Practical Winery
58-D Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903-2054
phone:415/479-5819 · fax:415/492-9325
This article is from the September/October 2006 issue of Practical Winery & Vineyard Magazine. Order current or back issues here.


BY Janeen Olsen, Sonoma State University
Liz Thach, Sonoma State University
Paul Wagner,
Napa Valley College, Balzac Communications

Have you ever stopped to count all of the trade shows, wine festivals, and tastings that wineries participate in every year? The number is mind-boggling. Virtually every major market hosts some kind of wine festival, and in the state of Florida there seems to be one every few weeks.

Considering the participation costs of most these festivals and trade shows, it is critical to establish goals and develop cost-effective strategies for this kind of event. What kinds of goals are realistic? Let’s start with four goals often mentioned either singly or in combination by wineries attending trade shows:

GOAL 1: We want to find out what’s going on in the industry, with customers, and with the competition.
Taken alone, this is a poor reason to participate in a trade show. The same can be accomplished by simply attending the show, without the cost of exhibition space. For that matter, if you don’t know what’s going on in the industry, by the time it is the talk of the trade show, it’s way too late for you. You should be using market research, not industry gossip, in your decision making process.

On the other hand, once your participation is indicated by one of the goals below, this becomes a legitimate secondary goal — one that takes advantage of the concentration of industry representatives and customers.

GOAL 2: We want to “show the flag.” This is a difficult goal to achieve because it is so hard to quantify. What is the benefit of “showing the flag?” Only very large companies wishing to maintain their corporate image as an important player (a leader in the category) should use this as a reason for participation in a trade show. For the rest, showing the flag is simply another way of saying “we have no measurable goals for this event, but don’t want to miss it if something important happens.”

GOAL 3: We want to make sure our competition doesn’t get an advantage. This goal is often combined with #1 and #2 above in a very defensive approach to justify participation. In other words, “we can’t leave the field open to our competition, so we must be there.” Of course, this ignores the more obvious question: “If your competition is not there, what do you expect to achieve?”

The sad truth about this approach is that it neglects more meaningful goals, and often leads to half-hearted efforts and poorly-conceived plans. This is especially true when the axiomatic assumption is made that since we have low expectations; we should invest little money, thought, or time into planning or strategy for an event.

GOAL 4: We really need to make more sales or media contacts. This is by far the best reason to participate in industry trade shows. It is measurable, contributes directly to the bigger picture, and can have lasting impact. But if this is the goal, how many wineries actually develop a specific strategy to achieve it? That means you have to answer the following questions.

Important questions to answer when deciding to participate in a trade show

How much will participation cost in terms of time, money, and materials? Don’t forget to include product costs, travel time, travel and entertainment budgets, and all associated costs.

How big is the payoff?
How many contacts (and of what importance) will we need to make, to justify these expenses? This doesn’t mean that the sales contacts you make at the show have to place orders large enough to pay for the costs of the show within three months. That’s not how marketing communication works. But you do need to look at these events as investments — and you do need to understand how that investment is going to pay off. If you don’t have a way to track these investments, how can you possibly make good decisions about them?

Clearly, the staff attending a trade show should agree on a measurable goal for a specific number of sales contacts to be made, and a target number of follow-up sales calls and orders placed. By tracking these numbers and the success of the attending staff, you develop a much more refined sales plan that will make future decisions easier and more accurate.

By having a stated goal, your staff can focus on making sure those numbers are reached. Also, such an approach will encourage the sales and marketing team to explore other, more cost-effective methods of achieving these same goals. The result will be a professional and results-oriented approach to the often time-intensive process of sales calls.

Trade shows are only one means to the end, and a good public relations professional will explore a wide range of tactics to achieve any goal. Of course, as in all marketing communications, the secret here is to know your audience. Before you participate in a wine festival or trade show, answer these questions:

Who is the audience and what do they want? This must be determined before the trade show. Your sales and marketing team should develop a profile of the contacts who plan on attending a show. These profiles should indicate special interests, products, or budgets that are of concern to those attending. Then reference the information against the marketing goals of the winery to develop a plan for each trade show. Who is going to be there, and what do they want?

What can we do to get their attention? Now that we know who they are and what they want, we can begin to develop a trade show booth and activities that will attract the target market and encourage them to spend time with us. We are not preparing for a party; we are designing a campaign — one that has a budget, objectives, and the potential for both failure and success.

