There is a site that from time to time I pluck out of my “slush sites” in my google reader. They’re the sites that you really don’t enjoy reading daily, but from time to time, have a nice little tidbit or two to talk about. This particular one is called Noticias del Vino, which translates to “Wine News”, more or less. Today, in an effort to keep up a personal New Year’s resolution to read more information in Spanish, I stumbled across a fairly well written article titled “Claves del Exito para Vender en los Mercados de Exportación“, which translates to, “Keys to Success in Selling to Export Markets”. What follows is a list of 10 keys listed in the article that appear in no particular order:
1. The Vineyard
2. The Winemaking
4. Quality Control
5. Commercial Department
6. Know the market
7. Stable Prices
10. Innovating and to Renew
After giving some thought to the article, I figured I would chime in with my own ideas and explanations about what matters in selling to an export market from Iberia and why, while at the same time, attempting to put them in some semblance of order. Now to be clear, these are my suggestions to a winery that is new to the game. Maybe someone with some money who just bought a plot of land with a dream to make wine, or a local producer who figures they can make a little extra money by trying to export. This is not meant to be a guide for established brands or brands that have a name that sells their product, ie. Vega Scilia. Rather, this is for the startup winery, and I’ll assume that they are in Spain, though this could apply as well to Portugal not to mention many other wine producing countries. I’ll also assume that the primary export market is going to be the US, but this can be tailored to any country you choose.
#1 – Know the Market
First thing if your starting out is to know what your target market wants. Do some research, read a blog, call a relative who moved abroad many years ago, ask an ex-pat, but DO NOT ASSUME! Assumption is the mother of all eff-ups and just because the last Hollywood movie you saw had rich kids drinking their fathers Lafite in it, does not mean you know anything about what Americans want in a wine. Do some reading, ask lots of questions and challenge your preconceived notions. This process should take time and not be rushed.
#2 – The Vineyard and Wine Making
I combined these two. Why? Because if you separate them, you will fail. The best wineries in the world know that the connection between growing the grapes and making the wine is key to quality. Does that mean you need your own vineyards? No. Negotiants do a great job of seeking out good juice from good terroirs, and if you know where your product comes from, you will have more success in adapting your winemaking, so as to create the highest quality end product. And by building relationships with growers you can help to influence their methods of production.
#3 – Quality Control
This really doesn’t need an explanation. Even low tech quality control solutions are better than no quality control. Make a list, check it twice, and ensure your winery is clean! And do a little research before you go out buying bottles, corks, tanks and machines.
#4 – Packaging and Marketing
Once again, to separate these two ideas is just plain silly. You can’t market a wine without a good package, and a good package cannot be designed well without looking at how you plan to market. Find a label and box design that fits your desired image, and then look at other brands that fit that style. Your better off to have the marketing department help you with your packaging than turning to the marketing department and telling them to “figure it out” after the design is said and done. Also remember that you want the consumer to connect with the product. They need to have a reason to take note of your wine among the sea of wine on retailer’s shelves. To do this, you need to think about point #5…
#5 – Service
We’ve talked about customer service here before, but I think this might be the most important part of the whole list. I put it at #5 because you really shouldn’t have had much customer contact through steps 1-4, but the minute customers come into the picture this is the THE MOST IMPORTANT KEY TO SUCCESS. Respond to emails, start a mailing list, start a blog, and most importantly, SMILE. Smile when your on the phone with a customer (we can tell), smile when you deal with a trouble client, and smile when your having a bad day. Just remember to smile! Oh and say thank you several times a day. It means the world to us clients.
#6 – Stable prices
This is important, but if you do the above with honesty and care, customers will forgive some fluctuations in pricing. I love my wine the same price every day, but if a winery takes the time to make me a loyal customer, I’m willing to stay with them through ebbs and flows of the market.
#7 – Innovating and Renew
Not completely sure what was meant here, but I will say that innovation and staying dynamic will help. Remaining dynamic is the key to a winery’s success, though too much can also be a down fall. Make sure that key customer favorites stick around, while staying playful at the fringes. Don’t be afraid to make changes and mix things up. Have an extra barrel of Syrah that didn’t make it into the blend? Slap a fun label on it and call it “The Remains of the Day”. If you have done everything else right, you will have a distributor that will be able to sell it, and you’ll have customers who will find that they love your playful side.
In the end all of these “rules” are good ones. But I do believe in my heart of hearts, that customer service is king. I’m 99% more likely to buy a wine that I have a connection to, than a wine that just has a pretty label on the shelf. Not to mention the wines that I recommend to friends are inevitably the ones where I met the winemaker, visited the winery, or followed along their wine making journey through an interactive web site or wine blog. Remember, a quality product today does not necessarily stand out as different. Just because you love your wine, and you know it tastes good, is not enough. Today’s consumer assumes this, looking for other angles to draw them in.
What points did I forget? What do you look for when buying a wine?