Establishing a wine club allows you to get full retail price for your product, just like at the cellar door. The hard part is tailoring offers that meet the demands of your customers and maintaining a close relationship by communicating regularly via the medium that your customers prefer.
A wine club should not be confused with a mailing list. The term "club" indicates that customers are actually "members" and therefore have certain expectations. Most wineries operate simple mailing lists, which is great if you're small, and it doesn't preclude you from offering special privileges and services to loyal customers.
However, many wine clubs require customers to fulfil certain criteria, including club fees or obligations to purchase on a regular basis. They can take several forms and, depending on the breadth and depth of the wine range, may offer different "tiers" of membership.
It is important to remember why people belong to clubs – exclusive benefits and to feel special. There is no point in establishing a club simply to make the same offer of the same products at the same prices that are available generally.
Success principles to consider
Provide a fast response with a welcome when someone joins your mailing list
Communicate regularly with relevant, interesting and valuable information (every six weeks is a good rule of thumb).
Reinforce the value of being a member, remind them of their exclusive benefits
Grab people's attention (you have five seconds) - how compelling is your opening?
Make an offer up front - get the 'buy' message across early
Repeat the offer at the end - people read top then bottom and scan the middle
Ask for a response - you need to suggest what the reader should do next
Put a time frame on the offer - create an imperative so it doesn't sit in the in-tray
Put your offer on a section of your database - test formats, fonts, offers, layouts, colours. Keep trying things until you find what works best
Limit the size of the publication - often single page fliers will deliver better results than volumes of information. Perhaps you can intersperse your periodical newsletter with short, sharp offers on a single page
Use email or telephone to follow up a week before the offer expires
Do some follow up with people who didn't purchase to find out why
Reward regular or milestone purchasers - give them an option to 'trade up' to VIP status
Wine club options
Two common forms of wine clubs are:
Periodic Offers: customers receive offers periodically (such as seasonally) by print, email or social media. Case sales are the norm, either straight or mixed, delivered on demand, and additional products and events might be marketed at the same time. Highly effective wine clubs may have a number of offers out at the same time different pitches to different segments of the database.
Automatic Delivery: customers pre-select their preferred price point, style and frequency, hand over their credit card details and await delivery. The arrangement is usually ongoing until the customer advises the winery they want to opt out.
The Automatic Delivery Option has advantages for you (every member is “active” because you have their credit card details) and for your customers who don’t have to think about their choices unless they specifically want to change their price point or style. Many people choose to join several wine clubs to ensure choice. In the US, where clubs are common, and options include three bottles delivered quarterly in various price points, evidence suggests members remain active for around 18 months. Similar figures have been cited in Australia, though many established clubs report far greater loyalty.
Target your communications
Segmenting your database and documenting customer preferences allows you to tailor offers effectively. While you may segment based on any number of attributes, the most valuable information you will use for developing up your offers is your customer sales history.
Why distribute an offer for red wine to your entire database when you know that half of them only drink white? Aside from being a waste of money, it's a clear sign to the customer that you haven't bothered to notice their preferences. But what if you knew you were up for a trophy at a prestigious wine show in a few days’ time, and on the day of the announcement you phoned all of your customers who have purchased previous vintages and offered them the chance to buy a single case? A wine club that did it sold 1000 cases very quickly! What's more, it builds brand loyalty and trust.
Timely communication is critical, as is the mix of "information" and "offers". Even if your members have chosen the Automatic Delivery Option, they will still require information about you and the winery periodically. This reinforces their decision to purchase from you and makes them feel like they're part of the extended family. It also allows you to extend the relationship by creating events that are exclusive to members and guests, perhaps following the release of a new wine or vintage. Events such as these create additional selling opportunities and access to new members through their guests.
Social media opens up a whole new range of opportunities.
Ask people what they want
Consumers who subscribe to wine clubs will remain with you if you meet their needs and exceed their expectations. Depending on the target market, these might differ slightly, but at the very least they will expect a high degree of service delivered efficiently, convenience, and assurance (usually in the form of money-back guarantees). If you've taken the time to research and segment your database you will know what each segment requires. This can be as simple as asking your customers what services they expect, or would like to have.
For example, a Canadian winery surveyed its customers and segmented them into "low" and "high" involvement consumers (a marketing term applied to differentiate between consumers with a low requirement for wine knowledge and who drink wine infrequently versus those who may be regarded as "connoisseurs" with a high knowledge of wine and regular wine drinking habits). They discovered that the needs of the two groups differed considerably, though they all had one requirement in common: they wanted to feel "special". For the "high involvement" consumers this extended to invitations to events first to secure the best seats, exclusive offers (delivered by email) and separate tasting areas for them and their guests.
American wineries have reported similar findings and tailor their clubs and facilities accordingly. One winery has two levels; entry to the top level is restricted to members from the base level who have consistently demonstrated a high frequency of purchasing. And because membership of the top level is restricted to 250 it can mean lengthy waiting periods, as there are several thousand base-level members. Then, if you are selected, you pay a $200 joining fee and enjoy privileges such as a private terrace at the winery from which to entertain your guests, tastings in the reserve room and many other special offers. These members account for 70% of all club purchases by value, mostly on-site, and they actually use the winery as their personal club in the true sense of the word by visiting regularly to take advantage of the offerings.