Is your Wine Club still relevant?

As Groucho Marx famously once said “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member”.

Let’s assume you are a craft producer with a well conceived and unique branding approach, and don’t mass produce your wines; then why would you mass produce wine club members?

Wine Clubs are now in place at 90% of all wineries in US, and are growing year over year by an average 15%, according to the SVB Survey as reported in July by Wine Business Monthly. They have become an expected commodity. How to differentiate your offerings from the madding crowd of clubs?

First, let’s note some of the ways a winery can fail at the basics of club execution:
· Not asking people to join your club (not selling membership)
· Not asking for member referrals and providing member rewards
· Not auto charging cards in advance of pickup
· Allowing members to purchase their wine allocation at their leisure over time
· Growing members too fast and not being able to service them
· Not providing special treatment to your members during a tasting room visit
· Not communicating regularly with your wine club (1/4ly club news and invites)
· Not having enough events and pickup parties to engage and sell to your members
· Doing the same things most other wineries do; not offering something unique
· Shipping paid for wine without communicating to members
· Not offering a “Choose your own wine” option. Mandating “Winemaker Selection”

What happens when you lose Members? See my December 2012 article on “Wine Club Loss Management“.

How to make your club offering more relevant in today’s competitive market?

Start with surveying your club members. Survey Monkey is a free survey tool that is easy to use, anonymous and no cost to you for up to 10 questions (which are plenty). You will be surprised and impressed with what you will learn from your own best customers. Next, design and implement some changes. Announce the results to your club members with great aplomb and thank them for their feedback and ongoing loyalty. Communicate the details of your next club event when the changes will be rolled out. There is really not much to it, but to do it.

Other than discounts, what motivates members to continue patronizing your club? I’m starting to see “Experiences” rather than discounts emerging. I have a client who decided they weren’t giving purchase discounts to their members, but would create a dynamic series of unique group experiences instead. I was resistant at first but came around (Fellow consultants, listen to your clients!). Seated tastings have also been widely proven to increase the average wine purchase per visit and wine club signup rate. This makes sense since customers opt to pay a few dollars more for something special and you provide exceptional and personalized attention.

Also, points based loyalty programs, where the buyer decides what level of discount they want to earn, are another example of an innovative client rewarding the folks that spend, after they have spent! This is very similar to what the airlines and lodging industry have popularized.

Why bother to up the ante and keep your club relevant?

Average tenure of club memberships has increased from about 18 months to over 2 years. Average annual spend per member appears to be up from an $450 two years ago to almost $650 per member. Let’s do the math here. That’s a lifetime value of about $1,500 per member. Is that enough of a reason to keep your Wine Club relevant?

The ‘Three R’s’ of Wine Club Loss Management

Wine Clubs have become exceeding popular with many consumers. I’ve heard reports of folks belonging to as many as 4-5 different clubs. It’s easy to join and drop clubs, so we all need to be on our toes. After all, members are our best customers (almost like our business family), aren’t they?

There are many reasons our customers RETRACT their membership including lack of winery contact, not being acknowledged and treated special, dumping of wines and inflexibility of choice. Be proactive during the winter months (after holiday bills arrive and with shorter tasting room hours), recognize the challenges around jobs and the economy, and keep a watchful eye on anniversary dates as the average life span of club membership is between 1 to 1.5 years.

So how do we RETAIN members? Give your members what they want! Remind them of their benefits and do something special during slow winter months. Try to take members aside in a separate area of your tasting room when they arrive during regular hours. Non-members will take notice of course. Use Customer Management Systems to track your members preferences, purchasing patterns, anniversary dates and tailor communications and promotions specifically to them. When is the last time you sent a poll to find out how they liked their last wine shipment?

When someone cancels, what do we do to RECOVER? Give them options of course! First of all sincerely find out the reasons. If within your control, make adjustments to accommodate retaining the member. If not, offer to skip a shipment or suspend for a period of time. If these don’t succeed, move them to the general email list to keep in touch with the winery. I manage a few wine clubs and know this is difficult and time consuming, but certainly worth the effort. Remember these former members have brand loyalty and are highly qualified, so be creative, prepared and have a plan to follow-up with them in the future.