Strategies for successful trade show and wine festival participation
So you’ve answered all of the questions above satisfactorily, and you’ve decided that it makes good business sense to pay the fees and devote the time to participate in the trade show or wine festival. What are some of the strategies to make your participation successful? Following are seven helpful ideas:

Use advance direct mail to create interest in your booth (table), and to get a head start on making key contacts. Some shows will offer to sell a list of those attending to any exhibitor. Such a list can often be used very effectively to encourage a visit to a winery’s booth, follow-up on a marketing communication package presented at the show, or even pre-select attendees according to need or interest. If you know what you want to accomplish, then using this service to advertise your intentions, or to pre-screen visitors to your table can be really effective.

At every trade tasting or trade show, some of the participants are disappointed that they don’t get to spend more time with the key trade visitors. Why does that happen? It often happens because they do not plan strategically. If the top industry leaders have done their homework, and invited most of the top attendees to meet with them about future business plans, the others will be left talking to the rest of the visitors, and not the key accounts.

Host a hospitality suite in the same hotel, or nearby, to give your key contacts a place to meet with you away from the distractions of the show. Often, the trade show floor itself is an overwhelming experience for potential customers. Offer these customers an interesting reason to leave the crowded floor and join you in a more relaxed and focused setting in a hospitality suite in the same hotel.

This kind of participation can be done without the fees for exhibition booths, and will generate an environment that allows you the undivided attention of the sales contact. Offers of elegant food, a place to meet with one’s spouse, entertainment, or other incentives will draw the customers to your suite.

But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Drawing customers away from a wine festival to your suite requires a great deal of contact work by the company’s sales staff to meet the potential customers and constantly remind them of the opportunity that awaits them in the hospitality suite.

Organize interactive events at the trade show to generate more attention for your winery. These can be anything from “star attractions” to private dinners — anything that will give the sales contacts something to talk about and a reason to visit with you. The main drawback of most of these attempts is that they depend on borrowed interest — the contact is not interested in your winery or wines, but in the event. As a result, sales contacts are not always genuine, nor are they motivated.

On the other hand, the special dinners you organize should be planned well in advance, and executed against the stated goal. They are not just an excuse for your marketing team to spend its travel and entertainment budget by taking a bunch of colleagues to a nice restaurant — although that is what usually happens.

The booth (table) and its design must be symbolic of the quality and character of your winery. If you are making a claim to preemptive leadership, you must have a trade show display that supports your position – both in content and in style. Thus if you want to be perceived as a major player, you must have a large, imposing display. If you want to be seen as a cost-effective alternative, your display must show the kind of clever, creative thinking that allows for cost- effective solutions without a loss of quality.

Finally, the staff and materials must be consistent with your corporate philosophy and your target audience.

Give customers something to do at your table. Keep in mind, that the average time spent at a trade show booth is 15 seconds. At the end of that time, the viewer moves on to another booth unless he or she is given a reason to stay. Certainly, a discussion with your sales staff will accomplish that goal, but your sales staff can only speak to one person at a time. You must give other potential customers something to do while they wait.

At major wine festivals, it is often better to position the winemaker or principal out in front of the booth, where he/she can track down key contacts and interact with important industry leaders. The winery staff handles staffing the booth itself, so that the principal isn’t trapped behind the table (and a crowd of consumers) when the most important journalist at the event walks on by — and doesn’t stop to taste your wine.

Make sure your staff is well-trained. In the final analysis, the results you achieve will depend on the efforts of your sales staff, and you should do all you can to give them training and the kinds of materials and environment that allow them to concentrate on selling your wines.

If there is one, basic rule of trade show participation, it is that staff sitting down in chairs behind tables will never be successful. Your staff must be approachable, outgoing, and positioned in a way that places no barriers between them and the sales contacts. Your booth must be open, well-lighted, and must encourage contacts to enter your area and meet you, face to face.

Choose staff because they know the customers. Nothing can improve upon a salesperson who has already established rapport with potential customers. This personal relationship can make contact easier, follow-up more effective, and closing more frequent.

Select staff because they know the market. Knowledge and credibility should be chosen over an attractive face every time, because once you get a live sales prospect, the last thing you want to do is put him/her on hold while you go find someone who knows the business.

