It’s Time for Plan B

images-4“The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.” … James Yorke

I’ll be more than happy to grant you a plenary indulgence if your first response to reading the daily news headlines is to head to your winery’s case goods storage facility to start drinking this years unsold suprplus. USA Today Money section headline reads ‘Anxietimages-3y surges as stocks relapse.’. The Wall Street Journal reads ‘Markets Fall on Growth Fears,’… ‘Drop Amid Worries Over Global Contraction.’ James C. Cooper in his Business Week column advises us that that ‘Consumers Won’t Drive A Recovery.’ Given the dynamics of today’s financial markets the world of commerce as we have known it appears, at a minimum, chaotic. The situation is completely out of our control, or so it seems. As our core wine consumers concentrate on increasing their rate of savings and focus on paying down debt, we face the daily reality of our wine business balance sheets. Upon the completion of the monthly review of our financial dashboards the question most often asked is, ‘which way out of the abyss?’ Well, I’m guessing that Plan A isn’t working as well as it once was, so let’s start talking about Plan B.

head in sandNo Plan B is not sticking your head in the sand, or drinking all of your unsold product by the holidays. Plan B is increasing your promotional spend in very specific ways to create improved brand awareness and to increase the velocity and lift of brand take-away. Promos can take many forms that can be shaped to your winery’s specific business and channel models. It is important to note the obvious. In the domestic USA there are 50 states, with each state determining alcoholic beverage custom, law and practice within its borders. Before embarking on any of the following suggestions make sure that you interface with your compliance specialist and with your Sonoma Market Wine Displaybeverage industry attorney concerning any proposed promotional activity. Promotions in the beverage business can be experiential, interactive, viral or mobile, while focusing on your tasting room, retail distribution or restaurant activity. The idea is to create a reason or a set of compelling reasons that with create a positive interaction between your brand and your targeted customer. Good promotions not only engender sales, but are also structured to provide trackable metrics. All good promotions are established with specific goals and objectives in mind. And all effective promotions are keyed to a calendar with a beginning and end date.

Thanksgiving w/WineAn awareness of the calendar is also important in maximizing promotional opportunities around key selling dates — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, St Valentine’s Day, Easter/Passover, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Promotions can focus on seasonal releases such as Beaujolais Nouveau on November 15th, the May release of Rose, the late spring release of your aromatic whites, or the fall release of your Syrah. Promotions can be keyed around major sporting events through sponsorships or seasonal promotions such as the MLB All Star Game or the annual NCAA/NFL season kick-off.

While general marketing trends follow our traditional Julian Calendar please note that the promotions calendar for all 50 states should not the sameimages. While consumers are drinking lots of wine in the Hamptons right now, the same can’t be said for most of Florida or Arizona where consumption peaks during the winter months. You may want to create a national promotions calendar, but you would be wise to regionalize your calendar based on seasonal differences and on your unique product mix.

Case Study

The Crisis:

Winery A, a <10,000 case single brand burgundian varietal facility, had experienced reduced week day traffic in the tasting room, IMG_0452and week-end spend was flat compared to last year. A significant amount of bleed was being experienced from the mailing list. The marketing plan had always been to focus broad market three-tier distribution specifically on-premise, and to not focus on retail, avoiding discounting and direct competition with, what was until this year, a vibrant DTC program. Well, restaurant sales were contracting and retail, while receptive, only placed just in time orders. Winery A’s distributors were also minimizing orders and stretching out the payment cycle on purchases, crimping cash flow in a tight, tight credit market. Ouch! What to do?

Plan B:

In order to create focus and to drive traffic in the tasting room the understanding that most traffic was now local was key to creating the following promotional activities. A technology person was hired and tasked with new web-site development and new media strategies. Online coupons were developed offering twofer tastings. The tasting bar glassware was upgraded to Stolzle lead freeBurgGrand crystal. Instead of the standard sequential individual glass tasting, flights of 3 wines were created, i.e., 3 Chardonnays, 3 Pinot Noirs, or 3 SVD wines. Retail wine pricing was revisited and prices were rationalized to current BBQeconomic realities. With the clarification that California wineries could now offer for on-site consumption full bottle or wine-by-the-glass sales, the outdoor areas were refurbished and replanted, picnic tables were added and activities such as live music, BBQ’s and association events were added to the Calendar. An outreach to mailing list clients was initiated first by email, and then by phone. A members only room was created and made available for for active mailing list customers. Several mailing list first only small production single vineyard wines were produced and marketed to the members. Principals and winemakers were now present and active at all primary members events.

