As the novel coronavirus spreads around the world and into our communities, we are being told to practice social distancing, and in some cases, self-isolate at home. Inevitably, this has an outsize effect on the hospitality industry.
Wineries, bars and restaurants have already been instructed to close or operate at partial capacity in a number of states including California and Washington. And in the first half of March, WineDirect observed a 38% decrease in tasting room sales volume month-over-month vs. February in the U.S. and Canada.
Though in wine country we are no strangers to natural disasters - from fires to floods to earthquakes - the rapidly evolving situation around COVID-19 is unique and will be felt for some time to come.
Here are a few resources and recommendations we hope you find useful as we navigate the days ahead. If you're looking for WineDirect operational details, check out our dedicated COVID-19 updates page.
1. Review Scheduled Comms
In times of crisis, a prudent first step is to hit “pause” on all scheduled communications. Carefully review your emails and social posts. Consider pausing digital advertising, especially around tours and tastings. Not only could you come off as out of touch, but your great content and offers won’t get the attention they deserve when everyone is focused on the breaking news cycle. Consider where your customers are, how they are feeling and what they are doing, and tailor your messages appropriately. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t communicate at all, but be cognizant of the type of messages you put out and constantly reevaluate based on current news.
2. Stay in Touch with Your Customers
Make sure you keep your customers and club members up to date. As you close your tasting room, postpone events and send scheduled wine shipments, make sure you communicate clearly. Make a clear refund and cancellation policy for prepaid tours and tastings. Consider adding a special message or FAQs to your website to alleviate the strain on your hospitality team fielding customer inquiries. The caveat to consider carefully whether your email is necessary. At this point, your customers don't need another generic update that your staff is washing their hands. Make sure your communications are relevant and useful.
3. Focus on Ecommerce Sales
According to our 2019 DTC Sales Report, the average order value (AOV) of an online order is 2.5 times greater than in the tasting room. In the long term, online sales are the best way to reduce your dependence on in-person visits and position your winery for financial stability. The good news is that you can build and execute email campaigns from home if your team is working remotely, and if you have a fulfillment house that is prepared to ship your orders.
Offer shipping incentives for out of state customers. Consider putting together unique 3 or 6 packs for an at-home tasting experience. You can also consider offering gift cards as a way for your loyal fans to support your business during these challenging times. Now may not be the best time for aggressive sales offers, but in the months to come, driving website orders can help offset lost tasting room revenue.
Even if they can’t be there in person, keep customers engaged with your winery by increasing your activity on social media and with emails. Share behind the scenes photos and videos. Develop blog content with regular vineyard and winery updates. Host a virtual tasting with your winemaker on Facebook Live. Remember that even in good times wine country is an escape from daily life for your customers: they will be looking for more of that in the coming weeks. At the same time, be conscious of the news cycle. You don’t want to seem out of touch with reality.
Here are some additional resources from fellow industry organizations and partners that you might find helpful: