often responds to the newsletter first, and attends all my wine classes.

Because Fred listened first, knew his wine, and was passionate about delivering a top-notch experience, he turned a customer who almost resigned to himself into a very loyal customer, and has a word-of-mouth branding advocate for life.  Fred ‘sold’ him on the wine and the experience with and the passion he has for wine.

“Wine and food is about sharing.”

I asked Fred why he does what he does.  Arguably, he could work more efficiently by telling the minimum information, answering guest queries, suggesting pricey bottles of wine, and moving on.  “It’s all about hospitality in this business.” No doubt it is.  But it is readily apparent that Fred goes the extra mile – all the time.  He made a comment about sharing, as it relates to wine and food.  It’s a communal experience.  I also think that there’s an element of inbound marketing/content creation here that can go a long way.

Sharing, in a Different Sense

Peruse the aisles of Panzano, and you’ll see some very nice selections of meats, cheeses, and dry goods, all delicious.  However, it is still a specialty market, and the items are priced accordingly.  Fred knows this, and strives to offer a few items that don’t break the bank.  Why?  Because he wants to share the experience of good food and good wine, and sometimes to do that, some of the items need to be at prices that appeal to regulars and newcomers alike.  I asked him how many people come in, look around, and leave.  Fred said that, on average, about 6 of 10 who walk around the store stay or buy something at least once.  They don’t always do so on the first visit.  And that’s OK.  Fred answers questions, suggests pairings, and generally offers up information and content.  If they buy something, then that’s even better.  This is the parallel to content marketing/continuously offering value.  Fred isn’t offering up information quid pro quo a sale.  Instead, he’s sharing the experience he’s had with wine and food, and hoping you’ll have as good an experience or better.

What’s Your Take?

How about you?  Do you believe in something you do so much that you’ll describe it in the most intricate detail to those around you?  Do you ever get the feeling that what you do may be  work , but isn’t really a  job ?   Do you feel obligated to impart your passion to others to try to turn them into your advocates?

If you are in the MetroWest Massachusetts area, be sure to check out Tomasso or Panzano.  If you do, ask for Fred, and ask for a recommendation.  You’ll see exactly what I mean.  And if you do that, drop a comment here on the post.

disclosure: I ordered a beer before I met Fred and sat down for the interview; he prevented me from paying. When I later returned to take a picture, he gave me some Italian chocolate from the market.

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