The Wine Store as Community: A Forgotten Side of Wine Marketing

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wine_store_racksOne of the unsung heroes (or villains) in the wine industry is the local store owner and staff. These guys are the front line soldiers in capturing new consumers in the wine industry and helping people learn to trust and explore their palate. Why, then, are they so often ignored in debates about wine appreciation and market share? And, what can local stores do not only to improve their bottom line, but also to contribute to the wine community in more ways than simply making a buck.

Have you ever entered a wine store excited to find something new and enticing only to be confronted by lackadaisical staff or an overwhelming disorganization of bottles? At their worst, wine stores can actually dissuade consumer appreciation. Poor staffing and lack of passion leads people to buy the same old thing or simply choose a bottle at random. Without context, a wine bottle means very little to the average consumer, and even expert consumers will often benefit greatly from passionate input and discussion. This leads me to my first point.

reviewWine stores should not just be ports of call for the thirsty, but rather should foster a community of passionate wine lovers who enjoy each other’s company. The best wine stores are those that provide a personal touch to their stores that makes people want to come in and talk. First of all, forget shelf talkers unless you write them yourself. And, while in Canada it is illegal to have a wine bar in your store, it is possible to hold occasional tastings on premises. Additionally, staff should be trained to engage with the consumer and start up a conversation. I know I’ve spent many an hour in my favourite wine stores discussing wine with the staff. This not only usually results in me buying more wine than I should, it also makes me want to come back. This is not only good for the wine store, but also for the wine industry, who benefit greatly when consumers learn to trust and expand their palate.

These days social media is becoming one of the most important marketing tools in the wine industry. Wineries can now market direct to consumer and engage with them on a personal level. This same philosophy applies to wine stores. If you run a store you need to consider how you are using these tools to engage with your customers. Imagine the benefits of direct feedback and the huge increase in customer service that attentive social media marketing accomplishes. In my mind, great customer service will result in great word of mouth, expanding both your niche and the breadth of customer appreciation. I know from experience that I will recommend wine newbies go to the stores with the best customer service since this is the best way for them to start engaging with the world of wine. Wine, after all, is all about the people.

I suspect the wine store dimension has been neglected and misunderstood by marketers because they have failed to understand a wine store for what it truly is. Traditionally, marketers try to get good product placement (most visible) by utilizing shelf space, shelf talkers, marketing events, and catchy labels. Marketers expect consumers to go into the store, get the bottle that is the easiest to see and displayed most prominently, look at the label, and perhaps read the marketing blurb on the back or on the shelf talker. Of course, marketers also rely on “points” to sell wine, with many retailers posting the scores of a wine by Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, etc. But this entirely misses the point.

Wine stores, at their best, are communities, not message boards. As much as wine drinkers still rely on points, labels, and shelf placement, this is the fault of poorly run stores. These stores are simply working to help promote mass market and uninteresting wine. A community based store, on the other hand, will build relationships directly with consumers and engage them in conversation. Shelf space has nothing on great word of mouth, and the passionate clerk who waxes poetical about the great Gruner Veltliner he just had will end up selling a broader array of wines to a broader base of customers.

Marketers for the big brands don’t concern themselves that much with this, since they rely on statistics and market research. With limits on resources, the little guys have very little opportunity to do the same. They need new strategies and more thoughtful approaches.

So what’s the bottom line? If you are a small winery looking to grow your customer base, use social media to establish direct relationships with consumers, but also don’t forget about how wine stores can help capture consumers you would otherwise not be able to reach. Help wine stores promote your brand by establishing personal relationships with the best, holding tastings, and otherwise providing as many opportunities as possible for the staff to get to know you and your wines. Offer customers opportunities to visit your winery or attend special tastings. This will help to grow sales through word of mouth and capture customers that will get to know you and your wines rather than buying based on score or inclination. These are the customers that will hold your business together when times are tough. Accordingly, they are the “core” of your winery and you should put every effort you can into keeping them engaged. Wine stores, for all their faults, are part of this equation. Find the good ones, and build that relationship.

And for wine stores? Don’t treat your customers like ignoramuses. Engage them, talk to them, and make them part of your store’s community. Doing otherwise is just bad business.

Posted in: Wine Marketing


  1. Ben Waugh
    January 15, 2010

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work 🙂

  2. Shea
    January 15, 2010

    Ben, thanks.

  3. Weston
    January 15, 2010

    yeah so true comes down to Management [like always] training staff properly or not properly. I’ve gone in and wanted to talk, and have talked with some of them but they seem to be distracted, busy or what not. But I think if you are in engaged with one person you should be engaged until well [thats where the experience comes in with when not shut up hah]

    I think Social Media is good to bring people in, but Really you still need in store customer service.

  4. Shea
    January 15, 2010

    Weston, I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t had such experiences. And yes, that’s my point here too – social media is about community in the end. If your community is impovrished, social media doesn’t matter.

  5. Matt
    January 17, 2010

    good points shea

  6. Shea
    January 17, 2010

    Matt, thanks. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on all this over a glass (or bottle) at some point.

  7. Celia
    January 25, 2010

    This article hit several valid points. In B.C. where the Liquor Board holds a monopoly, it can be difficult, as an informed consumer, to be motivated to shop at the few independent retailers that are forced to price their wines above liquor board prices. But I do for several of the reasons you listed in this article. I cannot expect great government service at a B.C. liquor store, nor can I expect them to taste their customers on interesting wines. It’s not easy to be an independent retailer in B.C., but I’ll keep patronizing them because they’re the ones that really get what wine is all about.

  8. Shea
    January 25, 2010


    I agree completely. I hate when the government store employees say ‘why would you shop at a private store when our prices are better?’. Ya well, maybe because the government only allows private stores a minimal discount + oh ya, your service sucks!


  9. Joon S.
    January 25, 2010

    I think one of the best feelings is when a wine steward at a local store makes me a recommendation just based on my previous purchases and conversations. One time a steward, remembering that I liked the R. Lopez de Heredia “Vina Gravonia”, steered me towards an old Riesling that I enjoyed. Another, upon hearing I “hadn’t found a Chardonnay I really liked,” spent some of his own money in purchasing a nice Meursault for me to drink. We should all be so lucky to have such allies in the wine industry!

  10. Shea
    January 25, 2010

    Ya, that’s totally awesome. Also, where can I find this steward? I could use a nice bottle of mersault myself 🙂

  11. Joon S.
    January 25, 2010

    Hahaha–unfortunately, he’s in South Pasadena, California… a bit far from where you’re at!

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