All signs point to the tasting room

by Brad Asmus

Savvy small winery marketers have long known that direct sales to consumers are their most important sales channel. For the smaller outfits who can’t get into the three tier system, or who can’t afford to give away the margin the three tier system requires, direct sales are the mainstay of the business.

Silvara Vineyards Tasting Room near Leavenworth, Washington

Silvara Vineyards Tasting Room near Leavenworth, Washington

What’s more, as the three tier system hardens through distributor consolidation, and direct sales to out-of-state customers are threatened, direct sales at the tasting room become ever more important.

The point is made yet again in Wine Business Monthly’s 2009 Tasting Room Report. According to the Wine Business study, 66% of 2009 direct sales took place in the tasting room , up from 59% in 2008. The study also found that  wine club sales have softened and sales through eCommerce have softened even more. It’s pretty easy to conclude that for the near term at least, small winery marketers should be doing everything they can to drive prospective customers to their tasting rooms.

The action item here is to review your messaging in each of the communication channels you utilize. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, your Web site, your PR activities or plain old newspaper advertising, make sure that everything works together to drive prospective customers into your tasting room.

Look at your marketing activity calendar and try to have some promotional activity going on each weekend to attract tasting room traffic. Plan events and activities that will draw people in: vintage release parties, chef’s days, sunset tastings, music, barbeques. Team up with nearby wineries to promote special regional tasting days. Get your promotional material into the lobby of local motels and hotels to attract tourist traffic.

Make sure that when prospects arrive at the tasting room, they have a terrific experience. Clean up, staff up and train to insure that every visitor is treated well and asked to purchase. Have special winery-only promotions that incent visitors to buy now, and to come back for future winery-only deals. Nicely discounted, three packs, six packs and cases can really help improve cash flow. Selling winery branded t-shirts, caps, aprons and the like are also proven ways to fatten up sales tickets, so make sure you have a reasonable, attractive inventory on hand. And of course, try to get each tasting room buyer to sign up for your wine club.

One of these days we’re going to see a much larger percentage of sales through newer channels like eCommerce. We’ve got to continue to work on branding and on establishing the resources necessary to make that happen. For now, though, the tasting room is the place to focus most of your  marketing attention.

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