Recently, I was invited to be a guest speaker on a panel at the Wine Club Summit, presented by Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine.  This summit was designed give wineries feedback about what we, as wine club members, want and don’t want, so they can improve what they offer to us.

Overwhelmingly, the wineries in attendance indicated that they value us as committed customers, and really want to improve our experiences as wine club members.  Wine clubs are the wineries best source of a stable cash flow, with a high margin.  You control the club, what is in the club, and we you get out of the club.  Wine Clubs give the consumer access to wines that they might not otherwise get an opportunity to taste, and gives you, as the winery, exposure to a new consumer base.

Some of the hot button questions that came up were:

  • What benefits of being a wine club member are most attractive to you?

For me, as a knowledgeable consumer, I want to know that I am getting access to wines that the average consumer would not.  I join wine clubs for 2 primary reasons:  First, because I have tried the wines, and I know that I like them.  Second, because I know that I will have first crack at allocation only wines, or special, wine club only wines, that regular visitors do not get the opportunity to try.  We expect to be given our tastings gratis at the tasting room, and we expect a follow-on purchase discount.  Not having these benefits lowers the value of the wine club.

Thanks your customers.  You need to ensure that you have some sort of thank you event for your club members at least once a year.  It is acceptable to charge a nominal fee for these events, but we do expect good food, good times and free flowing wine.  It is going to turn us off if you say, “Thanks for your business, now here are your two drink tickets for the party”.

  • How is the current economy effecting your participation in wine clubs?

I am fortunate in that I have not had to modify any of my wine clubs, but I am aware that this is an issue for some people.  As a winery, allowing the flexibility to have club members place shipments on hold, or modify the number of shipments, lets us maintain our participation without completely dropping out.

  • What makes you stay in a club?  What makes you drop a club?

As a member of 3 wine clubs today, I stay because of the wine, and because of the benefits.  I receive a generous discount, gratis tastings, and invitations to special events.   While I pay out of pocket for the special events, we are given the first opportunity to RSVP, and receive a discount.  I also stay in these wine clubs because we are given the opportunity to purchase special wines that the general public has limited access to.  This makes us, as wine club members, feel special.  it is that special customer feeling that has made me a loyal member of 2 of these clubs for over 4 years.

I have dropped clubs in the past because the cost of membership was not worth the value of the wines & events that we were offered.  If we can buy the same wines in the store or at the winery at a minimal mark up, what benefit is there to the wine club?

I have also quit wine clubs that offered poor customer service.  As your number one customers, you need to ensure that your staff treats us as the valued customers we are.  If I receive poor customer servie from anyone, you are not going to like the response.  If I receive poor customer service from something I have a particular affiliation for, you can bet I will tell my friends to avoid it.

  • What single piece of advice do you have for wineries to retain their wine club members?

Wine Club members are you evangelists.  We love your wine, and we want to share your wine.  This is the cheapest source of marketing you will find.  Word of mouth marketing, including new media, blogs, and wine club discussion, is becoming increasingly important as the economy slips and traditional media falters.

You need to be flexible.  Offer more than one type of club.  The best example of this is to offer us the option of 2, 4, or 6 shipments a year.  This allows us, as the consumer to make the best choice for us, economically and environmentally.

Be judicious with your marketing efforts.  Snail mail is a thing of the past.  Sending targeted and regular email communications is both cost effective and has the most impact.  Wine Club shipments lead to follow up sales.  Follow up sales equal new customers.  If i receive a targeted email from a wine club that contains something meaningful for me, I am more likely to open it and read the detailed information than if i receive a general email from a winery.  I belong to many winery email lists, and I generally ignore the emails unless it says something specific, like “Allocation Announcement for ABC Wine", or “Wine Club shipment for February”.

Now these are the opinions of one lush, but what do YOU think?

5 thoughts on “What do YOU want in a wine club?”

  1. Great post! Speaking as someone who's in the business of wine clubs and wine club reviews myself, I definitely think you touched on most of the main benefits attached to signing up for a wine club. I myself have been part of multiple wine clubs for years. I think they provide wine lovers an excellent and convenient way to stay on top of what's new in the wine world. They also make wonderful gifts for friends and loved ones who have picked up an interest in wine but haven't quite figured out what direction to go in as far as expanding upon that interest.

    As for what I personally look for in a wine club? I definitely look for exclusivity for one. I like being introduced to wines that I might not be exposed to otherwise and I like the benefits that come with my memberships. If I don't feel there are enough perks to belonging to one wine club, I'll probably opt to join another instead. I also look for value. I haven't been hit too hard by the economy myself, but I still like to get as much value for my money as I can. Many wine clubs not only are fun ways to get to know wine a little better, but affordable ones as well.

    At my site, we find, research, try, and review many of the most popular and unique wine clubs available to consumers today the better to help them figure out which programs would be best for them. Whatever you're looking for in a wine club, we specialize in helping our visitors locate the wine clubs that most closely fit what they're looking for.

  2. You summarized a 45 minute presentation into a few paragraphs. That’s terrific!

    A preference for the wines, first access to new wines and upcoming events, and of course feeling appreciated as a club member are all key drivers to a wine club’s success.

    I work for a company called Active Club Management. We currently work with over 200 clubs with a majority of them being mostly wine clubs. In reviewing the clubs with the largest list of club members and the highest level of retention I have found that participation is most often based on the “VALUES” that goes well beyond the wine.

    Yes, benefits are important and club members should have exclusive benefits. Many wineries offer private releases that are exclusive to club members and which would never available to the general public. This is often enough for people who are on the fence about becoming a club member to sign up.

    The most successful clubs are those which build communities of people who participate with the winery well beyond the standard club releases and have club member retention well beyond the reported industry average of 18 months. Club members generally build relationships with the winery staff as well as with other club members. The better the relationships, the better the retention for the wineries and the more the club experience has to offer the individual club member.

    The wineries that exceed the industry averages offer different ways for club members to feel valued. It could be as simple as a tour through the vineyards, reminders of “behind the scenes” tours, barrel tasting, participation in crush, pairing events and knowledge about the industry. The goal is to provide participants with insider’s information so they feel a part of the winery and not just a member of a club.

    I agree with you when you say club members are evangelists. And customer service certainly supports the message. However, treating all visitors to one’s business as “valued” is a golden rule that is all too often forgotten.

    I also feel that club members should speak up to the club manager. Let them know what you like, what you want to keep and ideas that would make the club a better value for you. Yes, they should be asking you but if they forget, I encourage you to speak up and help your favorite wineries provide the best club possible.

    SECURITY! One item I do not see mentioned is the importance of asking how the wineries are securing your information. Storing your personal profile and your credit card
    can be extremely dangerous if the winery does not meet the credit card industry requirements.

    Theft and fraud is ramped these days and if your credit card number is improperly accessed it can make the best of wines go sour. Wineries all to often feel they will not be a target for this sort of theft however a majority of wineries seem to store the credit card information on site, without the proper security.

    I do not sell security but it is worth mentioning. Please, make sure when you sign up for a club that you ask how they secure your information. If they do not tell you that they are PCI certified you may strongly want to consider passing on the club.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.