The Wake-up Call

Niccolo Machiavelli“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

… Niccolo Machiavelli

The Cult

My wife’s friend, New York based designer Joe Macal, told her that this summer in the Hamptons the wine selection on the party circuit is no longer the envy of the wine cognoscenti. The cult wines have been locked in the basement wine cellars of the McMansions, and the famous hosts just don’t think ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption are cool in this economyHamptons Summer Party. Or so opined a vintner friend over Racer 5‘s in Healdsburg last week . I’m guessing there has been a sort of a reverse Veblen good effect going on here. Well, no doubt the tide is out. Wall Street has sneezed, and it’s looking less like a cold and more like the financial flu. The question being asked in the hills and knolls of wine country is ‘are we in a luxury goods recess, or has long-term consumer, even the most affluent consumer, behavior been modified?’ The luxury category segment of the American wine business known as the cult wine market has been on anKinked Demand Curve Model unprecedented run since 1990. While the term is new the concept isn’t. There have always been wines, as long as wines have been produced and sold, that commanded more attention and higher prices. Although we look at absolute pricing as an identifier of value, pricing is relative to the times, and through the inverted kink in the demand/pricing graph made famous by the late Dr Paul Samuelson in ‘Economics,’ and codified by John Forbes Nash in ‘Equlibrium,’ we’ve come to understand that the stratospheric pricing of cult wines infers on the host and guest the psycho-social attributes, as described by Berkeley’s Erving Goffman, of being accepted as members of the club. However, just ask Silas Lapham, membership in the club may not be long term.

The Call

Screaming EagleRinggggg, ringggggg, ringggggg. Sitting bolt up-right in my desk chair, looking past the glare of the iMac screen in the darkened room, I couldn’t believe that at 5 AM my iPhone was vibrating off the edge of my desk. Quickly shaking my head back-and-forth to loose the remnants of the mind numbing long night’s work of pushing ouHarlan Estatet pricing structures for a client’s new label project, I answered my phone without first checking the caller-ID. At the sound of the click the sonorous voice at the other end of the connection jump started the conversation. “Hi, sorry to call you so early, but did you read today’s Wall Street Journal article on the luxury wine market? Well, it struck home. My sales, for the first time in 15 years aren’t so great, and well, I’d like to toss around a few ideas.”

“Not a problem, I’ve been up working on a project, but no, haven’t read any papers this morning. Ah, excuse me. Who is this?”

“I’m that small cult winery, ha, that you pitched last year about this time and I told you I didn’t need any help. But I just got off the Araujophone with a management contact at my Boston asset management firm and, well, I need it now.” “I’ve replanted about half of my vineyard, changing the potential final blend, and the grapes are in 4th leaf. I could bottle the young juice in my primary brand, but the overall quality would be diminished. And if there was ever a time to push the quality envelop, it’s now.” “I’m thinking about introducing another label, in a more popular tier, something that could be sold in other environments, other channels. I’ve always been at the luxury end of the market, but I do buy other wines all the time, and think it would be great to get this new wine in more hands.” “So, how do I do this?”

The Plan

Yes, it is possible for a luxury brand to execute a lower priced, more egalitarian brand strategy effectively. A clear focus is needed and a tier specific brand plan is necessary. There are key questions that need to be asked and answered.

  1. Theme – name, appearance, label, packaging
  2. Personality – place, product, pricing, promotion
  3. Tactical Plan – what, when, where, how, how much
  4. Reputation Engineering – the PR initiative
  5. Sales Effort – DTC, DTT, existing distributors?

Forts de LatourA great team is in place, and to dislocate them for a new project just wouldn’t make any sense. They are part of the positive story for your existing brands and lend credence to the new project. You’re current cult and luxury portfolio is based on Napa Valley mountain grown Bordeaux proprietary reds. Protect the image of the existing luxury/cult brands by reducing production by further defining selection and maintaining real rarity. Use the traditional Bordelais classified growth second label model. Think Forts de Latour from Chateau Latour, Pavillion Rouge from Chateau Margaux, or Le Petite Cheval from Chateau Cheval Blanc. Share the story of replanting with new clones and the early quality displayed by the young vines, whilimages-3e refining the cult winemaking process. Increase exposure and the positive press and/or wine blog buzz opportunities by providing value and access to wines which were formerly unavailable in the broad market from your winery. In a market in which Michelin star chef Daniel Boulud has decided to focus more on value with DBGB Kitchen & Bar, the idea of a cult brand providing a more value centric model is not only timely, but most likely necessary given the reality of today’s world financial markets.

