Should You Launch a Wine Club? It Depends.
Starting a club for your wine brand isn’t as simple as it used to be
Wine clubs were once an easy way for people to acquire coveted bottles from a brand they enjoyed. Customers loved getting an exclusive taste of the final product the winemaker was aiming for, vintage after vintage. And wineries loved curating their selections.
There was one club model then, and it was straightforward.
Now? Customer preferences, customer service expectations, consumer choice, subscriptions options, and a litany of additional variables have evolved wine clubs far beyond the legacy model of yesteryear (which has actually seen a steady decline in consumer interest.)
It turns out that consumers like exercising their options.
Four club models have risen to the top due to the wine industry’s response to changing consumer demands: Curated, subscription, user-choice, and a two-model combo.
The best club model strategy for your wine brand depends on a few factors: Your customers, your goals as a winery, and your capacity and willingness to make accommodations.
Rest assured, there is a just-right club model for your wine brand. One that aligns with your goals and abilities that will thrill your customers, vintage after vintage.
Curated: The brand-focused wine club model
A curated club model is built on pure brand support. It allows the winemaker and sales team to present a view of the vintage and the varieties they produce, while at the same time forecasting future sales and adjusting production levels.
But because younger wine consumers know they have a variety of purchasing options, they’re less inclined to take a winery’s offerings as is. If they can customize their order, they’re going to. Or at least they’ll try. This results in a lot of bending over backwards for wineries who may or may not have the operational capacity to do so.
As wineries aim to keep their customers happy, they have shifted to accommodate the variables that come with custom requests. For example, a customer may not like Chardonnay and want to substitute Sauvignon Blanc instead. To accommodate this customer’s request is a win in the retention column, but requires a certain level of white-glove service from the winery side.
The curated model is perfect for wine brands who stand firm on curating their selections, move a certain amount of product, and forecast for both production and sales. And it’s perfect for customers who are superfans of a winery, trusting them time after time.
But most customers today want choice, so the curated model has proven difficult for member retention. You can accommodate orders for your members all you’d like, but keep in mind that doing so may be a slippery slope.
From boosting your wine brand’s email list to batch processing for smoother operations, there are a lot of benefits to offering a wine club.
Subscription: The access wine club model
It seems that there is no industry that the subscription model hasn’t touched, and the wine industry is no exception. Customers pay a certain amount annually in exchange for select products, first access to new releases, and other membership perks.
Think of the subscription model as the Amazon Prime of wine clubs. Bottle discounts, shipping incentives, and access to events and tastings are the name of the game.
While this model may be less appealing for some wineries less inclined to offer discounts on their product, it’s perfect for retailers. With vast product selections and a constant flow of product coming in, the access model is ideal for those with a brick-and-mortar shop.
The subscription model is perfect for the customer who enjoys exercising their bragging rights. After all, being a “gold” member or something equally as exclusive-sounding can be a definite driver for signing up. And for wineries and retailers alike, the access model gives them a chance to forecast sales and production, thanks to the predictability of the yearly fee.
If the subscription model comes with any drawbacks, it’s more on the winery side. It’s up to the winery to add value (like events/tastings, discounts and the like). And it can often take the focus off of the wine itself for wineries since access is everywhere.
User choice: The personal customization wine club model
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Customers love to choose. So it comes as no surprise that the User Choice wine club model is today’s most popular.
It works like this: A winery will announce via an email campaign that the club is open for modifications, allowing members to log in and modify the shipment by adding or subtracting bottles that are being offered by the winery. The customer chooses what they want, matches their preferences, and processes the order themselves via the winery’s website.
If you’re thinking this sounds familiar to an allocation, you’d be right. This model does have less in common with a pure club model because the choosing is up to the customer. And although the percentage of customers who actually customize in this model may vary, having the ability to customize keeps customers engaged, rendering their shipment a better match with their personal preferences.
This is the perfect model if you’re after customer engagement, retention, and building brand loyalty. It can also be a good opportunity to build an enhanced retail experience. But it does take away the ability for the wine brand to forecast for sales and production. After a few years, you gather some useful customer data, but early on it’s anyone’s guess.
Another drawback for certain wine brands may be that there’s more to set up behind the scenes because of the time it takes to build an allocation and run a batch afterward.
The combo: Part customization, part brand-focused wine club model
To mitigate highly sought-after wines being cherry-picked, a wine brand can require that minimums are purchased for particular bottles. This then guarantees a customer access to the sought-after wines. Over-buying is limited and production is spread out to a larger swath of members.
In short: To get to wine club model A, a customer must fulfill a purchasing requirement from wine club model B first.
This combo model can be challenging for wineries since it requires lots of prep work to set up. Plus, it doesn’t allow for proper forecasting of sales or product. But what it lacks in easy setup and financial forecasting, it makes up for in building brand loyalty, and ensuring a certain amount of product gets moved.
But, here’s the thing. Your wine brand’s production is going to change, as well as your scores. By having the variability of your production levels, retention and sales, you get strategic options and workarounds to maximize your sales.
Bending the rules to get the most out of your wine club model
From boosting your wine brand’s email list to batch processing for smoother operations, there are a lot of benefits to offering a wine club. But as you may have gathered, each model has its drawbacks, depending on your wine brand’s goals and abilities.
What’s helpful to know is that you have the ability to shift your model when needed, based on what’s happening in the market. Plus, you can bend the rules with any wine club model strategy to make things work better. It just depends how willing your wine brand is to accommodate your customers’ requests.
Here’s a scenario to consider: Your wine brand establishes a curated club model, complete with several varietals. A customer asks if you have a red only club, but you don’t offer one. You can make it happen for them behind the scenes — without making it known and setting a precedent for other customers.
Though these custom requests require an extra level of white glove service, they can be a great retention strategy. It’s just one way to stretch the standards to appease your customers and still sell your product.
As your wine brand explores its options with wine club models, just remember: Keep your brand’s goals, customer base, and capabilities top of mind. When you do, your wine club will be mutually beneficial for both your brand and the customers who love it.