To launch the new image, prior to the start of season, a regional party was thrown for hospitality staffs at other wineries, IMG_0543restaurants and hotels. A one day employee discount offer was put into place, and the In-Out Burger Wagon was brought in to serve the large crowd. The new media manager had a station for Facebook Fan Page sign-ups, tied into a ‘guess-that-varietal’ contest, with the winner(s) broadcast on the Fan Page the next day. Great good will was created, leading to a significant uptick in referrals from the attending hospitality folks. Next the new media manager organized individual tastings with traditional media Facebook Fan Sign-Upfrom local and regional newspapers, radio, television and the major wine magazines for a winemaker tour and tasting of the new releases. This resulted in several stories and reviews. Next came the tweetup. All visiting and local active Twitter contacts were invited to the winery for a tasting and BBQ. Library, and yet to be released wines were poured alongside current or soon to be released wines. A good time was had by all, and considerable buzz was created, not just on the event day, but the relationships developed kept the conversations flowing. The new media manager also identified key influential bloggers in targeted markets, and distributed samples for a subsequent online winemaker led tweetup.

For the broad market a new channel strategy was put into place. A regionalized marketing/promotion calendar was developed. The sample budget was increased, and a program for new accounts and/or new markets was put into place. The release of Winery A’s Brown Bag Wine Tastingbest Pinot Noir was treated as a notable event. Tastings were organized and the prize Pinot was placed in a brown paper bag as was a well known and highly rated and much more expensive Burgundian Pinot Noir from the same vintage. The targeted on-premises account gatekeepers were tasted on both wines in a random order, and then asked to choose. A win win situation that resulted in new placements in conjunction with new on-premise post-off or 3 case tier restaurant pricing replacing the former no discount practice. This tasting was replicated with the in-market distributor partner’s key account sales teams. In the evening, accounts with an active wine bar crowd imageswere sampled by the market manager interfacing with wine friendly patrons, and a wine amuse bouche was offered to receptive dinners. Retail pricing was revisited and post off or volumetric discounts were offered. In markets where groceries sales were allowed, distribution was extended with appropriate pricing creating sales and display activity even at Winery A’s higher price points. Winemaker and principal travel was coordinated to do either in-store tastings or bottle signings on key Friday and Saturday sales periods. And in the evening they were scheduled to conduct  local tweetups,  interacting with key wine bloggers and Twitter contacts.

In dealing with their distributor partners, Winery A allocated human resources, and promotional dollars to drive sales. In order to accelerate the payment cycle, they used a traditional CPG invoicing strategy. While seeming to lengthen the payment cycle, by writing the terms to reflect a discount of 5%/10 days, 2%/30,  & net 60, accounts receivable returned to a normalized payment schedule.

Conclusion:

Woodcut BWinery A had a viable Plan B to attack not retreat from the market in times of consumer retraction. They created new promotions, programs and strategies reflecting new technologies, and allocated spend to position their winery for not only the current economic times, but for sustainable success. The implementation of Plan B which incorporated old school  promotional practices aligned with new technologies applied with old fashioned elbow grease have positioned Winery A for maximization of results. So, is your head still in the sand? Are you sitting on your barrels, mired in reams of financial reports, or are you working on Plan B?