Choose your staff because of their ability to evaluate the trade show and make suggestions for future improvements in your booth, your participation, and your products. Make sure your staff has agreed to the goals for the trade show and hold them responsible for achieving the goals. Encourage them to suggest improvements in both the booth and their own efforts that will generate more success.

At every trade show, you will meet a winery complaining about the quality of the show. “I just don’t think there are any buyers here,” they will say. But a neighbor at the next table will have sold containers of wine at the same show. Focus on these shows the same way you focus on a sales call: know the audience, bait the hook, and close the sale. Well-trained staff and advance preparation, born out of a focused strategy, gives immediate and positive results.

Follow-up after the trade show.
The work does not stop when the doors close. After the show, you have to follow-up quickly and effectively with every sales contact. Without the proper execution of this single element, the world’s most exciting booth and sales staff will fail to produce any results at all.

To make this even easier, it’s a good idea to incorporate some kind of a promotion into your participation in the trade show itself — a reason to follow-up on every contact — and a reason for them to look forward to that follow up. Whether it is a free gift or in-situ demonstration, the reason for these follow-up visits is to keep the door open for future contacts and future sales.

Most importantly, use the time after the show to evaluate your efforts. What can you improve? Was the show worthwhile? Why? What will you do next year to achieve your goals? How will you adjust your expectations for next year?

BY Johanna Rupp
Rhône Rangers, an event that celebrates and promotes Rhône varietals, provides wineries an opportunity to promote wines while expanding consumer interest in these varieties. Rhône Rangers, in its ninth year, drew more than 1,000 people to Fort Mason (San Francisco, CA) in March, 2006.

Many trade attendees were from the restaurant industry (317), plus 209 retailers, 101 brokers, 121 distributors, 87 media, and 22 hoteliers.

A winery must be a member of the association to pour at the Rhône Rangers tasting. Membership includes wineries of all sizes. Wineries interviewed by PWV at the 2006 event, approached this potential marketing opportunity in several ways.

For many winery participants, the most important feature of trade and consumer tastings is exposure.

John Locke (Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, CA), regards the exposure of Bonny Doon as the most valuable aspect of participation. “We have many products in our portfolio; it is nice to give potential customers the opportunity to see our entire range of Rhône wines in one setting. We want to make a personal connection with the public, trade, and media.”

Barbara MacCready (Sierra Vista Winery, Placerville, CA) agrees about the value of personal contact, and felt it was an important opportunity to connect with distributors, renew relationships and, perhaps most importantly, educate and allow the restaurant industry to taste their wines.

“Restaurateurs who attend the event often bring along waitstaff,” notes MacCready. “This event provides a unique opportunity to educate those who actually sell the wines. Frequently waitstaff are selling wines that they haven’t had the opportunity to taste, and for them to get to know the winemakers and taste the wines allows them to better advocate different wines on the restaurant floor.”

Oded Shakked (Longboard Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA) calls it “meeting with the ground-level staff” from restaurants and retail shops. A tiny 3,000-case and growing brand is a full-time job to sell and market Longboard wines. Rhône Rangers is a good annual opportunity to make “ground-level” connections.

But how do wineries plan sales and marketing strategies for such a tasting/trade event in order to obtain the best results from the time and money spent?

Craig Gummer, Kuleto Estate (St. Helena, CA) direct sales manager, constantly updates plans to make the most from events such as Rhône Rangers. Kuleto features and promotes a specific wine at each different event they attend. “Our 2003 Zinfandel was featured at ZAP in January; our 2004 Cabernet futures were featured at Premiere Napa Valley in February; and our newly bottled 2003 Syrah was the key to March Rhône Rangers participation.”

As an emerging brand, Kuleto Estate makes sure it emphasizes the unique setting of the estate and what differentiates their wine to attendees by providing colorful site maps, takeaway buttons with Kuleto’s phone and website on them, tear sheets from recent press, product sheets detailing both vintages of Syrah (a 2002 and 2003) poured at the tasting, and lots of business cards.

Bob Lindquist (Qupe Wine Cellars, Los Olivos, CA) brings a variety of promotional materials to the tasting, including wine club sign-up forms, postcards promoting upcoming events, and a mailing list sign-up sheet. Lindquist makes contacts at the event fairly easily; he does not attempt any hard sales pitches on the event floor.

Longboard Vineyards sends out “Come see us at Rhône Rangers” mailers to their database of contacts prior to the event, and usually receives about 50 mailing list sign-ups at the event.

