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