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Satori in Sonoma

Studs Terkel“We are more and more into communications and less and less into communication” … Studs Terkel

My father instilled in me an innate curiosity about life and people. He taught me that having the right question may be more important than having all the answers. And most importantly he taught me to listen. I’ve always been interested in how people arrived at their career choices. Was it an accidental journey or a planned path that you’re now walking down. Since my life’s work has been in the wine business, I’m for the most part interested in people who have traveled a similar road. My Socratic style was inspired by Studs Terkel and his examination of the average American working stiff. When someone asks, ‘will there be anything else, sir’, I often respond question in question, “what’s the meaning of life?” This always stops the questioner in his/her tracks. A moment of reflection is sometimes given to a substantive response, but for the most part it often devolves into an embarrassed laugh, or worse into some platitude or other. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk with someone during a wine interaction I like to ask about their first memorable wine experience. What’s that? Well, since you’ve asked, I’m more than willing to share my story.

My father, Howard Corcoran was a character, and in the Irish oral tradition told great stories. He graduated as the Valedictorian from Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, West Virginia and then from West Virginia University with a degree in Law. He never sat for the bar, but instead followed his widowed Aunt Margie to Florida, where she was the business manager for the architect Addison Mizner. His aunt had been married to Arthur McConnaughy the founder of Island Creek Coal Company, the genesis company of what is now ConocoPhillips. My great Uncle was killed defending his mine during a strike, and Aunt Margie was Jerome KernleftBreakers Hotel Palm Beach with a then significant income. So off to Palm Beach with Dad to be near her sister Virginia, who’s husband operated the men’s haberdashery at the Breakers Hotel. Dad quickly landed a job for $1/day as a clerk in a brokerage office, and lived on a yacht owned by American composer Jerome Kern, with his roommate Johnny Love. At night Dad and Johnny headed a jazz combo that played during the high season at all the big parties. This was in the middle of prohibition, but the swells weren’t about to do with out their champagne or booze. My Dad and Johnny had a sideline business of also supplying the party favors. The yacht was used to sail over to Bimini to pick-up a load of Cordon Rouge Champagne, Seagrams whiskey, and Kennedy Scotch. And then the boys sold their haul to the social 400 who inhabited Palm Beach for the winter.

My Mom and Dad got married after the end of Prohibition just as the New Deal was helping to drag the economy out of the SCAN0009depression. I came along as the last of five kids towards the end of the famed boomer generation. I grew up listening to these by then romanticized stories, and knew that in some way, some how wine would be part of my life. My parents often had dinner parties, and Sunday meals were always formal sit downs at the long claw and ball foot table in the big dinning room. Wine was often part of these occasions, and we were always allowed to taste the wines and encouraged to share our impressions. Knowing my Dad’s story, I often asked my father’s friends and business associates about the first time that they thought of wine and went wow.

I still ask this question. I ask it of store owners, and clerks. I ask sommeliers, and chefs. I ask university professors, distributor owners and winery entrepreneurs. And everyone has an answer. That moment of enlightenment seems, while always different, to be a memory worth sharing. Although I grew up enjoying wine with my family in the appropriate social situations, my moment of zen came on theCh Pavie Label
Empress Lilly Riverboatbalcony of my Disney office in Florida tasting samples while creating the wine list for the Empress Lilly Riverboat restaurant complex at Lake Buena Vista Village. It was the mid 70’s and I was tasting the 1970 Ch. Pavie, and all of the sudden I got it. This, my moment of sudden enlightenment, was soon followed by a trip to Sonoma County, California. At the end of a long week I was sitting in my rental car on a cloudy, rainy winter day in the parking lot of the Dry Creek General Store sipping on a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyards Zinfandel. The sun finally came out from behind the dense clouds and a focused beam of light hit my car. At that moment, I knew that this was my home… satori in Sonoma.

Andre TchelistcheffThat my story, but what’s yours? I’ve been so fortunate due to the circumstances of my life and career to have asked this question of governors, congressmen,senators and CEO’s. I especially enjoyed asking this question of some of the icons in the wine industry, including Joe Heitz, Hans Kornell, Mike Girgich, Andre Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Henri Jayer, Jacques SeyssesJim Barrett, Warren Winarski and Jess Jackson. Their stories were all unique, but what great stories they were to hear. One of the best lessons that any successful wine salesperson can learn is to ask the right question and then listen to the answer. So, do your remember the moment when you first drank a wine and thought, wow? I‘m listening.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Focus on Blocking and Tackling