Bonny Doon utilizes the same process every year to prepare, including several brainstorming sessions before the event ensuring that the media, trade, and consumers will actually look forward to witnessing its yearly manifestation.

Many wineries took the event as an opportunity to collect new wine club and mailing list sign-ups. Bonny Doon always has a member of their Direct-To-Consumer staff attend consumer events promoting their wine club and collecting email addresses. New sign-ups are sent a welcoming note and are offered a supplemental discount on their first purchase online.

Kuleto Estate provides sign-up sheets that make it simple to provide contact information, especially email. New sign-ups are added to the mailing list and are routinely contacted. The number of club sign-ups, and where they were generated are also tracked. Walk-aways (such as notecards that booth visitors can take) offer discounts on wine poured at the event and often include a recipe from the estate’s executive chef, Janelle Weaver.

As part of Kuleto’s pre- and post-event preparations, time is reserved on the Monday after an event to record recommendations, and to make timely email contact with trade, media, vendor, and other key winery contacts made at the event.

Hagafen Cellars (Napa, CA), Chateau Ste. Michelle (Woodinville, WA), and Longboard Vineyards all have a consumer mailing list and/or wine club sign-up sheets at these events. Josh Stein of Hagafen gives free tasting passes that are coded so they learn where they obtain the biggest bang for marketing dollars invested. This has helped to increase direct to consumer sales 200% in two years. Stein follows up with each contact by phone or email after the event.

Chateau Ste. Michelle measures wine club brochures handed out against the number of new club members who sign up, and sends “welcome” letters to new members. Longboard sends a “thank you” email to all leads after the event.

Winemakers are critical to promote wines

Kuleto Estate winemaker David Lattin often pours alongside cellarmaster Giovani Verdejo, Sam Lando (sales and marketing director), and Craig Gummer (direct sales manager). Because Kuleto grows, bottles, and produces its own wines on their estate, the production schedule may determine who attends various events.

“We always have two people attend an event like this,” explains Gummer. “It is critical to get out from behind the table to sample other wines, listen and eavesdrop a bit, gather materials from competitive wineries to gauge what the wine-purchasing market sees and expects, to see how easy it is to obtain more information about a brand you like and make sure that we are accessible and to just take your glass around to see old friends and taste great wines.

“Kuleto used the opportunity to make key alliances with Grenache producers. I don’t know of too many industry trade events that are quite so collaborative.”

Many wineries, with a variety of winery personnel staffing the event, left the winemaker free to network and taste. Other booths were run only by the winemakers/owners, providing an opportunity for attendees to receive first-hand information about the wines.

Winemakers were key in promoting their wines as they offered first-hand information about their wines and winery, and the face-to-face contact that often will cement a new contact or customer’s loyalty.

“Susan Marks and I are owners and winemakers, and one of us is always front and center,” says Jonathan Lachs (Cedarville Vineyard, Fair Play, CA). “Tastings like ZAP and Rhône Rangers attract very knowledgeable tasters to our table, and it’s important to have someone there who can answer questions about our wine.”

Measuring success

Wineries gauge the success of an event on the amount of contacts and connections made, the end product being happy consumers and increased sales.

Mick Unti (Unti Vineyards & Winery, Healdsburg, CA) sees about 10 current trade accounts at Rhône Rangers, takes orders, and sets up appointments that lead to about 15 to 30 cases sold, on average. Over the years of Rhône Rangers participation, he can trace approximately 20 of his regular trade accounts to participation in the Rhône Rangers event.

Kuleto Estate analyzes the success of an event on-site and in real-time. “It’s the collective positive reactions from the public upon sampling, their referrals to other attendees to try us,” says Gummer. “The media contacts who want to follow up, the buzz in the room that was mentioned about the brand, and, most importantly, the people who made brief notes in their program or asked where we are located and where they could find out more about Kuleto Estate.”

Wineries attending the San Francisco Rhône Rangers event utilized several techniques to make the most of this optimal marketing opportunity. Prior to the event, some wineries alerted wine club or mailing list members regarding their presence at the upcoming event.

At the tasting, wineries have wine club sign-up and mailing lists available to prospective new contacts, and offer information “to go” for future reference. These included buttons containing phone and website, product sheets, postcards featuring upcoming events including winery information, and business cards. Pro-active wineries use these events as powerful tools to make new contacts, maintain and renew old ones, and keep abreast of industry news.