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March 2, 2017 | Adrienne Stillman

5 Tips on Building an Effective Winery Hospitality Program

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Five tips from DTC maven Katy Rogers of Jackson Family Wines on winery tasting room best practices including whether to offer reservations, why customer relationship management tools are critical, and how to approach incentives and compensation.

Last week, we kicked off our annual DTC Roadshow series in Santa Maria. One of our presentations focused on how to build an effective hospitality program featuring Katy Rogers, Director of DTC, South Coast for Jackson Family Wines. In her role, Katy oversees four hospitality programs for Byron, Cambria, Carmel Road and Nielson and previously she launched Presqu'ile's DTC program, so it's safe to say she has some serious experience when it comes to winery tasting rooms. Here are five of her top tips:

1. Offer a reservation or seated experience

winery tasting roomWhen you give someone a seat and offer them a higher level of service than just a standing bar, they are more likely to feel compelled to make a purchase, particularly when it comes to wine club sign ups. According to the Wine Business Monthly / Silicon Valley Bank 2016 Tasting Room Survey, tasting rooms that offer appointments convert wine club members at a MUCH higher rate than public ones: 17% for by appointment versus 4% for public. This doesn't mean everyone should adopt a formal, appointment-only model; any kind of seated option is a plus for sales. When making that decision, be true to your brand. No matter what you choose, using a mobile point-of-sale system in a seated environment makes the actual transaction experience more seamless and enjoyable, and can help increase your conversion rates and average order value as well.

2. Have an industry policy

It's important to have a policy on how to treat wine industry friends who come by the tasting room. These people can be your biggest supporters, but engaging in overly familiar conversation or giving them obviously preferential treatment can make your other customers feel left out. Set standards with your hospitality team regarding what kind of discounts or perks to offer and how to engage with industry friends in the tasting room. Katy also recommends offering an industry club as a great way to build brand affinity and foster those relationships.

3. Use silent sales tools

Every bottle of wine, every glass, every piece of paper in your tasting room is a sales opportunity. Make sure your displays and collateral are working as hard as they can to support your hospitality team. For example, display your current wine club shipment to generate questions about how your guests can get those wines. Show "Members Only" pricing on your tasting menus or bottle list. Make it easy for people to find information about your wine club and how to join, without having to ask. Another tactic Katy recommends is using visual cues to differentiate your club members when they visit the tasting room. At one of her properties, this takes the form of special glasses: members taste out of large, Burgundy bowls, while other guests receive a standard glass. This serves as a great conversation starter, and turns your members into brand ambassadors.

4. Leverage a CRM system

Vin65 winery customer relationship management CRM toolWhen a returning customer walks into your tasting room, you want to be able to greet them by name and make them feel special. The best way to do that is with a winery Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Make notes about their wine preferences - maybe they really like older wines and would be interested in your library stock - or give your team a heads up about possible pitfalls - like a guest who likes to pour for themselves and shouldn't be left alone with a bottle. If you make your customers feel like your friends, they will respond in kind: a friend supports their friends - by buying their wine - and won't let a friend down - by quitting their wine club. Of course, to do this effectively, you have to capture your customers' contact info in the first place. Katy sets a goal for her team to have less than 25% "ghost" visitors, or those who purchase wine without leaving any contact details.

5. Try different incentive structures

There are lots of ways to incentivize your team, based on sales volume, sales value, wine club sign ups, contact info capture, team vs. individual, and more. Like anything else, Katy recommends that you regularly revisit your compensation and incentive structures to evaluate performance and adjust as needed. Not sure whether incentivizing based on value or volume sold will work better? Try one month of each and compare the results. It's also important to make sure your incentives aren't adversely competing with each other: if your team is spending all their energy on individual bottle sales, but not wine club sign ups, you might want to revisit how you compensate for both. Katy is also a proponent of team-based incentives and full transparency across departments: the tasting room should know what the wine club goals are, and vice versa. Being open with everyone about your winery's goals builds camaraderie and helps ensure you get the best outcome for your whole brand, not just one individual component.

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