Nearly all wineries have wine clubs, at least 75% of them do. (And why are there any that don’t have a club or allocation list?) A small winery sells most of its wine directly to consumers rather than through distribution, and wine clubs are a significant part of their sales. Wine clubs contribute to cash flow and are a good way of building customer retention.
But there are many types of clubs: Monthly, annually, high end, red wines, or a combination of clubs. What would work best for you?
If you produce a few wines, you don’t need a monthly club. You don’t want to repeat a particular wine within one year, so you would need to have at least 12 wines to do a monthly club, and 24 is better, so each shipment will contain two different wines.
If you only produce one or two wines, you could do a case annually, but that’s not really a club. You can get people to commit to buying that case if you only make a limited amount or the wine is otherwise unavailable. But that’s not really a club, it’s just a membership society or allocation list.
If you product many wines, then the options to you are great. And it may be best for you to offer several types of clubs. Many wineries also allow customers to choose the wines for each shipment. While that is a lot of work for the winery, some people simply do not like certain wines and do not want to receive them on a regular basis.
There is a way to combine the options of the winery choosing the wines and allowing members to select them. A winery could pre-select the wines, and let a member make a change to the selection before a specified cutoff date. Most people won’t make changes, but you can accommodate those who insist on it.
How should club shipments be priced? A set amount for each club each shipment, or variable pricing depending on the wines being shipped. The lower-end clubs you might want to keep the price consistent each time, as these members may be more price-sensitive. But a club with higher end wines could offer variable pricing, as members here are really interested in the best you have to offer, and can pay higher prices when your truly great wines are being offered.
One good way to retain members is to offer wines only available to them. A special reserve wine, library wine, or varietal wine that your winemaker is experimenting with or simply enjoys, but not available in large quantities. People do like to receive items that are available exclusively to them.
Other wine club benefits can include special tastings, parties (particularly when a wine club shipment is about to be made. Those who pick up their wines at the winery can be treated to a simply party at either no charge or a limited one.
Promote your wine club in your tasting room if you have one. But be very careful of overpromoting the club. While it is a good idea to offer tasting room salespeople an incentive to sign up new members, don’t allow them to become used car salesmen and appear to be over-hyping the club. Mention it, offer a brochure, but don’t be insistent. It will turn people off or if they feel pressured to sign up, they will cancel almost immediately.
And if a member does quit the club, ask why. Perhaps they can no longer afford the club. Could you sell them on a cheaper option? If they move to a state you do not ship to, can you ship to a friend or relative in a nearby state? If they simply want to take a break from your wines (and people won’t say that, but frequently they do), keep them on the membership list, but don’t ship any wines and periodically ask them if they’d like to resume shipments while offering them an appealing premium.
If you have the time to attend seminars and discussions of wine clubs with other wineries, attend them, ask questions, and you will benefit from the solutions other wineries can offer.