Reka Haros: why wineries need to go direct to their consumers

Reka Haros of the Sfriso Winery in Italy explains why she changed her business model, cut out the middle men and took her wines straight to consumers in their homes

Many articles have been written lately for the wine trade about the importance of understanding consumers, their buying behaviours and their psyche. As an ex-marketing and advertising executive, I have my personal views on this: it’s that there is nothing new about what is being said.

In the timeline from marketing 1.0 to marketing 3.0, the common denominator has always been the consumer. Technological developments are shaping our businesses and lives, but few wine businesses have adapted their strategies to the changing times. As a winery owner, I understand that, but here is what could be achieved if they did.

This, in short, is our story.

In 2003, we became just another small Italian winery in Veneto. We inherited the winery from my father-in-law. It had been the expensive hobby of a fun-loving man who was tired of selling other people’s wines through his wine- and liquor-distribution company. His winery had no clients, it did not bottle its wines, and it sold all of its production in bulk. We soon realised that we could not continue it as a hobby; we wanted to make it profitable.

Coming from other sectors, we had no wine business experience; we were merely two simple wine consumers. For the next six years we invested in both our winery and in ourselves to learn and apply what we thought was best practice. We did what the other wineries were doing and it seemed to be the right way of doing business. We attended trade fairs, participated at B2B workshops, and worked with an export manager.

All the money had been spent in the hope of selling our wines. The wine business we had in mind was all about numbers, cutting costs for better competitiveness, and the anxiety of losing those few clients we had managed to acquire after spending thousands of euros to find them. It was not fun, and the numbers did not add up. Until we realised we were doing it all wrong.

The main question we were not asking ourselves was, who are our consumers? Beyond our trade clients, who consumes our wines? Who do we want to consume our wines? The answer was easy: people like us.

 

Back to basics

We had forgotten that before becoming winery owners we were two young wine consumers. We went back to the basics, which meant looking at our business from the outside, emotionally detaching from it, and seeing it as a business opportunity.

We realised that placing the consumer at the centre of our strategy could add value to our wines. We could increase our prices and finally make a reasonable profit.

But to encourage our consumers to spend more money on our wines meant doing something for them. Hence the idea of taking our tastings around Europe. We take our tastings to the homes of ordinary people who drink wine regularly. We bring our wines, tasting glasses, cheese and cold cuts from our local store. People can sample our wines, get to know who makes those wines and how we make them, and have an engaging experience with friends in a familiar environment.

Since we launched our tours two years ago, we have not stopped travelling Europe with our tastings. One event leads to several others simply because people attending become our advocates and talk to others about it. Word of mouth is what keeps us going on limited investment. We have toured Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, taking our wines for private tastings in places where no importer, retailer or distributor ever gets.

We have had fun evenings in the company of professors, managers, architects, lawyers and engineers. We have stepped inside their private spheres and built lasting friendships in which our wines are the common denominator.

Ultimately, the end consumers are the ones who drink our wine. If we get them hooked on us, they will repurchase. In today’s world, consumer insight – a deeper understanding of consumption habits and the reasons for consumption – is one of a business’s biggest assets.

Consumers are ready to pay a higher price for products that emotionally engage them. They expect brands to make them experience new things, interact with them and deliver value that they appreciate.

Experiential marketing translates into lasting consumer loyalty. Getting people to love your brand is increasingly less about product benefits and more about creating unique, meaningful experiences at every possible touch point.

Adding value through experience-based marketing can triple profit margins. Surely that is an objective any business should aim for.

All wine businesses need to look outside the wine sector’s box, and understand that the era of product-based promotions, self-promotion and pushy sales is gone. That is not how to build lasting relationships with consumers anymore.

 

Readers' comments (5)

  • In an era when so many smaller wineries struggle to get distribution, Reka has some very valuable lessons to teach.

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  • Thank you Robert.

    The key is not so much on how we do our distribution but on why we do it the way we do it!

    The most important missing piece in our industry is how wine businesses have not followed innovation of the times. At large both producers and trade struggle to keep up with consumers' progress.

    The whole sector's main objective should be to work on this gap between producers and consumers.

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  • Congratulations on your progress!

    Experience is key for small winery sales. You aren't selling chemicals. The consumer feels something when they buy your product; the joy of a find to share with friends, ego knowing the owners, the connection with the earth, knowing there is place tied to the wine versus a cocktail.

    There can be lots of things besides the great wine quality but its more than pepsi or coke. Its an affordable luxury good and you can help your consumer appreciate that.

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  • Exactly what we are working with the wineries to do see www.geppawine.it

    We need to know more about you ! .
    We were at 2015 too !
    We like small to medium artisan wineries !!!
    All the best.

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  • Small to medium artisan wineries wanting to sell directly to consumers in Italy the UK and soon other key export markets with cantina margins guaranteed and no effort on your part required see www.geppawine.it and email enrico.cammareri@geppawine.it to join the programme. We manage all logistics & marketing in a turnkey solution. You simply have to continue making great wines! See also www.acquistaincantina.it and www.shopthewineries.com

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