When Texas country musician Kevin Fowler famously belted out “It’s cheaper to keep her than it is to let her go,” he was singing about a guy who was sadder about losing ownership of half his stuff than he was about his relationship’s collision course with oblivion.
It’s a funny song and it’s catchy, but there’s some truth to it … even for wineries.
“It costs more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain a current one,” said Chloe Tyer, Director of Membership for Heitz Cellar in Napa, who hosted a session on keeping club members at the 2021 DTC Wine Symposium.
Devin Parr, founder of Devin Parr and Associates, a PR and marketing firm that serves the wine industry, said membership came down to remembering three key ideas.
“Access, exclusivity and ongoing gratitude,” Parr said. “You can buy wine anywhere, including the winery. So it’s more than the wine. They want to access it for exclusivity, to feel like part of something. Things like designated patios for wine club member tasting and invitations to wine club members. These things are the icing on the cake.”
Ryan McCormick, director of sales at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula, California said membership retention strategies could be as simple as paying attention to your members when they’re visiting your winery.
It can be as basic as remembering to make small talk, like talking about their kids, asking them how the dog is doing, and remembering their birthdays or a detail they may have shared on a previous visit.
“Our mission is to enhance lives,” McCormick said. “We connect with our members in so many ways. That’s what we create with our culture here. It’s about making those genuine connections.”
Investing in staff is key, McCormick added.
“We’re all in emergency mode and you have to fight that urge and look further out to what retention really is,” he said. “Picking up the phone, sending a letter to the members … those things can really only come from our staff. We need to strategize when budgeting for staff so that we can maintain that level of service to our members.”
Self audits or using secret shoppers can help ensure staffers are paying proper heed to wine club members.
“It doesn’t cost a fortune,” said Parr, who noted that she had heard reports of winery staffers providing unsatisfactory customer service to members.
And, of course, it can be the little things that stick in a wine club member’s mind that contribute to the elements of surprise and delight that help keep customers happy.
“I got my wine education in Italy, and they taught hospitality better than anybody,” Parr said. “Wait times can be long, and before you have a chance to get angry about waiting, someone comes over with a glass of prosecco or a small appetizer. The small tokens like that leave a lasting impression.”
McCormick said one thing that’s been successful at Wilson Creek is holding orientations for new wine club members.
“People join over the weekend, and we work to re-engage them as new members,” McCormick explained. “We invite them to tour the winery in the morning and serve them some wine and cheese. It’s a small cost to our winery, but it means a lot to our new members.”