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Local Wine Events – Bang for the Buck

In my last post I talked about wineries trying to penetrate the U.S. market using the wine trade event as a vehicle. This topic is directed at the U.S. importer/distributor that has just launched their first brand or brands and is looking for a way to gain local exposure and create buzz.

I say “importer/distributor” because this is a different animal from:

a) an importer who is selling only to distributors. In this case the importer is, or should be, concerned with the big picture. Having brought in a container of wine, the focus should now be on connecting with distributors in different states, forging relationships across a swath of regions and sometimes the whole country. Local events are not going to further this cause and will, in fact, take time and attention to a macro from a micro level.

b) a distributor that is buying their wines from an importer rather than importing their own. They should be concentrating on building up critical mass in a portfolio with broad market appeal throughout their retail territory. Their concern is providing their sales team with sufficient opportunities for sales across a broad spectrum of vineyard regions, styles and price points. Trade shows and tastings will become a factor in their sales programs, but not normally the point of entry to the market for one new brand or a small number of new brands.

The new importer, who is also the distributor in their own state, has chosen to launch their first brands utilizing a ground swell from their home turf. They are counting on developing a local following for their wines and building from there. This importer may also be developing distribution in other states and other ways, but if they have chosen to become a distributor, along with the usually onerous licensing and infrastructure, it is incumbent upon them to start building sales volume locally first. They know this market and its demographic makeup. This importer eats at local restaurants, often has connections to people in other professions and businesses and develops a team of willing friends and volunteers, some of whom become part of a professional sales team.

Is the event tied to a retail selling opportunity? If you hold a wine tasting at a local wine bar or restaurant, do they have a retail store, or will someone be in attendance that can take orders, or give a coupon for 10% off at the nearby store if you buy the wine there? Has the store already stocked it? Doing the wine tasting in the hope that the store will purchase the wine if they see enough interest is no sale at all. When a customer comes into the store and finds they have to order it, waiting days or perhaps weeks for delivery, they’ll lose interest quickly. The public is fickle. They may love the wine you poured last night, but if they can’t buy it then and there, or at least the next day, chances are they’ll move on. And they will forget.

Does the event give you exposure beyond the event itself? I’m normally cautious about consumer-only public wine tastings, but at the local level it may be positive exposure. If you sponsor a local golf, tennis or charity event, presuming the expense is manageable, will the local paper and online press give it an extended shelf life? Are there people in attendance who are influential or likely to remember the wine, purchase it for themselves, or recommend it to others? Can you promote it before and after for additional brand exposure? Can you use the event to continue to promote the brand in conjunction with the event’s cause in other settings? Is it likely to elevate the brand’s quality, giving it a ‘halo’ effect by virtue of its association with certain occasions or people?

Whatever the event you choose, make sure you tailor your approach to the setting. If it’s a wine bar or wine dinner, have knowledgeable, professional people hosting, or do it yourself. If it is a sports or outdoor charity setting, think of a theme that will direct attention to your wines and ‘brand’ your brand. Make it entertaining and enhance their experience. Make it memorable. And always have lots of photos taken for the website and Facebook page. Let your retail customers, and potential distribution customers see that you get behind your brand and you are out there promoting it. The website or Facebook page becomes interesting, interactive and builds momentum for the brand. And who knows, a retailer who would not otherwise have stocked your wines may suddenly decide they have to have them.

Wine events can be fun, they can be a great perk to the business and they can help launch a brand when everything comes together. Just don’t lose sight of what you are trying to achieve. Look at what you need to do to maximize your return, so that you can continue to do events and continue to enjoy them because they’re also providing a sales and expansion opportunity.

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