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Sales: Ditching the phone in favour of wine

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

My name is Gail Tufford, I'm a corporate retail manager and franchise trainer at Wine Kitz, a franchise that helps customers make their own premium wine. I'm in St. Catharines, Ont. and I've been doing this since 2010.

What exactly do you do? (And is there any backlash working at a wine store in the heart of Ontario's wine country?)

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I run the day-to-day operation of the store, train new franchise partners, and give refresher courses to existing partners. I try to mimic the experience a franchise partner would have in growing a customer base with all of the hurdles that go along with starting a small business.

I haven't found any real backlash from the locals, although they may be more knowledgeable about winemaking here than in other regions. I try to use this to some advantage, educating them on our techniques, which are similar to a small winery except on an even smaller scale. Customers always ask 'Why don't you carry any Ontario wines?' The reason is, we have introduced them in the past but they never sell. Our customers enjoy more exotic wine regions.

Describe what you do on any given day.

There is a lot of winery work. This includes racking, filtering, and punchdowns as well as bottling.

By law, the customer must participate in starting and bottling their wine. Bottling takes less than 30 minutes and it's a lot of fun! I also handle customer service, social media, and marketing for the store as well as anything else that comes up.

What's your background and education?

• I went to Sheridan College for Graphic Design and Marketing.

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• I worked at Queen Street Camera (Toronto) in its heyday.

• I worked at Masterfile (Toronto), a stock photo agency pre-royalty free photography.

• I worked for Microcell (Fido) as a rep for Niagara when cellphones were new and I was part of the original pay-as-you-go phone launch, which was highly successful. It was an exciting time in telecommunications, but I was laid off with 180 other co-workers when Microcell was bought by Rogers.

• I decided I didn't care for telecommunications and worked for celebrity chef Anna Olson, managing her bakery/gourmet food shop in Niagara and working as her personal assistant.

• When Anna Olson closed the store, wine seemed like a natural progression from gourmet food, which led me to Wine Kitz.

How did you get to your position?

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Very traditional. I applied online, had many interviews, and got the job.

What's the best part of your job?

I really like winemaking. It involves science, hard work and a lot of care and attention. I enjoy the variety within this job and I love my customers! People who make wine are very sociable by nature and they always come in happy. It's my job to make sure they leave happy and with excellent wine.

And what do you like best about it?

After my experience in telecommunications I realized I didn't like it. I will always be grateful to Anna for giving me a job that led me to my real interests, wine and food. My job is fascinating because so much of winemaking is behind the scenes. I'm always encouraging customers to come in and visit their wine as it goes through its various stages before bottling. It's an ancient process and we use traditional techniques along with modern technology.

What's the worst part of your job? Be honest.

There is a lot of heavy lifting. Some wine kits weigh 50lbs and a full carboy of wine weighs 80lbs. It's messy too, but that's the nature of winemaking.

What are your strengths in this role?

Excellent customer service skills. If you don't like chatting with people and being persuasive this may not be for you. You also need fairly good upper body strength.

What are your weaknesses?

Staying motivated to find new customers. It can be difficult to get a new customer through the door.

What has been your best career move?

Leaving telecommunications!

What has been your worst career move?

A few years ago I would have said moving out of Toronto, but now I would say not trying to establish more of a career while raising three kids.

What's your next big job goal?

I honestly don't know. I like the company I work for now, so perhaps a new role within it.

What's your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Try your hardest to find an industry you enjoy. Even if you're working on the fringes, you'll be happier and more productive than in the middle of something you don't like. The beauty of this job is, even if you like winemaking and live in Yellowknife, you can do it!

Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career? E-mail

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