There are only two ways for winegrape growers to increase their profits, says Paul Wagner: either cut costs or increase revenue. Wagner, the owner of Balzac Communications and Marketing in Napa, CA, can’t tell experienced grape growers how to cut costs, but he can tell them how to boost their revenues. That’s simple, you just need to get more money for your grapes. To do that, you need to turn your commodity into a product, and that means making yourself stand out. So without further ado, here are Wagner’s Top 10 ways to boost profits.
10) Call Your Customer — Say hello, ask them about their family, and tell them about yours. This is the first step in building a relationship that goes beyond just doing business. This is also the first step in making the cut when times get tough. “In a recession, not everyone gets a contract,” says Wagner. “How do you avoid getting cut? It goes beyond professional — that’s good business.”
9) Call Four Potential Customers — Again, say hello, ask them about their family, and tell them about yours. As stated above, this is the first step in building a relationship, but you need to branch out as it might just pay off if your current customer disappears. That keeps your options open if you don’t make the cut. Also, you might have a great relationship with a winemaker, but life’s loaded with uncertainty, says Wagner. “What if that one person gets hit by a truck?”
8) Put A Sign Up In Your Vineyard — This way people will know who you are. This is an excellent, low-cost way to add value to your wines. It will also help you to focus on the fact that you’re not just growing any grapes — these are your grapes. These grapes aren’t a commodity, they are a high-quality product. Because of that, make sure the sign looks good. “Not like something you found in a Goodwill shop and ‘re-purposed,'” he says.
Some Napa winegrape growers have made a fortune by taking this idea and running with it. Many high-end wines from Napa prominently feature the name of a vineyard property on the bottle. “That label starts with you, and your product is better than average,” says Wagner. “Here’s where we are and here’s who we are.”
7) Create a Facebook Page About Your Vineyard — This is just like putting up a sign, only it’s on the Internet, where more people can see it. Besides simply letting people know who you are, this takes advantage of the old push/pull theory of sales, says Wagner. You’re not just letting potential buyers of your grapes know who you are, you’re letting the wine-consuming community at large know who you are. Those consumers — and because of the reach of the Internet, they can be anywhere — see your sign and think: Where can I buy this stuff? “You need both push and pull to make product flow through the pipeline,” he says.
6) Tell Your Story On Your Facebook Page — Make your vineyard memorable. However, don’t take this too literally, says Wagner. Many growers think that the vineyard’s story has to do with what type of soil, etc. is there. But that’s not the real story. People care a lot more about people than they care about dirt. He advises coming up with a story of your vineyard that a 12-year-old kid would be interested in hearing.
“If you have to explain your vineyard to a 12-year-old, you’re going to tell a more interesting story,” he says. “Facts tell, stories sell.”
5) What Kind of Story? — Again, people don’t remember things, they remember stories about people. They care more about the kind of dog you own than the kind of dirt in your vineyard. Your grandfather owned the farm? That’s interesting. There’s a high level of sand in the soil? That’s not interesting.
Wagner does a lot of work for Andy Beckstoffer, Napa’s best-known grower. Beckstoffer owns some of the best-known vineyards in the world, including the legendary To Kalon Vineyard. “He doesn’t talk about what dirt is there, because people are interested in the hundred-plus years winemakers have been buying grapes grown there and the amazing wines they have produced,” says Wagner. “They don’t want to hear about the dirt.”
4) Learn How To Sell — Running any business, including a vineyard, requires three things: technical expertise, financial sense, and knowing how to sell your product. They are all important, but most people, especially growers, put too much emphasis on the first two. That’s in part because most growers do what they do because they like dealing with land a heck of a lot more than dealing with people. “But if you want to be successful, you’ve got to do all three,” he says.
3) Take The Time To Sell — Every week, spend one hour thinking about how you are going to sell your grapes for more money. Then spend one hour doing it.
“People in ag will tell you they don’t have enough time to do any marketing, but they’re the same people who two years later say ‘They didn’t renew our contract, and I don’t know what to do about it,'” says Wagner. “You need to give your customers attention the same way you give your crops attention; it’s all part of the same job.”
2) Don’t Just Pick One Of These To Do, Pick Three or Four — These aren’t hard, but they can all make a difference. Not all of them will work, but some of them will, and you should keep doing them.
1) Have Your Son or Daughter Marry a Winemaker — Then you always have a ready market for your grapes!