New (Montana) law makes it easier to buy wine directly from wineries
It’s November. Harvest is wrapping up, and wine tourism is slowing way down. Now what? How are we going to drive winter tasting room sales with so little traffic? Remember: The number of visitors doesn’t matter nearly as much as the quality of the traffic.
Qualified traffic refers to visitors with a propensity to buy now, buy again later (provided they had a great experience) and even become loyal ambassadors that help spread the word about your winery and its wines. They’re customers who are more likely to be interested in your portfolio of wines, who find a satisfying price/value relationship in your products and enjoy the type of guest experience you’ve created to convey your brand.
A new state law takes effect today that makes it easier for wine aficionados and casual consumers to purchase wine directly from wineries around the country. No longer do Montana residents need to obtain a so-called connoisseur’s license in order to receive shipments directly to their homes. The law, passed by the state legislature in the spring, allows consumers to purchase up to 18 9-liter cases per year directly from eligible wineries. Read more here.
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To focus on attracting better quality traffic, we need to start with why. Why are your best customers so attracted to your brand? Why do they keep coming back again and again? Once we understand why they are such a great fit, defining who they are becomes much easier.
WHO are these qualified buyers?
As tasting room managers and DTC leaders, we need to figure out whom these qualified buyers are and where to find them. This goes beyond demographics. If we understand the wine- and lifestyle-related behaviors of qualified buyers, we can create profiles of the best customers. Start by researching:
Where they heard about us
Other wineries they visit
Where they stay when visiting wine country
Where they dine here and in key markets
Where they shop
Once we’ve earmarked who the best, most qualified customers are—by looking at how they behave—then finding out where others just like them gather becomes much easier.
WHERE are clusters of qualified buyers?
First you need to track where your visitors are coming from—not which state they are coming from, but what is the referral source that prompted them to visit your winery. (Who sent them? How did they hear about you?) If we know where our best customers are coming from, we can create marketing programs around these referral sources. We can fish where the fish are.
HOW to engage key traffic drivers?
Now that we know whom we want coming in our doors and where the best customers come from, we can develop targeted outreach programs. Once we identify the top referral sources (by tracking and seeing which sources send the most qualified customers), we’ll need to educate them as well as build and manage the relationships, especially for the top influencers or gatekeepers.
Successful wineries have formal gatekeeper-relations programs. Gatekeepers are those who could potentially refer qualified customers such as hotel concierges, limo drivers and restaurant wait staff or hosts, etc. During winter months, we can develop special off-season programs that these gatekeepers can help us book—even better if they are presented as special programs tailored for the guests of each specific gatekeeper. It pays off to treat them as the strategic partners they can become. Hosting key gatekeepers, mid-week, to give them the full winery guest experience is also an effective tool to help them “sell” our experience with enthusiasm and properly qualify guests on our behalf. Investing time and energy into our gatekeepers—especially during the off-season—will pay off all year round.
WHAT is the optimal volume
of traffic & staffing?
Next, we need to figure out our optimal traffic volume, which has nothing to do with seasonality. Every winery has a “sweet spot”—an activity level where guest satisfaction is highest and so are business results (order and club conversion rates, average orders sizes). The key here is to measure the number of staff labor hours in relation to the level of traffic (number of visitors per labor hour worked) and never staff below that level. Remember there is no such thing as “downtime” in the tasting room, especially with personalized guest-outreach programs such as thank-you notes to recent purchasers, welcoming new club members and making outbound calls to guests you have connected with in the past. If it is personalized, these effective, sales-outreach programs are an important part of providing superb service.
WHEN are we ready?
There’s no time like the present. Lower winter traffic doesn’t mean the tasting room goes to sleep. Shift gears into a more strategic, better-choreographed guest experience. Be strategic and creative about driving traffic. Implement tactics that will increase traffic specifically for people who are more likely to convert—and do it through every season, not just the slow seasons.
Ballard Canyon (Santa Barbara County), Moon Mountain District (Sonoma County), and Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench (Lake County) all will become official California AVAs starting Nov. 1. Read more here.
Wine Industry Metrics are all positive
Analysis of September 2013 data showed that off-premise sales, direct-to-consumer shipments and the Winery Job Index all increased in September compared to September 2012. It marked the sixth consecutive month in which the three metrics were positive. Each of these three metrics also saw positive increases for their averages during the past 12 months. The most positive data set in September was the Winery Job Index. It showed 33% growth in winery hiring activity from September 2013.
Champagne tasting bar
Someone had to do it, so I volunteered to go to the “Sparkling Wine” trade show in Epernay, France, two weeks ago. The weather was balmy, which is rare this time of year, as Epernay is on the 49th N parallel. Thousands of Champagne producers visited the four-day event, and the bubbles were freely flowing. More than 400 suppliers were presenting the latest in vineyard and winery products and services with a specific bias toward sparkling wine production.
Here’s a great vineyard view from the show’s parking lot.
In the center of town, C Comme is a great wine store/tasting room that sells selections from hundreds of Champagne producers.
Champagne is always served with a smile, and the tasting bar serves eight different varieties from small producers.
Consumers can buy bottles from the cave/wine cellar below.