Events, Part 1: Planning

By: Kathy Kelley

With the fall and winter holidays coming up, I’m sure you are in the midst of planning, or have finished planning, a few events that will draw consumers to your tasting room. But, surely, November, December, and early January are not the only months during which you’ll host such events. Consider creating events that will bring customers to your tasting room during times when sales are typically slow. An opportunity to develop and host an event is only restricted by your creativity and rationale for offering the event. Some potential events include:

  • Store openings and anniversaries
  • Recognition of customers who spend the most at the business on an annual basis
  • Targeting your primary customers for a “night out”

During what other times might you host an event? Some to consider:

  • October is Pennsylvania Wine Month – 31 days of celebrating
  • Pre- or post-harvest celebrations
  • End of bottling
  • National Drink Wine Day (February 18th; nationaldrinkwineday.org), not to be confused with National Wine Day (May 25th)
  • You will find a nice calendar of events on Americanwineryguide.com. Mark you calendars for “World Moscato Day” (May 9th), National Chardonnay Day (May 21st), “Drink Local Wine Week” (Oct. 11th through the 17th), and many more.

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Events for a cause

An event may be the perfect way to raise money for a charity or alert the community about a cause. Several examples exist where retailers host an event on their property, invite artists to showcase and sell their paintings, jewelry, etc., and provide space for caterers and food businesses to promote their products.

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Having caterers at the event is a great way to help customers discover more way to use your wine. Ask that caterers share menus of what they plan to serve with you well in advance – then post a small sign by each tasting station that lists which one of your wines pairs well with the dish.   Alternatively, you could create “handouts” that list the item(s) at the food station, contact information for the vendor who is selling the product/providing samples, the name of the wine that would pair well, and how attendees can order/find your wine locally (at the winery, whether your wines are at state liquor stores, if you sell your wines at farmers’ markets, if the wines are available at local restaurants, etc.), as well as you contact information, how they can join your case club, and related information.

If you don’t already have a list of caterers who could handle a crowd, consider visiting a local farmers’ market and connect with food vendors. If they have been selling goods at the market for a while they probably have a following and they could easily promote the event at their farmers’ market stall, via social media, etc. Having another artesian from the community can further enhance the “local” aspect of your business and that you do your best to support other small businesses.

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While a free event might draw a reasonable crowd, selling tickets could help defray the costs of the event or provide a significant amount that could be donated to the cause. Also, if tickets are sold in advance, it will be much easier to plan the event and ensure that enough food and drink is available.

Ask artists to donate some of the proceeds from goods sold, provide items for a silent auction, or pay for their vendor space. Even though attendees will pay admission and bid on items – set up several sites where they can donate money. Asking vendors to have a “donation jar” in their booth is one way to collect spare change and dollars.

What to consider when planning an event

With the amount of time and energy that developing and implementing a successful event can take, consider holding the event for more than one day. Of course, the number of days that you hold an event depends on the type of event as well as how established the business is and how many customers could potentially visit.

More established tasting rooms with a larger customer base may need to host a multiday event to accommodate the number of visitors expected. Though having enough employees available to complete all the prep work and on-site activities can be difficult, consider the potential benefits, including:

  • Increased likelihood that busy couples and groups of friends could attend at least one of the days
  • Flexibility in arranging times for vendors, demonstrations, and specialty guests
  • Reduced parking congestion and crowding

Before you start planning, take stock of the amount of property or space available inside the tasting room to accommodate larger-than-average crowds. Additionally, determine whether you will need an overflow-parking site.

  • Do you have an open field, or can you use another business’s parking lot?
  • If so, can attendees walk from this parking area to the event, or will you need to hire buses to transport them?

Hire extra staff to organize these spaces most efficiently and alleviate stress for all involved. Extra staff may also be necessary to enforce food and guest safety, as well as to help prevent vendors and guests from being victims of theft.

Even with significant space available to accommodate a crowd, several components of creating a comfortable space still need to be considered, such as:

  • Appropriate number of bathrooms and wash stations
  • Variety of refreshments available for visitors to purchase, especially if temperatures are unseasonably warm
  • Shelter, such as a tent, in case of inclement weather

Consider offering tents or other outbuildings to food vendors who will be cooking and selling snacks and meals. Tents for cooking must be up to code and need to be placed a specific distance from permanent buildings in case of fire in the tent. Consult your local township, borough, or city for more information and a list of restrictions.

Will your event be “worth it?”

The ultimate goal of the event is to generate income while offering your visitors an experience. Hence, you’ll likely need to devote resources beyond what you allocate for regularly scheduled promotions. When both planning and evaluating the event, develop a list of questions that can guide you through the process and help you determine what to change for future years. The following are some questions worth considering.

