What is your Tasting Room Strategy?

Tasting Rooms are critical to your survival

Here are the facts, according to a Silicon Valley Bank presentation I recently attended, on the “2015 State of the Wine Industry” – In 1995 there were 2,000 wineries and 3,000 distributors in the U.S. Those seem like pretty good odds for getting your wines into someone’s book, right? Today we are faced with an entirely different reality. 7,000 wineries are entering 2015 in search of just 700 distributors. What does that tell you if you are a small production winery?

While entering new markets is certainly feasible, it has now become more difficult due to the consolidation of wholesalers nationally, and focus on volume based brands. This indicates the need to focus on the Direct to Consumer (DTC) sales channel. And at the strategic core of every DTC program is… The Tasting Room. When I write Marketing and Action Plans for winery clients I always start with a brand discussion, followed by the real estate. Do you have a tasting room, or plan to? Is absolutely every aspect of the room a reflection of your brand strategy? It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be memorable.

Is there a better place to create brand ambassadors than your tasting room? Having one affects your ability to sell wine, grow and profit from loyalty programs, and derive new subscribers and followers to market to. So the strategy is to drive traffic to your tasting room, and use engaging and authentic service to sell wine. From a sales and marketing perspective, there are only three things that you and your tasting room must excel at every day:

1) Selling Wine (66% close rate is your benchmark)

2) Selling Wine Club (10% should be your goal)

3) Getting Emails for your newsletter (I think 80% of visitors is a reasonable target)

It falls to winery owners and managers to ensure staff understands that along with the myriad of other duties, that job #1 is to create brand ambassadors. The way to do that is to out-service your competition. So, glass polishing can wait. Service first!

On the subject of “Service Talks“, and wine descriptions walk… hire staff that are a reflection of your winery brand, that you are proud to have as representatives. It’s not enough to have an earnest friends volunteer to help if they can’t ask for wine and club orders, and don’t provide exceptional customer service. Whoever presents your wines will become the face of your winery, and experiences they provide will persist indefinitely. Hire people who are natural hospitality types and Invest in their wine education. I have a few winery clients that run wonderful tasting room operations; and some have wanted to affirm public perception. We use surveys to get anonymous feedback from visitors and club members; and also hire “Secret Shoppers” and provide a script of questions, responses and talking points to engage tasting room staff. The results go to the old saw “be careful what you ask for”. We can all stand to improve our operations, right?

So, why are Tasting Rooms so important to consumers? It is no longer enough to sell great wine! Save technical details for the small percent of visitors who ask. I tell my clients in no uncertain fashion “Stop Selling Products”; “Start Telling Stories”. People expect to interact and engage with your brand, so your tasting room should have visual displays that are consistent with your brand identify; Visitors also want to have memorable “Experiences“. And the best way to do that is with well thought out questions about their interests and wine knowledge; and in a controlled environment – your tasting room. If you really think about it, don’t we all want to discover that special and reliable place we can always go and bring our friends and “where everyone knows your name” (think “Cheers!” Wine Bar)?

Why not allow guests to choose what type of experience they’d like? There has been a very positive trend toward offering different “Guest Experiences” at your winery tasting room; to have personal hands on interactions of their choice. Examples of this might include 1) Classic standing tasting bar 2) Open seated and served tasting 3) Reserved seating wine and food pairing experience 4) private space for wine club members 5) Guided educational vineyard tours 6) separate space for club members 7) Outdoor Patio or Picnic tables. Options 2-7 have proven to both increase average sales per visit, and new wine club signups. The point is to get away from the tasting bar and people moving.

Let’s face it, these days people have too much information available and so many choices; of who to patronize and which brands to introduce to their friends. First impressions are more critical than ever, and we are tasked with being accessible and authentic in all of our interactions. This highlights the need for consistency of messaging and high-touch high-energy service provided across all your marketing platforms starting with Tasting Room. Deliver good memories and people will take home memorabilia (your wines!). Although this is cliché’, it’s worth stating anyway. It’s the second sale that matters, isn’t it?

How do you know if you are successful? Tracking Metrics and Conversion rates against goals. Tracking new daily visitors, buyers, sales, club signups, email subscribers and how they heard of you is a must; Compare your results to industry benchmarks, calculate your conversion rates, and adjust the goals and incentives of your tasting room staff monthly. You will improve your sales conversions by tracking user preferences and history – so use your POS or invest in a CRM to record, segment and target customer preferences; or at least use your EMS (email system) to track notes, history and interactions.

Other TR best practices – offer strong industry discounts (25-30%) to other tasting room – they are your best referral source; when it’s busy send staff out to network and see what other tasting rooms are doing; have staff do daily Facebook posts in your winery’s voice with the mood and a photo of the day; send email thank you notes to all significant daily buyers (you got their email correct)? Ask them to follow on your social platforms; add them to your EMS (email marketing system), and setup auto-generated offers in one week; always send hand written thank you cards to new wine club members; Tweet daily tasting lineups or promos using common hashtags. Oh, and if you’re not doing this already, please visually acknowledge me within 7-10 seconds when I walk in your door.

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