With regard to wine, taste is not only an essential sense but a powerful selling tool; retailers find they generate more revenue when customers try wines before buying. It’s easy to pop open a few bottles behind a counter, but stores that create engaging experiences for customers, such as events or classes, are discovering an additional benefit: a growing and loyal client base. Here are four strategies retailers are using to increase sales and appeal to new customers.
Leora Madden, owner of Pearl Wine Co. in New Orleans, knows how to throw a party. Her quarterly events, such as the Rosé Release Party and Vineaux on the Bayou, bring in anywhere from 100 to 250 guests, all eager to taste the 20 to 50 wines being showcased. Distributors donate two bottles each and anything needed from inventory is covered by a $10 ticket fee. To add incentive for customers, Madden turns the ticket into a $10 credit toward purchases made that day, an approach that yields numerous sales during the event. Along with these bigger fetes, Madden says that free weekly tastings, usually structured around a theme or a region, affect business “significantly.” She attributes 20 to 25 percent of Pearl Wine Co.’s sales to tasting events.
“I want customers to try [out] their wine, just as they…test-drive a car,” says Gary Landsman, owner of Taste Wine Co. His Manhattan shop uses Enomatic machines, with 40 to 50 wines available to taste at any time. With 15 to 18 percent of his inventory open for trial, Landsman aims to redefine the way people shop for wine. He also created a proprietary app to work in conjunction with the machines; it tracks consumer preferences and suggests bottles based on individual customer feedback. Such technology doesn’t come cheap; the combined costs of the Enomatic machine and the development of the app crept into the low six figures (in general, the machines can cost around $1,000 per bottle slot). While some customers “love the concept” and embrace this new shopping format, says Landsman, many still prefer to interact directly with staff. He is hopeful, however, that like the now-ubiquitous iPhone, this sea change in technology will just take a little time.
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These days, it’s not enough to get an autograph; buying a bottle of a favorite celebrity’s wine is the benchmark of fandom. Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in Manhattan taps into pop culture to bring in the crowds, featuring events like meet and greets with actors-turned-winemakers such as Tituss Burgess and Kyle MacLachlan. While the costs associated with these events are not insignificant, including for staffing and food, successful events can recoup some of the expenses, as well as bump sales by as much as 50 percent compared with an average nonevent day. However, Bottlerocket owner and founder Tom Geniesse says that the longer-term value consists in exposing new people to Bottlerocket’s in-store experience. “Women and men might come to Bottlerocket because they love Tituss Burgess,” he says. “But once they are in our store, they see what an amazing and unique experience we offer, and they remember us for the future.”
Not the Sunday school of your youth, Bay Grape in Oakland, California, preaches the virtues of wine to an eager clientele. Its often-sold-out Sunday seminars, hosted by one of the store’s staff members or a guest speaker, offer a low-key, approachable format to learning about wine that appeals to novices and aficionados alike.
On Mondays, Bay Grape hosts another type of educational opportunity—a weekly blind tasting class featuring a flight of six wines. Industry insiders, just as much as consumers, are loyal fans of the store, says Josiah Baldivino, Bay Grape’s owner. As flights are offered daily until 6 pm, it’s not uncommon to find sommeliers tasting and studying for their Advanced and Master exams at the store’s counter.
Sunday School tickets run $25 per person, and Blind Tasting classes cost around $30. Speakers don’t charge a fee, so the overall expenditure is very low. “With most of these classes, we’re opening super-dope wine that’s kind of expensive, so sometimes we just break even,” says Baldivino. “We’re not [holding classes] to make a ton of money; we’re really here to be a place where people can learn about wine.” However, says Baldivino, people who attend classes at Bay Grape tend to be very loyal. Many say they only buy wine from the Bay Grape shop. “And they always tell their friends about the business,” he says, so the classes have proven to be a successful word-of-mouth strategy.
By offering fun and informative tasting experiences, retailers can strengthen customers’ affinity for their store and increase sales on event days—and beyond.
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Shana Clarke is a wine, sake, and travel writer, and the author of 150 Vineyards You Need To Visit Before You Die. Her work has appeared in Saveur, Fortune, NPR, Wine Enthusiast, and Hemispheres. She was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer 2020 International Wine Writers’ Awards and ranked one of the “Top 20 U.S. Wine Writers That Wineries Can Work With” by Beverage Trade Network in 2021. She holds a Level 3 Advanced Certificate from Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Sake Sommelier. She will always say yes to a glass of Champagne. Learn more at www.shanaspeakswine.com and follow her @shanaspeakswine.