5 Tips on the Care and Feeding of your Wine Club!

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

When I think of winery wine clubs, I envision two primary types: the precious few notorious and typically high-priced brands that wine lovers aspire to join, and the countless other smaller brands that vary widely in visibility, price, desirability, and numerous other aspects that are looking to gain members and more recognition.

Highly sought-after aspirational brands don’t need to promote their clubs/allocations. These brands are so accepted as leaders in their respective regions, varietals, and/or the wine making community, that their wines practically sell themselves. Consumers often remain on years-long wait lists just for the privilege of one day being accepted into the club or allocation. I know I have, and I wouldn’t dare quit these memberships lest I lose a second chance to participate. But these brands cannot rest on their laurels alone – they need to maintain their reputation and exclusivity. The moment these wines become available at local bottle shops or found for lower-than-wine-club prices—that’s moment members bolt for the nearest exit.

But what about the huge number of wine clubs that do not enjoy such limelight? How on earth do these brands differentiate their clubs in order to attract new club members? While the pricing rule still applies (don’t expect members to stay in your wine club when they can find your wine at retail for lower prices), there are a number of other steps to attracting members to your wine club and making them want to stick around.

Consider these 5 tips for the care and feeding of your wine club:

Tip #1: First, everything starts the moment a consumer arrives at your facility. Impressions are powerful for wine clubs. Potential club members are real people with busy lives who have chosen to visit your winery from among the gazillions available. Does your winery facilitate a killer experience from the moment these folks turn into your driveway to the moment they walk out that door?

Tip #2: Create an awesome and memorable experience. People join these clubs not just because they like the wine, but also to carry those positive vibes and great memories back to their homes. The facility is inviting and winery staff make a genuine effort to make the consumer feel welcomed and appreciated. Members like to feel personally involved in the winery’s goings-on. After all, even though they are receiving bottles for their membership, these consumers are providing ongoing financial support to the winery.

Tip #3: Make your club flexible.  Unless your offerings are concise (you are Zin-exclusive, for example), allow members to customize shipments as much as possible. This doesn’t mean simply offering 3/6/12 bottle or quarterly/semi-annual/annual options.  It means allowing consumers to exclude varietals they dislike, skip a shipment every now and again, delay shipping a week or two, or even move up or down into more or less premium membership tiers from time to time as their budgets or personal wine inventories demand. Also, limit your bundling of excess less-desirable inventory on members. Members have told us they don’t just dislike this practice, they view it as disrespectful. I’ve personally dropped memberships for the same reason.

Tip #4: Make sure your member benefits aren’t exclusive to local folks.  Wineries are a destination for all, but a local jaunt for only a few. Many of your members are from out of town and aren’t able to participate in the numerous member benefits that, for logistical reasons, can be enjoyed only by local members. It’s really important that you sincerely acknowledge your appreciation of non-local members through other avenues such as branded freebies with shipments (wine keys or other accessories), discounts to partnering businesses who are able to serve a national audience (online shops perhaps?), thank you notes, etc. Be creative, you’re fostering a relationship here!

Tip #5: You don’t have to drop big money to make your local members feel valued. Members-only events are often high-production affairs. Sometimes they’re fancy, sometimes they’re homey, but they’re often spendy and labor-intensive for the winery. Members have come to expect such events as part of the package, but you shouldn’t limit your member outreach to big affairs. Members have told us they really appreciate feeling like they’re personally involved in your success. Smaller outreach or touch opportunities like private or small group winemaker tours, hands-on harvest opportunities, and other highly personalized experiences go a long way in making members feel personally invested in your brand.

In the end, managing all the myriad permutations of options may be prohibitive for some wineries, but the overall message is to be ultra-respectful of your relationship with your members and the many options available to them for discretionary spending. Any good relationship in life or business is worth the effort to keep it strong. So do what you can to keep the love alive!

Reach out to me anytime to chat about how you can optimize your wine club.

Stay tuned to our next blog for a list of the top things NOT to do if you want to keep your wine club members happy!

Merrill Research—Experience You Can Count On.