I had a first for me a couple of weeks ago: I closed the deal on a wine club signup via Twitter:
This wasn't a Herculean feat; it sounds like Amber LeBeau, who writes the SpitBucket.Net blog, was interested already. I just connected the last few dots. But I was fascinated to read the blog that she posted the next day, about why she signed up. After all, there are thousands of American wineries, most of whom have wine clubs, and thousands more clubs available from retailers, magazines, newspapers, and even NPR.
It started with a tweet from @enobytes and then I ended up a wine club member @TablasCreek . Along the way I ponder some of the traits that make a wine club compelling enough to join. https://t.co/GycELb3F3Y— Spitbucket.net (@SpitbucketBlog) January 15, 2018
Now we spend a lot of our time thinking about how to make our wine club (or, more accurately, wine clubs, since we offer three different flavors) as appealing as possible. We research how other wineries who we respect craft their club offerings. And we try to listen (and to ask) our own customers about what they want out of a club. Still, each customer's reason for joining a club is ultimately personal, and what may be appealing to one customer may matter only a little to another. In Amber's piece, she outlines three main factors she uses in deciding whether to sign up for a club or not:
- How easy can I get your wines at home?
- How many bottles am I committing myself to?
- How likely is the style of wine going to change?
Happily, we fared well on all three factors. While some of our core wines are available in Amber's hometown of Seattle, we make more than a dozen wines each year that don't make it into distribution, many of which are exclusively available to wine club members. We think of our wine club as an introduction to our wines, not a means to move large quantities, and so typically send out twelve different bottles per year, six in the spring and six in the fall. And we are family-owned, with so much continuity in our philosophy and winemaking team that we've had the same winemaker for more than two decades. So, we passed. (Thank you, Amber!)
Still, because of this conversation and the blog that resulted, I've spent more time than usual recently thinking about what makes for a great wine club. I thought I'd put my thoughts down here, and encourage you to chime in in the comments if you think there are things I've under- or over-emphasized, or that I've missed entirely.
- Wines that you love, consistently. This is, I think, the core of it all. If a winery makes wines that you love across the board the chances of you loving what they choose to send you is a lot greater than if you like a few wines a lot and others less.
- Wines you otherwise can't get. I think it's important that there be wines that are made especially for club members (or, at least, set aside exclusively for club members). When we started, and our wine club was small, this was easy. Now, we have to plan for it, and make wines that we know are going to be dedicated to our members. This can be lots of fun. [Read, if you haven't, our blog from last spring about making a new wine around Terret Noir for our club members.]
- Savings. Now, maybe if your wine is otherwise unavailable (i.e. all sold on allocation) this isn't a key. Getting the wine at all is the important thing. But for most wineries, you don't have to be a member to get their wine. Making sure that club members get good prices on what they buy is really important. There's not much that will make a member into an ex-member faster than seeing your wine sold cheaper than they can get it at a nearby store.
- Special treatment. I think "club" is the key word here. You want to know that when you visit a place where you're a member, you'll be treated like an insider. There's not one specific way in which this has to be done. But knowing that you'll get more than the basic experience everyone else gets is important.
- Flexibility & convenience. I've lumped these two things together, because while they're probably not positive decision factors, they can definitely be deal-breakers. A shipment every two months? Probably not a convenience if you have to be home to sign for the packages. A single set configuration which can't be adjusted depending on your likes? Probably ditto (though less so if you really love all the wines). And any particular wine in quantity? Probably less appealing than a variety.
- Fun other opportunities to connect. Whether this includes member-only days at the winery, excursions (hey, how about a Rhone River cruise?), or just making the point of sending out information and invitations to club members when you're doing an event in their neck of the woods, opportunities to connect outside the tasting room can be lots of fun for everyone.
We are always honored when someone joins one of our wine clubs. It's a meaningful gesture of faith in what we do that a customer will give us their credit card and say, in essence, we trust you to pick some wines we'll love. We want always to make sure that we're worthy of that trust, and are proud that our wine club members stay members for more than three times the industry average. If you have things that you particularly value in a club membership that I haven't mentioned, or another way you look at value, please share it in the comments.
And, once more, to any members out there, thank you.