Is the idea unique?

An event can help business owners differentiate themselves from their competitors. The uniqueness, and subsequent consumer appeal, of an event can be a key marketing factor that customers associate with the business. Certainly, there is a difference between a unique idea that is engaging and inviting and a unique idea that is over the top and intimidates visitors. To be effective, as well as interesting, some tie-in needs to be established between the business and the focus of the event. For example, if you hire a local artist to design labels for your wines, consider a “meet the artist” night during the event.

Dec 2014_Blog_Kathy Pic 4Will the event be memorable?

To achieve this, tasting room staff should ensure that the perception (what actually happens) of the event is greater than what visitors expect, and that the outcome ultimately “wows” attendees. Another way to think about this is to deliver more than what is promised, and the visitor will not be disappointed. The reward may be realized both during the event and when the visitor returns.

Is the event important enough to justify the amount of time and expense invested?

As can be expected with creating an event that is both unique and memorable, resources need to be allocated to the effort. Sales and foot traffic (discussed in next week’s blog post) are two indicators you should track and analyze. Keep in mind that it may take more than one attempt at offering the event to actually obtain the desired level of profitability.

Customer interaction

Once attendees have arrived, involve them in an experience that engages each of their senses.

  • Sight: As mentioned above, create spaces for local artists to display their products
  • Sound: Set up a stage and invite local bands to perform or play a selection of music from CDs you/they offer for purchase. Have appropriate seating, or space for visitors to set up their own chairs, for more formal performances when artists are asked to entertain rather than just play “background” music. Don’t forget to publish a list of performances and ask the band/performer to do the same
  • Touch: Allow attendees to walk through the vineyards, see the vines up close, and pick fruit right from a few vines you’ve set aside for this purpose
  • Smell and taste: Invite a local bakery to sell specialty breads, pastries, and cheese, all complementing your wine. Nothing smells better than freshly baked bread (except wine of course!)

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Research has shown that the longer consumers spend looking at merchandise in a store, the more likely they are to make a purchase. If you already offer barrel-tasting tours, vineyard tours, and reserve-in-advance tastings, consider other ways you can educate visitors. Try implementing a mix of short seminars for free (e.g. how to properly cellar wines) and all-day educational sessions for a fee that involves the customer, and that quite possibly provides them with something they take home from the session (e.g. making jelly from wine grapes).

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Depending on what you talk about during the seminars, you may alert them about products and wines that you sell and that they might not have considered or noticed before hearing you speak.

Co-hosting events

Though your business may develop the vision for an event, the responsibility of coordinating and implementing it doesn’t need to be restricted to only you, your facility, and your staff. Involve a complementary business, or two, and work together.

For example, invite a local baker, caterer, cheese producer and/or florist to co-host. During the event, staff from all three businesses could offer demonstrations, such as meal preparation using the food items and choosing a flower arrangement for the table. Each business could also provide goods that can be included in gift baskets for sale, part of a charity raffle, or that could be ordered at the event (great for those who might need winter holiday gift ideas).

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Consumers who attend the event may appreciate being able to interact with more than one business and purchase goods and services provided by each. Combining forces could be more economical for all businesses involved, compared to each business hosting its own, smaller event.

Hosting an event together also results in having a greater number of employees available to staff the event, along with pooling funds to cover advertising and event-related expenses. Along with agreeing on a unified theme that makes sense for all businesses involved, decide in advance how you will assigning duties and distribute profits from either admission or activity fees, as well as how the visiting businesses compensate the host business for utility and land use.

When it comes to social media, make sure that you:

  • “Like” the business you co-host with on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (Abigail Miller will be discussing Instagram in her December 12th blog post).
  • Alert followers when you add co-hosts’ products to your displays or when new partners and vendors agree to be involved in the event
  • Post images before, during, and after the event. Consider assigning that duty to a specific staff member – most likely if this role isn’t assigned the number of images collected and items posted will be less than desired
  • Both original tweets and your retweets should mention your co-hosts
  • Develop a Pinterest page that all businesses co-manage and pin pictures to related to the event, provide links to recipes for foods served during the event, etc.
  • Develop a #hashtag specifically for the event and use it in all your postings. Also, ask visitors to use the #hashtag in their postings so that you can search for their images and repost on social media sites, websites, and tweet. You could encourage attendees to help document the event by announcing that you will hold a contest and select (at random or by vote) one or two visitors who post and use the #hashtag.

All these efforts inform your customers about joint activities while reminding them about your business.

In next week’s blog, I’ll provide information on how to evaluate your event and determine whether it was a success.

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