The Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) program, in which I am an instructor,  has a 21st century educational vision for grape growing, winemaking and winery marketing.  In my VESTA “Winery Tasting Room Management” class, students are taught winery tasting room evaluation, also known as a “Mystery Shopping” experience.   The goal of this class project is for students to perform a winery evaluation which means looking at the winery experience through the customer’s eyes.

Why would a winery owner hire someone to do an evaluation only to be told that he wasn’t doing very well?  The reason is that mystery shopping is a performance measurement tool.  The process begins with gathering information about a winery’s customer service experience and products from a customer’s point of view.  This information can then be used to create a competitive edge, reward staff for a job well done, and address areas that need updating, training, or attention.

There are over 4500 wineries in the country.  Wineries now have more competition than ever before, so each winery needs to stand out in order to succeed.   The bottom line is that in today’s environment you need to be remarkable in every respect.  But understanding how you are perceived by customers must be addressed before making improvements.  Most of us can’t do this evaluation ourselves because we can’t be objective about our own businesses.   For example, winery owners often enter the winery through the back door, and many also don’t visit their own website regularly.  That’s what mystery shopping is all about.  Another set of eyes.

Here are eight areas on my Mystery Shopping check list:
How are customers going to check you out first?   The answer is via the winery’s website.   Therefore,  websites are the marketing foundation.  They need to work for you 24/7.  Questions to ask about your website include:  Can you be found in a search?  Are your address and phone number on the home page?  Are your hours listed? Is there an updated calendar of events? Are wines listed with prices?  Is the website mobile phone friendly?

Winery Entrance
The winery’s front door and facade forms the visitor’s first impression.   Does it say “Welcome”?  Can signage be seen from a distance?  Are winery hours clearly posted?  Is landscaping inviting and well maintained?   If you own an urban winery, can it be spotted from the street?  Standing out from other store fronts is essential for any retail business.

Parking Lot
Is there ample regular and handicapped parking, signage to the tasting room and bicycle parking, if appropriate?

Tasting Room Look and Feel
Look and feel is the personality of your winery.  The décor and merchandising need to be consistent throughout the winery.  Creating a consistent image includes coordination of the website, signage, entrance, tasting room, printed material, and restrooms.

Products and Printed Material
Does wine packaging; labels, corks, screw tops, and capsules match the winery’s look and feel?  Is your printed material consistent with the overall marketing message and free of grammar and spelling errors?  Does all printed material list contact information?

Restrooms are a reflection of the cleanliness of the entire facility.  If they aren’t clean, it may lead visitors to wonder about the cleanliness of the wine making area.  ‘Nuff said…

Patio, Deck and Winery Grounds
Do you have a designated area for visitors to picnic?  The area needs to be clean, orderly and inviting all year round.  The goal is for visitors to remember your amenities and plan return visits.

Tasting Room Staff
Winery staff should be neat and tidy.  Do they have nametags?  Are they providing remarkable customer service?   Does staff understand and employ the 10/4 rule of engagement?  (Acknowledge customers at a distance of 10 feet and then engage them in conversation at a distance of four feet.)  Also, are tasting room employees creating a dialogue or a monologue with visitors?

I have just briefly touched on the factors that have the greatest impact on a customer’s perception of your winery.  Make a few improvements every day and your winery will be in tip-top shape in no time.  A great book I suggest reading is, The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran.    Basically,  the author says that thinking of a year as only 12 weeks will help you to accomplish so much more.  I also advise my clients to make three recommended improvements at a time, and when those are complete,  make three more and so on.  Good luck with getting your winery ready for the upcoming season.  For more help with tasting room marketing ideas please Contact Patty.

Patty Held is Owner of Patty Held Winery Consulting in Hermann, Missouri.  She is the Founder and Director of the Hermann Wine Trail, an adjunct instructor for VESTA and an industry advisor for America’s Wine Trails, a company that produces web and audio tours for wineries.  Previously, Patty was one the owners of Stone Hill Winery in Missouri for 20 years.