Distribution I feel is THE way to reach a broad audience. Why? Because you want people all over the world to enjoy your wines however little old you cannot be everywhere at the same time, nor do you have the store/restaurant contacts all over the world to make this happen.

However it is a myth that having a distributor in a particular country/state will guarantee your sales there. I haven’t met 1 distributor yet that will drive a winery’s sales all by themselves. The winery principle or Sales and Marketing Manager needs to understand the market, set realistic sales targets and work with the distributor to meet these targets.

The winery relation with the distributor is really the key to success and like with all relationships it’s paramount to chose your distribution partners carefully. There needs to be a common ground, a joined passion for your wine and your story, and a joint understanding of your brand. Its important to see a distributor as an equal partner with similar goals – ie you both want to sell wine and make a living – and  at the same time give your distributor all the tools and help he needs to do a good job.

Communication is key here. Its important to go through your sales and marketing plan together at least 3 to 4 times  a year. Its best to do this in a personal meeting (or a skype video conference call) and discuss depletion reports, actual vs projected sales, marketing effort required to meet projected sales and share successes and PR & Social Media strategies together.

These regular updates allow the winery to keep their finger on the pulse, get valued feedback about specific market trends, adjust marketing spend, sales projections and re-evaluate opportunities and risks attached to the market sales plan. In other words it forces the winery to focus on that market and to take action if need be to make sure key targets in the sales and marketing plan are still being met.

It allows the distributor to share their market knowledge and advise the winery on what events, competitions, market visits are needed to meet the target, and reset expectations if need be. Again here it forces the distributor to focus on your product, to evaluate their sales efforts and acknolewdge their successes and challenges ahead.

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I would like to talk about one of the most profitable ways of bringing your wines to the market – ie by selling them directly to your customers. By bypassing the distribution tiers the winery can take a larger profit and still be competitive in comparison to its competitors. The different ways of selling directly are either through your cellar door, through your website or to wine clubs. However there is a catch… When people do not know your product they generally will be not too tempted to just buy it without any recommendations. Wine clubs work well here, you get invited, do a tasting and get the members enthused and at the end of the evening orders are being taken and you sell some wine. You may even get lucky and get some repeat orders – but sales in general aren’t going to make you rich…

This brings me to the third and most discussed way of directly selling your wine – cellar door sales. Its often been said and written that the cellar door is an essential interface between your brand and your customers – its the most common way to directly interact with your customers.

If you’re planning a cellar door or are keen to review your existing facilities, here are four key areas to consider:

1. Location:

Its important to either being close to, or preferably part of, a main tourist route, in a strong wine tourism region with close proximity to other wineries. And if possible do make sure you sure that you are on the tour buss’s winetrail  route. Also invest in good directional signage into your property and a strong entry statement that will entice visitors to stop. Its also important to invest in adequate parking for your visitors.

2. Branding

Invest in brand consistency through signage, buildings, grounds and facilities. Make sure the entrance, grounds and facilities are professionally presented and that you a clear point of difference – something which defines your wine brand. Having a reputable restaurant at your tasting room site will add to your winery becoming a destination in its own right.

3 The people factor – great service

It’s  paramount to invest in great service and to make the customer feel at home.  One way of doing this is by conducting tastings in a jargon-free unpretentious manner – a common criticism of the wine tasting experience for many visitor, yet make sure that the person conducting the tasting has a thorough understanding of the growing and making of YOUR wines and an overall sound wine knowledge. They will need this to answer  your customers questions and to make recommendations.

4. Create lasting memories

The key to sucess is create a lasting positive impression with your customer of their visit to your cellar door.  Word of mouth promotion, either direct or through social media,  based on positive experience is a potent way to grow your business.  There are many ways to evoke positive memories in visitors: there are the wines themselves and the tasting experience, food on offer, architectural features or the opportunity to observe a working winery.  It is a combination of these and other things that create the winning impression.  Different people will respond to different aspects of their visit so it is important to focus on building a complete experience that reflects and complements your brand.

Once people have some awesome memories from their visit to your winery, they will look for your wine where-ever they are. Which brings me to the next topic – availability of your wine in a wide range of places – which is generally created through distribution channels – but that’s next weeks topic

Making great wine often remains the sole focus point for many winery owners and wine makers. Whilst aiming to make the best wine you possibly can definitely is worthwhile and noble goal, I feel at least as much focus should be on where, how and when you are going to sell this wee miracle in a bottle. Awesome wine that doesn’t really make it into a (paying) consumers glass, may be a bit of a waist of time – unless you are a filthy rich filantrope making exclusive wine for your own consumption…

Unfortunately most of the winemakers and winery owners I have ever don’t really fit into that category, which means they are dependent on wine sales to pay the wine making bills… So what is the best way to go about this?

In my opinion, to be a great sales person it’s essential to know and understand your product, your potential customer base and your market. In other words, what are the characteristics of your wines, who is your target audience, and what other similar wines are out there and how are they influencing the way your target audience may perceive your products ?

An example: a small winery in Marlborough makes Sauvignon Blanc, wants to export this wine into the UK.  Marlborough Sauvignon blanc is a fruit driven fresh and zesty wine with great acidity. This acidity and fruitiness is what made this particular style of Sauvignon Blanc popular all over the world. In the UK this wine retails around 4-6 pounds in the supermarket and 6-8 pounds in the independent trade. Our small winery however, in order to make profit, will need to sell the wine at around 4 pounds FOB per bottle, resulting in the wine hitting the shelves between 14-16 pounds. As its pretty difficult for the untrained palate to pick out the subtle nuances in the Marlborough Sauvignon category its going to be hard going to sell this wine next to rest of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc section.  However this wine could prosper in the on-premise sector, in a trendy restaurant for instance. Consumers know what to expect from a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, they also know they will pay a little more being out in a trendy spot, so the barrier to purchase will be a lot lower than when they see that same wine on the shelf in an independent retailer. The restaurant owner or F & B manager also sees benefits in having a less known wines from a well known regions on his list as it will better mask his mark up. By knowing his product, his customers expectation and the market the small winery owner will aim the on-premise sector when trying to sell his wines in the UK.

My next post will be about direct sales as they still hold the highest ROI for the winery owner – but its pretty hard to export and sell directly at the same time…

Hi all,

Just got off the phone with a winery owner friend of mine and once again realized that the difficulty for small to medium wineries lies in selling the wine (this includes getting paid for it) and that there really isn’t that much support out there for these guys… Hence my decision to start this blog. Let me introduce myself, I work for 4.5 years as a VP marketing and sales for a small to medium size winery in New Zealand and as you might have guessed from my title my main focus was on selling wine. This included branding, distribution channels – ie retaining existing ones and acquiring partners in new markets – pricing, marketing etc.
Since leaving Nz I have been working in operations for a web start up and really started to appreciate the value of Social Media to get your product to market, I am also pretty clued up on budgeting, suppliers management and running a smooth operation, and would like to share my knowledge as well as my passion for wine with you all. Watch this space for tips on how to market your product and get the recognition and the $$ you are after!
Caroline

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