Storefront Tasting Rooms Best Practices

Is your brand in a holding pattern, waiting for a destination winery to be built? Perhaps your brand makes wine in a warehouse district with little organic foot traffic. Maybe there is a mountain range between your winery and where your target market is located. Whatever the reason, more and more “storefront” tasting rooms are popping up across the country – retail spaces in downtown areas acting as a tasting room for wineries/brands that are not easily accessible (or not yet built). One of the biggest challenges of these storefront tasting rooms is that guests can perceive it as a wine bar, not a branded experience with a desired outcome. With clear intent and focus on purpose, messaging, and business objectives, storefront tasting rooms can be very successful.

1.  Clear Purpose
First, start with a clear purpose or intent. Are you hoping to build your club and mailing list until you move into a permanent location? Will this be your only brand experience coming to life? Is the focus to sell wine ounce by ounce, or by the case through bottle sales and wine club?

WISE has observed several variations in all major wine growing regions around the country, some with more success than others. However, with clear programming (offerings), messaging, and goals for the team, wineries can achieve their goals and business objectives. For example, one storefront tasting room partnered with a popular restaurant (a good fit for their brand) while it waited for the destination winery with an onsite tasting room to be built. The draw of the food and wine pairings helped establish the brand message and what guests could expect when the new tasting room opened. The messaging was always clear, with progress updates sent to wine club and mailing list members. The winery opened to great fanfare and was instantly busy when it opened! Others choose to have more of a wine bar atmosphere, which works well for their business model and their long-term goals.

Purpose can vary greatly, but make sure you have clear intent for your goals and business objectives and then give your chosen strategy enough time to prove out one way or the other.

2.  Brand
After determining the purpose or objective, focus on the differentiated brand message. WISE recently toured a few towns with a high number of storefronts (from 10 to 300+) in close proximity to each other. In some tasting rooms, a new business could move in the next day with no changes being made to the space – there was no story being told through creating a sense of place. It’s not enough to be a “boutique, family-owned winery producing world class wines” – far too many wineries can claim this, so it’s not unique.

To differentiate your brand, consider three things you want guests to walk away knowing. (We’ve found that three is the right balance between too much to remember and enough to give staff variation on brand messaging.) How does your tasting experience make that come to life? Does everyone on the team understand those points, and do they have a deep repertoire of stories to support these brand points?

The challenges of selling wine without a vineyard or winery within 200 miles are very real. What props can be leveraged? Old barrels, farming equipment, photography and artwork can all help tell the brand story, which is all the more crucial when there are 45 neighbors within walking distance all telling their stories. Is the team sharing memorable stories that use these props in the tasting room that help support the brand messaging? The busiest tasting rooms we observed understood that everything speaks – from staff employing strong storytelling and décor that creates an engaging vibe and support the brand messaging. That in turn drew in more traffic, and laid the foundation for brand loyalty.

3.  Business/Sales Goals
Finally, in a storefront tasting room, don’t underestimate the power of the WISE Triple Score (1. Ask for the Order, 2. Effectively Present the Wine Club, and 3. Collect Contact Data). Truly successful brands put an emphasis on asking for the order, warmly inviting guests to the club, and collecting contact data to grow their brand. These conversions in turn create traffic through repeat visits and referrals from engaged guests. All too often, we experienced a lack of dedicated sales efforts. It is critical to any DTC focused brand to do this, but it seemed even more so in a crowded neighborhood, where few were doing it. Don’t assume every tasting room is asking for the order or pitching club. Listen to your guests, and respect their choices, but remember that we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. Create a culture of asking for the Triple Score, complete with incentives and accolades.

Bottom line: many of the best practices for destination tasting rooms apply to storefront tasting rooms, which are not without their own challenges. Establish and follow a clear objective and purpose, create an environment that tells the brand story, and focus on the WISE Triple Score.