A Missing Piece – Collaborative Action to Increase Qualified Tasting Room Traffic

For years WISE has been collecting data on a variety of key best practices for the tasting room through our Mystery Shopping program. We’ve compiled the data from over 450 shops in 2022 and one thing that continues to come up as an opportunity for the industry as a whole is capturing the Referral Source. It breaks our heart to see that only 56% of the industry attempted to find out what brought the guests into their tasting room because we know that effective referral source data collection brings in revenue! How is that? Well, if we notice that certain people or businesses are sending in great guests, we can leverage that. With a little positive reinforcement, these “gatekeeper” relationships can really increase our DTC revenue.

What is a Gatekeeper?

WISE defines the term gatekeeper as a person or business who could potentially refer qualified customers (aka guests who will purchase wine or join a wine club). This might include hotel concierges, limo drivers, restaurant waitstaff or host/hostess, etc. It could also include neighboring wineries or specific people in the industry. Successful wineries have formal gatekeeper relations programs & it pays off to treat them as strategic partners.

The Payoff

One of our winery partners in Napa recently told us about their relationship with 10 strategically picked, local hotels. The hotels were given “free tasting” coupons for their winery to give out to their guests. The guests who are coming to redeem these cards are “not always, but often A++ shoppers. One out of four is a whole-case buyer.” The lesson here is that even if people are coming in for something free, it doesn’t mean they won’t buy (we hear that all too often from staff). We need to make sure our staff are attempting to sell in a brand-appropriate way. It could also be a value-add and not something free – like an upgraded experience, a cheese plate, etc.

Another winery partner in Walla Walla says the local tour companies bring in about 75% of their revenue. In 2021, this was nearly $413,000 in revenue!

How do we find our Gatekeepers?

When our guests enter the tasting room, a common icebreaker is: “Have you been here before?” or “How did you hear about us?” This is a great start to the conversation and building rapport, but if we tweak the question to find out what brings the guest in today & better yet, who sent them, we can do so much more with the information gathered in the response. Our team should be aware that a huge part of their job on the floor is to build rapport with their guests, which, when done intentionally, will help us discover:

  • Where they heard about us
  • Wine touring publications, Social Media Groups, & websites they use
  • Other wineries they visit
  • Where they stay, dine, shop when visiting
  • Other activities they engage in when visiting

“Who can we thank for your visit today?” is a question that provides valuable insight into who our gatekeepers are. Referral source awareness can increase our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) tremendously. Building this awareness with our team is the first step. To take it up a notch, we must put a system in place to measure our results so that we know if we are achieving our goals to justify continuing the program.

Best Practices for Gaining Referrals

Here are five WISE best practices for building relationships with key gatekeepers:

  1. Create a target list of partners who are, or could be, key influencers – both current and aspirational partners.
  2. Formally decide on the top 10 to 25 accounts to focus on first
  3. Set up categories and assign source key codes for tracking. Make sure the whole team knows/can access these codes
  4. Have the team ask for referral sources at every table (and/or make it part of your reservation process) and track partner referral performance in detail
  5. Develop a special, unique offer that is easy for our partners to sell and/or foster relationships with our Gatekeepers

Once we realize who is sending us the best customers, we want them to keep doing it! It’s important to foster relationships with these key influencers and not waste time/energy/resources on those who are not sending qualified traffic. Some ideas to incorporate into our Gatekeeper Programs include:

  • sending thank you notes
  • hosting a Key Influencers industry party
  • VIP tastings for key referrers
  • unique offers for guests and/or tastings at hotels & B&Bs
  • trainings at local restaurants
  • offer a relaxing place, a non-alcoholic beverage, or free WIFI for limo drivers to hang out while waiting for their groups
  • If all else fails, an occasional “thank you” bottle placed in the hand of a great gatekeeper is always appreciated.

In other words, treat them like a VIP when they visit us and consider setting up experiences or surprise & delight opportunities unique to them & their guests. Another idea, especially for business owners – reciprocate the referral!

While this is an important part of each tasting room host’s job responsibilities, some wineries are paying an incentive to staff to capture this key referral information – it’s that important!

If we don’t have a formal Gatekeeper Relations Program in place yet, there’s no time like the present to start one. For now, let’s get our team asking and formally collecting referral sources. Then in the slower months, we can refine our program, make sure we are meeting all the WISE Best Practices listed above, and work on fostering relationships with those key gatekeepers. Investing time and energy into our gatekeepers will pay off