200px-Pat_Riley“When you’re playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you’ll fight for the winners circle. If you do, someday the cellophane will crackle off a fresh pack, one that belongs to you, and the cards will be stacked in your favor.” … Pat Riley

During Monday’s NBA Finals game 3 something seemed off with Kobe Bryant. His focus just wasn’t there. ThisKobe Bryant usually isn’t the case. Kobe is arguably one of the top 10 professional basketball players of all time. His skill set is matchless, and usually so is his focus. Needless to say, the Lakers lost. We’ve seen this lack of focus in sports before with the Pens’ goalie Fleury in last week’s NHL game 5 at the Joe, or with pitcher Barry Zito most of last year at the Phone Booth. It seems that a key observable attribute among those that succeed in any endeavor is the ability to focus on the task at hand. Focus that is the culmination Kennethfoxof awareness, preparation and execution. As a matter of course the wine business entrepreneur is often pulled in multiple directions, and in place of the necessary laser like focus on the end game these distractions tend to diffuse one’s original vision. In observing this situation, a former associate who prior to his life in the wine business was a senior US Navel officer was fond of saying that ‘a good Admiral always knew the outcome of the battle before sailing from port.’ So, like good admirals we should all have a thorough understanding of our brand positioning, and the strategy and tactics necessary for the competent and successful execution of same on the road to winery viability.

Without regard to a specific channel model, understand that you are in the wine distribution business. This is just the process by which your wine gets to the final consumer. This includes the selling, shipping, merchandising and promotion ofWine trade tasting your wine. In performing these functions it seems important to understand the unique and individual needs and wants of each and all of your customers – sales agents (including distributors), trade and consumers. It also requires an understanding of the marketplace and your competition. It is through the acquisition of this knowledge that leadership is developed in crafting quality products that fill the needs and wants of your targeted audience. Being a visionary in anticipating your future opportunities will allow you to continue achieving your brand goals. But, in order to shape your brand success you’ll need to identify, create and communicate your winery’s unique brand position.

Small to mid-sized wine companies need a keen awareness of the perceived attributes that determine their brand positioning. For Cabernet Sauvignonexample, where your wine grapes are planted, and the set of geological, geographical and cultural attributes inherent to this point of origin go a long way to the determination of positioning – i.e., take the vineyard location of Cabernet Sauvignon. While Cabernet Sauvignon’s organoleptic profiles, without regard to origin, share some similar characteristics, the point of origin provides some significant points of differentiation as to brand positioning. Cabernet wines grown in Napa Valley will tend to be positioned differently thaimages-7n Cabernet wines from Bordeaux, or even neighboring Sonoma; and, certainly on a different tier than the good Cabernets grown in Monterey’s Hames Valley or in the nearby Paso Robles AVA. Consider the unique brand position that Ste Michelle Wine Estates achieved for Washington State Cabernets. All of these are different but potentially good wine regions, but each is perceived to have a unique sets of attributes by critics and consumers alike. And these attributes tend to aid in directional decisions concerning volume, price, and channel, hopefully resulting in consumer take away.

images-8For those brands in broad market distribution, whether in a DDT or a three tier model, there are three basic questions to ask and answer:

Where are my wines now sold?
Where should my wines be sold?
How do my wines achieve desired targeted distribution?

Effectively answer the above inquiries and you’ll be worth every penny of your income aspirations. In other words, define the current state of affairs and establish brand goals. Yes, this is detailed work, but without targets, goals, and a foundation of specific in market knowledge, your house of cards is in danger of crumbling. So, roll up your sleeves and create an effective CRM list of targeted accounts, by market (geography), name, class (volume potential) and type (on or off-premise). The broad market is dynamic, so continually modify, maintain and update your CRM database.

Now that you have this baseline brand distribution intelligence, your future sales efforts should be directed towards increased markePalace Kitchen Seattlet penetration in your now targeted account universe. Goals should be established within each designated sales territory by account and varietal. Target specific goals should also be codified and achievement should be tracked. These targets, for example, could be wine list or WBTG placements in New American cuisine restaurants in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. Or, fine wine retail placements and ads in Boston, New York, and D.C. Your case goods volume, price point, product mix, and brand intelligence will help to determine this market specific distribution strategy.

