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Are Wine Clubs Too Much Wine, Not Enough Time?

By Wednesday 20 January 2016April 22nd, 2021No Comments
Wine Clubs

I admit I am not normal. I am not your average wine consumer – I’m a wine head, enthusiast, whatever… But there are quite a few of us engaged in the beauty, history, science and magic of wine. It’s a passion and hobby for my wine-minded friends and I who visit wineries, buy loads and have cellars.

We frequently join wine clubs, particularly after a great cellar door experience and some awesome wines.The wine lover’s great conundrum is there is just too much wine and not enough time. Most wine clubs usually commit you to taking two dozen wines a year.

The problem is that I’m not monogamous – I drink around. I love diversity and variety, and taking two dozen a year from many of my favourite wineries is more than my ever-expanding cellar can handle and we could consume.

So while I may love your wines, inevitably your wine club and I are probably going to part ways.    

One of my gripes is the inevitable exchange like this recent one with a wine club manager (let’s call them Mac), which goes something like this:

Mac: “You haven’t purchased your required two dozen bottles of wine from us… you need to do this or I will remove you from our wine club.”

Me: “Seriously, I love your wine and bring all my friends to your cellar door who buy and sign up to your wine club. I just can’t handle your allocated two dozen a year.”

Mac: “Sorry, you don’t qualify.”

Me: “Sigh… fine, remove me from your club then.”

End of conversation.

I hang up frustrated. Why don’t they get it! I’m a big advocate and love their wine, I just don’t fit their cookie-cutter approach. I get that wineries are a commercial enterprise and have to turn a buck, ironically you’re doing this for that very reason – it’s in your best interests but what about mine – your customer?

Do you really know who your biggest advocates and influencers are? I run a wine club for the Sydney corporate sector, I have a huge network of wine loving friends and equally others constantly ask for advice and recommendations on wines for corporate events, weddings, parties etc.

I’m not your biggest buyer and you’re probably using a blunt instrument – a database that just tells you how much wine I buy. But does it also show that I bring people into your cellar door regularly who buy and sign up for your club?

Depending on the size of your business, I’d suggest you and your staff should know your top 20 to 50 most valuable customers – buyers plus advocates and influencers. They aren’t necessarily the same, and in fact influencers and advocates possibly bring more to your business than your biggest individual buyers.

And when you identify them, show them the love.

As a member of a buying group for 14 years, we trip annually to a winery and buy by the pallet. It took 11 years to be added to their database and in the last two years they seem to have upgraded their software or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. I’m now recognised as a key customer and get a magnum from them annually to thank me. I love them for it.

That magnum is worth 10 times the value because finally they know who I am and value my custom. The fact that it was an unexpected gift is priceless – we all just want to be acknowledged and feel connected. What have you done lately to delight your most valuable customers?

A friend has been running a buying group with a particular winery for more than 45 years – that’s serious loyalty. He’s introduced hundreds of people and being anal, he’s kept records of what his group has bought – collectively over 5,000 cases! Bet the winery doesn’t even know that… Anyhow, he was lamenting that they wouldn’t let his group taste two of the wines in the annual line-up as they had all but sold out.

The new wine club manager said that’s the policy. Are you kidding me? Let this guy taste what he wants. You may have sold out this season, but he’s stuck through your tough years with 45 years of loyalty, let alone people and sales he’s brought to your business. Over two bottles of wine you’ve managed to piss this guy off and he hasn’t stopped telling others about it.

That’s just not smart business.

So here’s a few characteristics of my favourite wine clubs:

  • They have a mailing list without a buying obligation and send me regular emails about their wines. I choose what and when I buy.
  • They recognise that I bring something valuable to them other than just the bottles I buy. I love that I’m part of a founding 100 club or whatever. I feel valued; they keep getting my custom.
  • If they have buying obligations I can adjust and choose what wines I want. I know what I like and I’m always balancing the wines in my cellar.
  • They send me quality wines. By all means have a value club option, but do not dump the stuff you can’t sell or poor quality wines on me. I’m outta there.
  • They give their club members great value. The best ones are those who really make it compelling both on price and other benefits like wines you wouldn’t otherwise get.
  • They give you something extra to thank you – a couple of back vintage premium wines or a freebie. I loved a free annual event a wine company ran with food and music. It was fun, we got to try their wines and always bought on the night. Awesome!

The challenge of knowing and understanding your customers is certainly not unique to the wine industry, but it doesn’t mean it’s not solvable. It can be manual, automated or as sophisticated as your business needs or can afford. But in these days of hyper competition, heavy online and retail discounting, these are without fail the most important and profitable customers you have. So show them the love, otherwise they are only a click away from someone else that will.

Cathy Gadd is an ex corporate marketing executive who runs Liquidity wine club and lives in the Hunter Valley.

Do you have loyal wine club members? Let us know!

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