The Wrap

drafting plansCreating any new brand in a rapidly consolidating and saturated broad market is not without risk. Manage your risk by utilizing research to target the best potential accounts. Work with key lighthouse accounts, both on and off-premises in limited geographic markets, who will provide support through newsletter, blog and/or web endorsements, while avoiding brand image diminishing discounting. Be sharp in your pricing to not only maximize profit but to achieve planned depletion velocity and consumer pick-up and repurchase. Your value proposition is leveraged on your existing reputation, built through hard work and a fidelity to your singular vision over the last 15-20 years. Don’t engage in any activity that will diminish the new brand or your existing brands. And, really only do this if you are totally committed to success, and not just as a short term liquidity fix.

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

Swimming the Grocery Channel

Larry Bird“Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.”
… Larry Bird

The Client

I’d been listening for more than a hour, taking notes, watching for signs or cues that my client wanted more than a confirmation that the strategic business model conceived more than 7 years ago was still viable in this new, emerging economy. Sometimes it’s just best to let someone talk and talk. And after all the points are expressed, restated and then exhausted the steam just runs out. As my client turned in his chair, at images-3the large cluttered antique desk, holding the latest account sold report, he looked at me and said one last time, ‘just a little more hard work.’ ‘Yep, that’s what we need, a little more hard work.’ I leaned forward in the faded leather club chair, pinching my eyes closed with my thumb and forefinger and started to feel the onset of a migraine. A migraine that would only go away when my client saw the light. I fought back the urge to answer withDana Carvey as Bush 1 my best Dana Carvey imitation of Bush 1 saying “Not gonna do it.” But, self preservation and 7 years of history got the better of me, and I responded that it was time to rethink the winery’s business model. We needed to flatten out the growth curve of the principal brand, while continuing to focus on the best quality. Some of the juice would have to declassified to be sold in bulk, bottled as a value tier or launched as a new brand. If the new tier or label strategy were to be implemented then pricing tactics would allow the winery to open up new channels for wine by the glass (WBTG), independent retail, or grocery distribution. The word grocery resonated like a scratch on a blackboard. My clients face scrunched-up as if he had just smelled a carton of month old milk. He looked up at me over the top edge of his bifocals and said ‘GROCERY?’

The Grocery Channel

I understand your reticence. You’re concerned with endangering, what Tim McDonald CSW refers to as, your winery’s ‘Reputation Engineering.’ And, based on old models, this concern was once justified, but no longer. Today’s grocery is more than a viable constellation solar winerydistribution alternative for wineries of small and moderate size. The world of grocery distribution seems to the uninitiated to be dominated by the big boys, the 30 largest wineries in the USA market. And it seems to be most appropriate as a channel model only for those wineries producing 100,000 cases or more. Well the grocery market, like the wine market is highly differentiated and segmented. Groceries are classified and merchandized by neighborhood and product selections determined by local demographics. A sharp, regionalized well conceived channel strategy is a must. There is a spot across most price points somewhere within the grocery segment for your wine brand(s). There are convenience store concepts, independents, mid-chainKrogers, large regional multi-unit stores, and then there’s Safeway and Krogers. Within these larger grocery brands several regional sub-brands keyed to the needs of their local markets exist. Consolidation, a current trend in the adult beverage business for producers and distributors, has also found its way into the US Food & Drug business segment. It is not a one-size fits all solution anymore. As I look across the country, I see data that demonstrably reveals pricing segment shifts and channel shifts that favors due consideration of grocery distribution for your brand(s). I believe that it’s time to reset your expectations. It’s time to innovate. It’s time to realize that there are new points of price sensitivity that factor into consumer wine purchase decisions. It certainly is time to recognize the need for real-time category information as a key part of your decision making matrix.

