Tasting Room Newsletter July 2012

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  A newsletter for managers of tasting rooms, wine clubs, and DTC wine sales
  July 1, 2012
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Organization Strategy

Tasting Room Staffing Options -
Pros and Cons

Staffing your tasting room is always a challenge—especially when you're on a budget during high and low seasons. Having a good balance of full time, part time and temporary staff is going to depend on your company culture and policies. There are many pros and cons of tasting room staffing options:

Full time staff:
  • Pros: Easier to keep in the loop, better focus, more loyalty, easier to hold accountable, fewer people to manage. 
  • Cons: Can be a burn-out job. It’s relatively low pay with the consequences of ‘pour & ignore.’
Manage these cons by setting up incentives (beyond health care and other benefits) to overcome them. Make people want to be career employees! 
Part time:
  • Pros: Fresher, less burnout, no benefits, less expensive. 
    Good sources: retired homemakers, students, and teachers. Be proactive. A happy staff will network for you. 

  • Cons: Challenge of communication, hard to get entire team together. Forgotten methodology, procedures, etc. It can be hard to get them to buy into company standards if they don’t really need or want the job or need the money. Some have the attitude of guest stars: these can be volatile and hard to manage, often insisting on their own way, decentralizing authority and lowering group morale.
Manage these cons by 1) Improving communication during “down” times: email updates to “all employees” that require a reply, invitations to small events open to “all employees” that improve communication and morale. 2) Ad-hoc training.  Identify “experts” in areas for training new hires. Increase areas of responsibility, and also groom full-time staff, from this pool, making it a reward for high performance. One sign of a strong culture is that it can effectively promote from within.
  • Pros: Hire on demand. No benefits. No obligations.
  • Cons: In the end, it can be much more expensive. There is no loyalty. No training. There is the potential of a culture disconnect. Team doesn’t take them seriously. Often much lower sales ability.
Manage these cons by creating mini-trainings for them on your wines, winery and procedures. Limit their responsibilities. Ensure they are WISE-certified (shameless plug!).

An Operations and Training Manual is a good way to ensure job responsibilities and communication across Full-Time, Part-Time, and Temporary Staff: when everybody knows who is doing what job, there are fewer opportunities for miscommunication, conflict, and poor service/sales. Then, a manager can quickly identify and improve areas of weakness, stepping in at the moment, and then staffing and training for the future.

Source: WISE Academy,

Medlock Ames tasting room
  Tasting Room in the Flesh
To Do
Medlock-Ames’ tasting room is located at the corner of two country roads in the Alexander Valley AVA of Sonoma County. The renovated country store and bar still retains its early 1900s charm. The interior is inviting, and several tables make it easy to share some cheese with the wine offerings. In the back, an old-fashioned dark and mysterious bar entertains guests in the evening, and outside a beautiful organic vegetable garden lures visitors toward the copper-clad pizza oven.

Katie Ambrosi was behind the counter during my visit and showed me a chart describing several tasting options with different prices. After I selected one, she gave me a pre-printed tasting sheet that described each wine in my flight with great detail.
Medlock Ames tasting sheet
Why didn’t I think of that? The benefits are obvious:
1) Consistency of the message,
2) Not counting on the TR person to have memorized wine information (especially helpful for new employees or temporary workers),
3) A souvenir for visitors to take home,
4) Point of reference when big crowds are around, etc.
And why not have wine club membership forms printed on the other side?
Lessons to be learned: Simple additions to tasting room routines can be helpful for employees and customers, often with very little cost to the winery.

JB’s opinion about employee incentives
Recently Linda Fotsch of Napa, Calif., asked me to address the question of employee incentives. Many educational entities offer books and coursework about this subject, so I am only going to give some pointers. I prefer individual incentives to team incentives, but if you need strong cooperation from the employees, then a dual-compensation plan that rewards individual and team achievements is an OK compromise.

Material incentives should also contain human recognition, including verbal and/or written acknowledgment of the employee’s performance.
• Compensation plans must be accepted, agreed upon and welcomed by the staff. This means the manager must be the expert and have carefully prepared for the presentation, anticipating and answering any objections in advance.
• An incentive/compensation plan should match the winery’s production capabilities, financial goals and realistic target market, so spend time researching and understanding the owner’s goals.
• Incentive plans should be easy to understand and measure. I used to ask each of my reps to present their plan to meet individual and team goals with easily identifiable targets (i.e. selling 10 cases of 2008 Cab in the tasting room each month, or getting five signed club memberships per week per employee.)
• It should have a minimum performance expectation spelled out, which is can be translated as 100% of plan. (Example: Employees get $10 for each case of wine sold until they reach their monthly goal of 10 cases.) Some people look at this idea as guaranteed salary, but it has to be realistic so employees don’t become discouraged.
• Plans also should have an overachievement incentive. (That’s why we create compensation plans—to incite employees to overachieve and therefore increase the profits of the company). Example: For each case a tasting room employee sells above the 10-case quota within one month, the winery could pay a $20 incentive, so the earlier that employees achieve their minimum goals, the earlier they see incentives double.
• The old French proverb “les bons comptes font les bons amis” (good accounting makes good friends) is critical, as any perception of unfairness or miscalculation will kill employee motivation.
• Payments of the incentive compensation (monthly, quarterly, by special event, etc.) should be timely and regular/predictable. Use a separate check/cash to make it even more special.
• Internal contests are good motivators when designed fairly and to be easily measurable. They create a healthy internal competition that most people really like. One idea: The employee who sells the most cases that month gets an extra $100 or a magnum of the reserve Cabernet. Winners should have their day in the sun, so make a big deal out of it (with the owners present, if possible.) If monthly is too often, then offer quarterly incentives.
• Don’t change the rules in the middle of the incentive period or you will lose all credibility in the future. You should, however, adjust the comp plan if the business climate requires it, and be very explicit and truthful about the reason. Most people will accept changes when they feel like part of the team.

Please send suggestions to trf@winesandvines.com

Happy Tasting!


Jacques Brix is Vice-President and Director of Sales, West Coast for Wines & Vines. This column is based on his personal experiences at winery tasting rooms.

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