Wine Clubs in a Weakening Economy

As a big fan of wine clubs, I’m always amazed when I speak with wineries that don’t offer a wine club option to their tasting room clients. Recently, I’ve been hearing more and more wineries down-playing their wine clubs and deciding not to push club memberships. They are concerned that in a weakening economy people will not want to add to their financial burden. Wineries are concerned that consumers will quit the club just as quickly as they join. There is some cause for concern as wineries are certainly experiencing a higher than usual drop out rate. However, there are still some things that you can do.

First, a case for continuing a robust wine club:  Wine clubs are a winery’s best source for high margin cash flow. It is your club. You have to ability to set shipment dates that meet your cash needs. A February or March shipment brings in much needed cash when tasting room sales are low. Wine club shipments provide direct contact with customers who are not regular tasting room visitors. Let’s face it, most tasting room customers are tourists. They’ve come to the area on vacation or to visit local friends. In a weekend trip, they may have visited 8 to 10 wineries. But, your winery stood out and they signed up for your club. Now you need to remind them why you were special. Wine club members are your best supporters. People like to share their special finds with friends and they will often bring their shipments to parties where they can talk about your winery. This is the absolute best type of advertising and exposure that a winery can get. You’ll often find these people will then seek out your tasting room when they visit. If your wines are in distribution, being “top of mind” from a friend’s recommendation provides one more reason for people to chose your wine from a list or pick it up off of a shelf.  Wine club shipments lead to follow up sales. A typical wine club shipment gives the customer one bottle of two to four different wines. So once the wines are tasted, and enjoyed, the winery has the opportunity to entice the consumer to purchase a bottle of two of their favorites. If you don’t think this works, please think again. An average winery will get 100% of the wine club shipment price in follow up sales over the course of a year. But, this only holds true if the winery follows up with targeted emails and/or phone calls.

So now that you have a Wine Club, how can you keep your customers? The key to holding on to wine club customers is connecting with them on a personal level and letting them know that they are special. This isn’t meant to be corny. Wine club members are the most important customers for a winery and they need to know that you value their membership. Send them a gift. This is the time to acknowledge a birthday, or if you don’t keep birthdays in your records, the anniversary of their joining the wine club. A small gift like a printed corkscrew is a nice surprise that lets your customers know that they’re not just numbers to you. You can include a special discount coupon for that month as an incentive to visit the website and make an on-line purchase. Release a Library Wine to the wine club. Members-Only sales give added value to being a wine club member. Every wine club gives a discount, but to stand out you need to add extra value to the membership.  When people are looking at which memberships they’re going to keep, you want to stay on that list.  Send regular, targeted emails. These days, people have a lot of junk coming into their emails and you don’t want your emails to become part of the junk. Sending emails on a regular basis, whether that be once a month or once a quarter, allows people to anticipate your emails so that they don’t get lost. Targeted emails are more likely to be opened and acted upon. Personalize the shipments this year. You want to connect with your customers and remind them that you’re not just a company, but a group of people. One on the best ways to do that is to include a personal note with the shipment. Now if you have a lot of customers you may have to go with a pre-printed letter, but make sure each is hand signed. Also, if you don’t already include tasting notes and a recipe with the shipment, this is a good time to add those so that you can again add value to the shipment.

I hope this helps you take a new look at your wine club. A down economy doesn’t have to mean a drop off in wine club sales. You’ll need to put in some extra effort, but it will pay off in spades.

Published by Genevieve Rodgers

I'm an engineer turned, winemaker, turned winery consultant.

4 thoughts on “Wine Clubs in a Weakening Economy

  1. Many thanks for singing the praises of wine clubs. I think in our current economy, the wineries who aren’t promoting their clubs are actually doing a disservice to themselves and most of all potential and new clients.

    For the winery, it can be a reliable income and if a customer joins and quits immediately, as long as a sale is made and money is exchanged, that is at least a sale and a new contact the winery didn’t have before.

    Clubs are incentives for the wine consumer to take advantage of discounts that aren’t always accessible to them, besides a shipment of wine delivered at the door stoop certainly has a way of lifting spirits in a weakening economy.


  2. Being a member of 8 clubs currently….and 15 at my height of craziness, I’ve got a lot of experience with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    When the wine comes in a box with no spec sheet, no re-order form, nothing…I get irritated. I want to know something about the wine.

    Don’t use your club as a dumping ground for the wine you can’t sell in your tasting room. I know you are doing it, I don’t like, and I will cancel. (This is happening with one of my clubs at the moment and they are getting a canceling phone call.)

    Raising your prices dramatically on all your wines after you got one good score in a magazine? You’re toast in my book. You quickly alienate your most loyal customers that way.

    Some of the best offers I’ve seen with clubs involve discounted or free shipping…shipping to the East Coast KILLS me. Offer to split the cost with me if I’ll buy a case…I’ll likely bite at least once a year.

    I’m sure I’ve got more…I could talk about the dos and don’ts of wine clubs all day!

    Great article!

  3. Good advice, thanks. I have a wine club in the UK where I select the bi-monthly case of 12 wines from anywhere and everywhere, and they must be good! Now is the time to help the consumer and wine lover with good advice and choice. When the recession finishes you’ll have built up a lot of loyal, grateful members.

  4. Sonadora – Your comment about discounted shipping is right on. I think one of the best types of discounts is a discount on shipping, especially for customers on the East Coast. Thanks!

Leave a Reply