Focus

FocusThis is how the top 30 largest wineries tactically achieve their success. They do this in all their key markets. While it’s almost always a good idea to observe and mirror other successful wine businesses, you’re going to have to be more focused and crisper in your execution. You’re a much smaller business and your wines are at FOBs that exclude certain points of distribution. Take advantage of your unique brand positioning proposition. Focus your efforts on fewer markets. Perhaps look to hotels such as Four Seasons, or Ritz Carlton or Kimpton Hotels, and not just wine list or wine by the glass, but in addition pursue placements in banquets and events. Country Clubs and private clubs are an under serviced account base,  but once established they tend to be long-term loyalty accounts and their members represent a key demographic base of influencers. Some of my brands most sustainable distribution was achieved in private clubs, common in most major metropolitan markets. By the way, caterers are always looking for differentiated wines.  So, put on your game face and become a focused niche marketer. Focus on your execution, and focus on scoring those winning placements.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

It’s Time for Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is  limited to all we noimages-1w know and understand, while imagination  embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and  understand.” … Albert Einstein

images-1-1 All the recent economic and financial story headlines and news feeds that we all receive, read and attempt to digest have led to an industry wide case of psychological indigestion. There is often significant cognitive dissonance in what we want to achieve with in-place business models and the levels of brand  performance  necessary for survival in these recessionary times. We can either retreat to our cellars, heads-in-hand, or rethink our models and create new ways to improve brand success. Sitting down with key staff and analyzing sales and distribution numbers used to be a monthly routine, but this process has now become a weekly, if not a daily exercise. We collectively obsess in the analysis of our flash reports and wonder when and if in the near term there will be a turnaround. Well, soon perhaps, but it’s been my life and wine business experience that difficult times call for imaginative solutions – imaginative solutions that will position your winery to survive in the short term and to thrive in this transformative economy.

The Situation

images-2The closure of the fulfillment/compliance firm New Vine Logistics this past weekend was met with a audible gasp heard throughout wine country. Today we can hear the scramble as a significant number of wineries try to recover their wine, meet individual state and federal compliance requirements, and communicate in the midst of chaos with their customers, clients and fans. In the spate of news articles, analytic pieces and blogs on the subject it became apparent that many of the wineries, the ones that relied solely on a DTimages-4C channel model for sales may need to rethink their distribution. A good case study was discussed a few months ago when I hosted a tour of  three west Sonoma County Pinot Noir producers for a group from HBS. At each stop the same question was asked by the group about the breakdown in the winery’s distribution model. All of these still successful wineries had the same answer: 50% DTC, 50% three tier sales focusing primarily on-premise, but with growth in independent retail and mid-chain sustainable grocery. All three wineries understood that a diversity within their models allowed significant flexibility to refocus priorities as market dynamics changed, and market dynamics have changed, and will change again.

Although a few cult wineries are holding even on club sales, most winerieimages-5s have suffered increased resignations, or clubs shipments placed on hiatus resulting in diminished DTC sales performance. The national wine wholesale channel is no longer open to distributing unproven brands or brands that belatedly realize, with the recent pressure on DTC sales, the need for other tactics to sell and distribute wine. The time to create you own revenue enhancement opportunities is now.

The Lesson Plan

dreamstime_6009024.jpg Although it’s tough out there, it’s been tough before. Something we tend to forget this after periods of  meteoric growth.The US wine business is a product saturated, dynamic and evolving industry  meandering  through peaks and valleys on its way to maturity. But a little imagination on how to market, distribute and  sell you wine brand(s) will help in overcoming even significant obstacles on the path uphill. There are so  many distribution options available to wineries in DTT, DTC, or three tier models just use focus and creativity  in building your base channel strategy.

