With the new year fast approaching, we have a fresh slate and a chance to start 2014 off right.
As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any bus will take you there.” Even if our organization is clear on where we are going, we will still need a reality check and team buy-in about how to get there. Strategic planning—or an annual strategic tune up—is essential, and the foundation to this is an unbiased evaluation of our current reality.
After 14 years in its location adjacent to the Corkscrew Café on Carmel Valley Road, Talbott Vineyards moved its tasting room a block off the main drag, renovating a former furniture warehouse at 25 Pilot Road in Carmel Valley, Calif. Six months later, Talbott’s sun-filled visitors center features a U-shaped redwood tasting bar that can comfortably accommodate several staff members and about two-dozen guests.
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We’ve found one of the best ways to get an honest assessment is by using SWOT, which stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. SWOT can be used company-wide, or by department. For the sake of this article, we will focus on using SWOT for winery direct-to-consumer sales. The process is best done as a team to get multiple perspectives and buy-in to both the process and outcome.
The first two quadrants—strengths and weaknesses—are internal environmental forces of origin as they relate to business objectives. Strengths are characteristics that give the business an advantage over others. Before we move on to the heavy lifting, we must highlight our strengths so we don’t take them for granted or lose focus while we fix our weaknesses. If, for example, your winery’s customer service is highly rated on TripAdvisor and Yelp!, that’s great. Let’s make sure the same will still be said about you next year.
Weaknesses are the most troubling internal roadblocks and challenges, the ones you are committed to fix. These are things that put your winery at a disadvantage. For example, if your tasting room traffic is flat and your conversion rates are down on sales and wine club sign-ups, these things need to be understood and fixed.
The other two quadrants—opportunities and threats—are external environmental forces like changes in the economy, legislation, technology, competitors or the marketplace.
Opportunities are usually abundant; the trick is to prioritize them. Where is the wind to our back? How can we best leverage external forces? What elements could we use to our advantage? Of all the opportunities out there, where should we focus in the upcoming year?
Threats are potential issues that could really hurt our business. We may have little or no control over these threats, but we need to be aware of them so we are not caught off guard. By identifying the most dangerous threats, we can find ways to minimize their impact—or at least make sure all of our eggs are not in one basket.
Applying your knowledge
Recognize the realistic weaknesses and threats that exist for your company and counter them with a robust and creative set of strengths and opportunities. Distinguish between where your organization is today and where it could be in the future.
For practical application, use four separate flip-chart pages (see picture). Engage your team in brainstorming each area: first strengths, then weaknesses, then opportunities, then threats. When everyone has input to all four areas, consolidate your findings into themes. Keep your SWOT analysis short and simple: Avoid complexity and over-analysis, since much of the information is subjective. Next, have the team vote on which ones in each category are the most important to the company and its goals. These will be the items that you will most want to use for planning and decision-making. Great leaders bake the SWOT analysis process into the DNA of their team.
The long, narrow tasting bar at the previous site made serving customers difficult, according to tasting room staff. The new setup allows staff members to move more freely and access a greater number of tasting room patrons.
The tasting bar at Talbott Vineyards’ new tasting room in Carmel Valley boasts a large redwood bar with ample standing room.
A private event space, the Diamond T room, is named after the vineyard from which Talbott sources its flagship Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The site’s expansive outdoor area includes bocce courts, and guests can rent bocce balls from the tasting room staff.
The change of venue may be surprising for wine country visitors, for whom Talbott was a staple on Carmel Valley Road, but the winery doesn’t seem to have lost customers due to the move. If anything, the new space has provided an opportunity for guests to stay a while, buy a bottle to share during bocce and take more wine home with them.
Prior to starting the winery, owner Robb Talbott had a business restoring old cars and trucks. The new space displays some of his vintage motorcycle and pedal car collection. The pedal cars hang from the ceiling, which is made from reclaimed Douglas fir.
Talbott's bikes line the perimeter of the room, which also showcases photos of his motorcycle trips and a bio about each bike.
Swirl, sniff and … scratch?
Master sommelier Richard Betts must have channeled his inner child and paired it with his decidedly adult interest in wine while coming up with the idea for his new book, “The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert,” published Oct. 15 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The 22-page board book walks readers through the scents of red and white wines by breaking them into major groups—fruits, woods, earth—and then getting into more nitty-gritty descriptors.
But in a nice change of pace, you can judge this book by its cover. The best part is the scratch-and-sniff factor. My favorite was the stone fruit. Learn more or buy the book at myessentialwine.com/book.
Kate Lavin is the managing editor at Wines & Vines.
Tasting Rooms in the Flesh
This month marked the end of most harvests in North America. Tasting rooms have been busy all summer and early fall, and soon it will be time to plan for 2014. Due to the amount of work at our publications and trade shows, I did not get to visit too many tasting rooms, and I apologize for that. But there is no lack of news at wineries, universities and industry suppliers.
Thousands of winery direct sales professionals open and read this eNewsletter. A North American professional association came to mind as a way to expand the services provided. What do you think?
The Weekly Calistogan reported that Robert Mondavi Winery is now offering a special winery tour in Mandarin Chinese. During the 75-minute tour on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., guests will visit the To Kalon Vineyard and tour the cellar area. Tours are limited to 15 participants, and the fee for the tour is $30, which includes a seated educational tasting of three wines with a Mandarin-speaking wine educator. Guests can make reservations online at robertmondaviwinery.com or by phone at (800) 228-1395.
VingDirect announced the launch of its tasting room benchmarking dashboard tool, which winery members use to download data directly from their POS systems to any computer or mobile device with Internet access. Get more information at vingdirect.com.
UC Davis Offers Tasting Room Design
and Management Program
The University of California, Davis, is presenting a program intended to help participants make their tasting rooms more profitable and memorable. Craig Root, a 30-year industry veteran and tasting room consultant, will provide ideas for achieving tasting room perfection. Explore tasting strategies, special events tips and learn how to improve your tours and trade relations.