Please note that large areas of the country, including the Inter-Mountain West, several control states such as Pennsylvania, and Whole Foods Wine Sectionlarge US Eastern population centers including Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts don’t as yet allow wine sales in grocery stores. For the smaller, niche, highly-differentiated winery single unit independents and mid-chains are the most appropriate targets for selected distribution. In the nine county San Francisco Bay Area, the small and mid-chain grocery market is vibrant. Within 100 miles of most wineries in Napa and Sonoma several points of potential distribution exist. Although not meant to be comprehensive, the following list represents strong premium grocery retail wine locations: Oliver’s, Fiesta/Pacific, Molsberry Market, Sonoma/Glen Ellen Markets, Vallerga’s, Ranch Market, Sunshine Foods, Oakville Market, Dean & Deluca, Molly Stone’Nugget Markets Wine Sections, Paradise Foods, Nugget Markets, Real Foods, Andronico’s, Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, Farmstead Cheese, Draeger’s, Lunardi’s, Cosentino’s, Diablo Foods and many more. Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s are also larger specialty food retailers with strong wine programs, and a significant Bay Area presence. Although, I’ve focused on my back yard, I would also target strong local or regional grocers such as the Carolina’s Harris Teeter, Chicago’s Treasure Island, Seattle’s Metropolitan Market, Portland’s New Season’s Markets, Los Angeles metro area Gelson’s and Bristol Farms, Florida’s Publix Markets, Texas’ Central Markets, Arizona’s AJs, Cleveland’s Heinen’s and St. Louis’ Dierberg’s.

A Very Short Course in Category Management

Category Management GraphCategory Management is “a retailer/distributor/supplier process of managing categories as strategic business units, producing enhanced business results by focusing on delivering consumer value.” …FMI ECR Committee

Selling to groceries can seem daunting to the first timer. The concept of management by objective is key to your grocery presentation. What specifically are your goals? How do you hope to achieve your placements? Do you understand how to leverage your brand equity with that of the retailer’s equity? You don’t have to be Gallo or K-J to have definedTrader Joe's goals and a plan. Your brand’s equity is based on your prior distribution achievement, sales history, reliability, pricing and promotions. Understand that this is a business relationship that requires candor, confidentiality, participation and the ability to give unbiased recommendations in reference to the category, varietal and other winery’s products. Wineries of all sizes have the ability to grow and diversify their depletions by taking the category management approach with retailers seriously. Understand that retailers are seeking multiple points of input to get a holistic view of their marketplace. Use your unique position as a smaller winery and your knowledge of the super and ultra-premium price segments to become a trusted adviser helping the grocery buyer to be better at focusing on the end user. In your presentation be objective, be consumer oriented, keep the message simple and focused, be action specific, and sell a ‘win-win’ program.

A very simple analysis is to quantify your opportunity  by comparing the Consumer Development Index and your Business Fine Wine SalesDevelopment Index, What may sound like geek speak to you, is actually a simple concept. CDI is a specific market accounting of the % of sales for an item based on type and price. To access this information you need to refer to data from IRI, Nielsen, Trade Pulse, or other previously discussed wine consumer insights firms. BDI is your actual % of sales within a defined geography. Select markets where CDI>BDI. Calculate the gap as CDI-BDI = a positive opportunity. Then utilizing the formula (Volume/BDI)*Gap = opportunity volume, develop a plan. This is allows you to ask and discover the answers to the 3 basic questions of distribution:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where should we be?
  3. How do we achieve desired targeted distribution objective

Swim to Win

imagesSelling wine to groceries tends to be a more technical and specialized arena than other available wine sales channels, but not necessarily more complex. Sales is sales. My Dad used to always say ‘sales is a contact sport.’ And in any contact sport you want the best tools in order to just not survive but to succeed. You’ll need to incorporate your market, brand and wine knowledge, salesmanship, business skills and your entrepreneurial mind set. Yes, it’s tough out there, always has been, always will be. But, you’re in the game to win. And if you close your mind to any available channel before a thorough strategic market analysis, win you won’t. As you swim in the grocery channel, utilize technology to access the best market and category information tools to target, prepare, present , close and win.

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.