Turning Tasting Room Visitors into Lifelong Customers

By: Bryan St. Amant


For many wineries, tasting room visits over the summer months represent the single largest source of direct customer contact they'll have all year long.  And for wineries looking to grow consumer direct sales and/or cultivate long term customer relationships, summer is a season of tremendous opportunity.

Yet many wineries fail to take full advantage of the opportunity this season presents.

Sure, we treat our visitors well.  We greet them cordially...we ask about their interests...we give them tours...we answer their questions...we share our wine and our hospitality.  If everything goes well, this interaction results not only in immediate sales, but in customers who truly feel a special sense of connection to the winery. 

But instead of seizing this fertile moment to begin building long-term customer relationships, too often wineries let many of their guests walk away with a nothing more than the vague hope that someday they'll return. 

If immediate sales are your only objective,  this is enough.  But if you want to expand your base of repeat customers -- and grow your off-season sales -- there is more you can do. 

That's why this month's wine markeing tip is: Turning Tasting Room Visitors into Lifetime Customers.

The key to building real relationships with our customers is no different than building and maintaining long-distance relationships in other parts of our lives.  We need to stay in touch. 

Not just once-a-year holiday cards or impersonal newsletters.  Neither of these hurt, and both can complement an effective relationship marketing program.  But real relationships are fostered when we understand our customers' interests, address them personally about the things that matter to them most, and communicate with them on a regular basis. 

Permission-based email marketing gives us the tools to do just that.  That's why the summer season presents such an opportunity.  Why not leverage your customers' visitsand their positive state of mindto build your email list with contact information and customer preferences? 

You can start by examining the opportunity that exists in your tasting room today.  How many visitors do you have during the year?  How many will visit in the next few months?  What percent are signing up for your mailing list or club?  How much larger would your mailing list be if you increased the number of names you're collecting from your tasting room visitors?

The results of this exercise may just surprise you.  If you have decent tasting room traffic, you may find you are able to double or triple the size of your email list in just a few short months by doing a better job of capturing the names and interests of your guests.  Build list sign-up into your tasting room experience over the long haul, and you could be well on your way to creating a serious consumer-direct marketing machine!

If you're not collecting email addresses in your tasting room today, start by involving your tasting room staff.  Share with them your goal of building consumer direct relationships and ask for their ideas on how to increase list sign-up during the tasting room experience. 

With your team's support, actually collecting email names in your tasting room is the easy part.  At a minimum, make sure your guest book or mailing list form asks for an email address.  Just building this request into your form should result in 50% to 80% of your guests leaving their email information.  Even if you don't have an email marketing program in place today, building your email list in this way will give you something to work with in the future.

For a more high-tech approach, consider adding a computer kiosk to your tasting room in addition to paper-based forms.  You can pay thousands for a custom-built kiosk, or you can create your own using a low-cost computer and any standard web browser that points to your email sign-up form.  Ideally, your kiosk will be connected live to the internet, but you can also build this solution to work offline with manual uploads to your email system.

Once you have the mechanism in place for collecting email names, you can maximize your results by making sure your customers know the benefits they'll receive when they subscribe to your email service.  If they'll be receiving advanced notice about new wines, invitations to winery events, or notes from the winemaker, let them know with tastefully presented signs and reinforce these benefits on the sign-up form itself.

To capture even more names, consider offering your customers a chance to win something fun when they sign up for your list.  Depending on your resources, this can be as simple as a set of logo glasses or as compelling as a weekend getaway at your local wine country spa. 

And if you're adding incentives for customers to sign up for your list, why not consider incentives for staff participation?  One simple way to do this is to have your staff put their initials on list sign-up cards they collect from customers...then reward your top producer with a bottle of your best wine...or reward your entire team when you reach your list building goals.

Of course, once you begin collecting email addresses in your tasting room, you'll need to follow through with regular program of customer communication.  But that's a topic for another day!  

In the meantime, don't miss the great opportunity that summer provides.  If you're not collecting email addresses in your tasting room, now's the time to start!  And if you are collecting email names, now's the time to re-examine your efforts and see what you can do to improve your results.