Executive Vice President, General Manager
Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois
Before joining Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida, Inc., in 1978, Will Conniff--now Executive Vice President, General Manager of Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois and Kentucky--was a sommelier at an Orlando restaurant.
According to Mr. Conniff, his budding yet formidable sales skills first came to the attention of a senior Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida executive when this gentleman and his guests came in one evening for drinks and dinner. He recalls with a laugh, that on this particular evening, this party was interested in their cocktails, not wine; what's more, Mr. Conniff did not know this gentleman was employed by Southern Wine and Spirits, though as sommelier he did business with the company's sales representative in his role as wine buyer for the restaurant.
Mr. Conniff says that on that evening, the Southern Wine and Spirits executive stressed his lack of interest in wine. However, Mr. Conniff wouldn't take no for an answer, and started to talk about how a particular wine would go so splendidly with this gentleman's order. Mr. Conniff simply didn't give up, and when the main course arrived he had managed to sell the host and the table three bottles of fine wine--in fact, the brand was from the Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida portfolio! The next day he received a call from that executive with a job offer, and the rest, they say, is history.
Mr. Conniff joined Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida in 1978, as a sales assistant in the Orlando, Florida market in the company's American Distributors sales division. In 1981, he was promoted to Restaurant Supervisor in the Orlando market, again continuing his progression within the company's American Distributors sales team.
In 1983, he was named the Restaurant Division Manager in the Orlando market, working with accounts that included Disney World and other burgeoning theme park customers. He was then promoted to On-Premise Sales Manager for the Orlando and Jacksonville markets, where he continued to concentrate on building the company's portfolio of wine and spirits.
In 1987, Mr. Conniff was promoted to General Wine Sales Manager for the company, and in 1989 he was again promoted, this time to General Sales Manager for liquor and wine for the Orlando market. In 1991, the company named him as General Sales Manager for Orlando and Jacksonville, where he was responsible for running the company's sales and promotional efforts for both markets.
In 1993, Mr. Conniff was named Vice President and General Manager of Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida's South Florida sales region. In this role, he worked with Steve Power, who was and is Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida's Executive Vice President and General Manager of the state's entire operation.
Following the acquisition of two Kentucky distributorships in 1998 by Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Inc., Mr. Conniff was named Executive Vice President, General Manager of Southern Wine and Spirits of Kentucky, which is the leading wine and spirits distributor in the state.
In March 2005, Mr. Conniff was named to his current position as Executive Vice President, General Manager, of Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois and Southern Wine & Spirits of Kentucky.
Mr. Conniff explains, "I was very fortunate I was able to learn all of the different sales channels in my job experiences here at Southern, including restaurants and chain restaurants, independent and chain retailers, supermarkets, chain and independent hotels, theme parks, convenience and club stores." He credits the help and mentoring of both Mel Dick (Senior Vice President of Southern Wine and Spirits of America, and President of the company's national wine division) and Larry Goodrich (Vice President and General Manager of Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida, Central Division).
Mr. Conniff is particularly proud of combining two vastly different distributorships by taking the best practices and local knowledge of each group, and making the newly formed entity the strongest, most innovative distributor in the state shortly after his arrival in Kentucky. He is quick to credit all the company's employees, sales staff and operational support staff in making this merger of the two companies so successful. Summing up this multi-year effort, Mr. Conniff says, "We are not new in terms of personnel--we are new in terms of service and technology."
In the future Mr. Conniff looks forward to further developing the company's super-premium spirits and wine portfolios, and he believes there are tremendous opportunities for developing added business among the state's growing ethnic markets. He says, "As the Kentucky marketplace becomes more open to adult beverages of all kinds, people will recognize that fine wines and spirits consumed in moderation will enhance their lifestyle."
Noting the strong national profile of the parent company, Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Mr. Conniff says, "The relationships our principals in Miami have on a national and international basis with our supplier partners certainly helps to build relationships at the local level."
Mr. Conniff is also proud of his company's efforts, and those of his fellow company colleagues, in charitable and civic affairs. Southern Wine and Spirits of Kentucky's wide-ranging involvements include support of local charities, educational institutions and civic affairs.