If your brand has limited distribution, then you have a lot of distribution voids. Start locally. No matter what you call your wine images-6country, you want to achieve distribution in local key reference accounts. Tourist come from all over the world to visit, to taste and to eat. If your wine is on a local must visit restaurant wine list or as a wine by the glass feature it creates not only trial but awareness. If you’re a Napa Valley winery, target the wine list at Cole’s, Tra Vigne or Bouchon. I was at Cafe La Haye in Sonoma last year when a distributor friendimages-3 from Texas ordered a bottle of Radio-Coteau. He’s now Eric Sussman’s Texas wholesaler. Years ago, Schmitt-Sohne, an unknown German wine brand without US distribution, established a tasting room at Disney’s Epcot and within 1 year had distributors in 50 states growing today to be one of the most successful of German wine brands in the States.

In order to build sustainable broad market distribution start building a key lighthouse and/or multi-unit on-premise account base. Begin in your immediate local market, then as production grows expand regionally. If you’re lucky enough to produce wine in a state that allows DTT distribution, or you’re working with a firm such as Inertia Beverage, key on what is now called national accounts.

images-7 Although SW&S’s Mel Dick always advises building your brands on premise  today I believe in a more diverse      distribution strategy. The ascension of the local mid-chain grocery provides quality distribution alternatives for fine    wine  sales. If you’re in St. Louis, you want your wine in Dierbergs, or  in Cleveland at Heinen’s, or at Nugget    Markets in Sacramento. And on a regional or national level distribution and features at Whole Foods will result in    significant sales. If you have a new brand that has garnered 90+ reviews from The Wine SpectatorThe Wine Enthusiast or The Wine Advocate and your goal is regional distribution in club stores such as Costco – then it’s achievable.

If you have unsold wine, understand that the burgeoning private label business is boomingimages-31. Rather than spending resources to launch a second label, consider the development of a private label wine for a regional beverage chain, a  mid-chain Grocer or with an emerging sommelier. The aforementioned Heinen’s in Cleveland offers Vin Hunter, a label developed by Wine Director Ed Thompkins.

Consider distribution in control states. For example, if you’re a small winery and decide to sell wine in Pennsylvania you will be in the PLCB speciality store system opening up the special order market to a state closed to most out of state winery DTC efforts, while providing the ability to access the important on-premise markets in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

ian-jpg1In order to drive more guests to your winery plan more effective promotions. Ch Ste. Michelle and Robert Mondavi do this through summer concerts. But this tactic is not just for the iconic destination properties. C.Donatiello has a great summer concert series – most of which are free. Newbies get to discover great wines, associate the wines with a memorable time like Gomez’s Ian Ball’s birthday concert and become members of a growing fan base.

Offer freemiums, such as online complimentary or twofer tasting coupons. Offer free ground shipping oimages1r additional discounts based on quantity purchases. Host a  group of local or visiting wine, food or travel bloggers such as the recent Hahn  vine planting forum, the St. Supery annual bloggers forum, or the Twisted Oak pre-WBC bloggers party.  Establish and maintain your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Don’t treat winery social media accounts as hard sales tools, but occasionally offer specials such as the first chance to get limited production wines. Initially limit this to your contacts, but count on this offer going viral.

images-21Focus on improving your customer service. Recognize the importance of your guests. Greet every visitor with a smile. Over deliver on their brief experience. Call your customers and thank them for their phone and internet orders. Let them know about any events, tastings or winemaker dinners in their home market. Solicit ideas and suggestions and then listen. Reward your most loyal customers at least once per year with an in-house members of the tribe event.

Imagine

images-5This list is not meant to be comprehensive. The above ideas are just suggestions meant to engage you the winery chief marketing officer and to encourage your brand building creativity. You have responsibility for your winery’s success. There is no one out there to hold you’re hand. Bury any inclination towards hubris and arrogance, and listen to what the market has to say. Pay attention to other wineries, big and small that are successful, and study just what it is that they do to create sales. Have the right staff with the right skills in place. Invest in resources, even as margins are squeezed. Spend time in your best markets and keep your eyes and ears open. Keep your pants up and your head down. And be prepared to work harder and smarter than ever to achieve the tasks at hand, but do it with a smile on your face, and the attitude that failure is not an option.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.