Is Your Tasting Room Providing Customers With an Experience?

By: Dr. Kathy Kelley

One of my favorite marketing books is “The Experience Economy: Work is Theater & Every Business a Stage,” by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. If you haven’t read it, I’ll give you synopsis of the book: how to turn an ordinary shopping trip into an “experience” that engages customers and keeps them in the retail outlet longer, which often encourages them to purchase more and return more often.

Though it has been over 15 years since I first read the book, I remember the concepts and examples and have incorporated them into the course I teach at Penn State in the Plant Science Department, Horticultural Retail Business Management (HORT 455). I have also made it the focus of a Penn State Extension presentation tailored for winery tasting rooms (If you would like a PDF copy of the presentation send me an email at

In the book, the authors describe how a business could implement what they call the four “Es,” which are essential for creating an experience. They are as follows, along with examples specific to wineries: Education (informal and formal wine courses/tours/displays, even what you share when pouring samples), Esthetic/Aesthetic (visual aspects and intangibles that provide a “feeling” that a consumer gets when visiting your tasting room), Escape (involving the customers, for example, including them in the wine making process), and Entertainment (events and activities, concerts, etc., and even the “flare” or presence you exhibit when pouring samples). Any type of retail business can incorporate these strategies into a marketing plan – and wineries can do so in many different ways.

While so much could be discussed, I thought I would share some pictures that illustrate a few “experience” components that demonstrate the concept.

When was the last time you considered what the landscape and planting beds on your property really looked like? If it is time to change them or add some enhancements, why not consider including grapevines (either those that you use for production or something more unique) in your landscape plantings? I took the picture below at the entrance to a winery tasting room in Chile. While the vineyards were visible from the entrance they were not located right next to the tasting room parking lot or building entrance. To help visits envision what they would see in the vineyard they planted “representative” ones in their landscape, which also added a decorative element and kept visitors from wandering into the production area. The vessel you also see in the image is a smaller version of what the enologist used to make his wines. Before customers even enter your tasting room, you should give them an idea of the experience and “story” waiting for them indoors – this winery was able to do just that.

July 2014_Kathy_image 1 grape vine in landscape

I could talk (and type) about displays forever. Certainly it is necessary to display wine bottles in rows on shelves along walls, as in the next image; however, bottles should also be interspersed among other items to encourage customers to purchase complementary products. But, there are other display strategies that you need to consider. Sometimes you may need or want to draw attention to “other” items (whether they are new introductions or a good that is often missed due to package style/size/etc.) and one way to
do so is by placing items on or next to a unique object. If you have “artifacts,” odds and ends, or old equipment – add them to your displays. They add another layer of interest and can change the display’s height so that not all goods are at the same level or on the same surface, which helps customers realize that there is more than one thing to look at. Also, notice that the table and bench used in the image differ in height, color, and material. This strategy also adds interest and depth and makes the space feel more like a boutique – perfect for a tasting room.

July 2014_Kathy_image 2 display

Next you’ll see an image of a tasting room in South Africa. The owners made sure that there was visual interest throughout the tasting room and other areas where a customer might (permissibly) wander. Not only were the floors, walls, and tasting bar visually appealing, but the ceiling wasn’t neglected – after all, as a customer takes a sip of wine they most likely will be leaning their head back and seeing a glimpse of what is above them. So, don’t ignore this space or any other detail that a customer might see (including restrooms). Also, notice that the light fixture hanging over the tasting bars were made with grapevines – another nice touch and it helped direct customers to where they could get their samples.

July 2014_Kathy_image 3

When consumers come to a tasting room they often expect to be educated about some production or wine making component, and perhaps you or your tasting room staff have talked to them about terroir and how it may impact your wines. I think that this display, below, does a few things: it provides a visual that goes with your oral description of what terrior is, offers and educational opportunity for times when you are too busy to give an in-depth explanation of the concept, can be considered a “work of art” and serve in the place of something else that could decorate the walls, and helps tell your winery’s story and what differentiates your business from other wineries.

July 2014_Kathy_image 4 terroir

The following winery tasting room provided visitors with a look inside the tank room, which also served as a location for club member dinners (with a little imagination, your tank or barrel room can be turned into a wine cave for special events and dinners). Though not much was going on during the season that we visited, Denise Gardner and I thought that it could still serve to educate and entertain visitors. It wouldn’t take much more than creating a few signs, which could then be placed at eye level on either side of the glass, to list key points that describe what takes place in the space. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate explanation – just the highlights.

July 2014_Kathy_image 5 inside tank room

Better yet, incorporate a bit of technology. Consider taking video of the processes performed in this area (and elsewhere in the winery and vineyard) and play them on a continuous loop for viewers to watch. Also, consider how you might even involve your smartphone or tablet users (especially if you already offer free Wi-Fi) in the experience. Denise and I are both “heavy” smartphone users and I bet that many of your clientele are, too. With the camera features on our phones, we can take pictures of QR (Quick Response) codes and the link that corresponds to the two-dimensional image (that the winery tasting room owner/staff creates) could take us to a website with information about the tanks, or whatever the winery wants to highlight. For more information on QR codes, here is a blog post written by Sarah Cornelisse, Penn State Senior Extension Associate:

Have your wine labels evolved overtime? Or, did you produce certain labels to support causes, have limited edition labels, or created ones to celebrate something that happened at the winery (10 year
anniversary, etc.)? If so, put them on display. Several wineries that I visited in New Zealand did so to show how their labels changed overtime, sometimes with just slight differences between vintages, but still something for tasting room visitors to look at and keep them on that premises longer. Your job is to tell your story, so why not use your labels to do so?

July 2014_Kathy_image 6 -2

July 2014_Kathy_image 6 wine bottle label evolution 2

Speaking of keeping your visitors in the tasting room for as long as possible, have you ever observed customers who are trying to sample (and enjoy) your wines with friends/relatives in tow – who do not drink wine? Depending on the tag-alongs, it could be a very unfulfilling experience for everyone. Most likely you have visited a type of retailer where you have been the companion who was not interested in what was being sold. Hopefully you had a place to wait while others shopped for what they needed, without them feeling guilty for leaving you behind.

If you don’t have a comfortable seating area away from the tasting bar, but still in view (for all visitors to use – tasters and non-tasters), create one. The space should be inviting, comfortable, and stocked with items for guests to look at and keep them occupied. While certain spaces allow for a television others might not, either based on size or that it would detract from the tasting room atmosphere. An option is to have several (current) magazines available for visitors to read. Subject matter should appeal to your clientele as well as complement “wine,” for example travel and leisure, cooking and entertaining, and similar subscriptions.

July 2014_Kathy_image 7a seating area

July 2014_Kathy_image 7 magazines

The last image I have to share (for now) is from a brewery (the proprietor’s father owned a winery) that hosted many events featuring food and beer/wine pairings. A new grill sparkles and shines and can add aesthetic value; however, some grills do not “age” well and soon loose their luster. This brewery decided to add some whimsy to their grill with a wine barrel. The finished product fit well with their image and a weathered barred barrel adds a bit of romance while a rusted grill promotes other feelings.

July 2014_Kathy_image 8 grill


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