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Trade Show Warriors - Vinexpo NY 2020

Welcome to “Trade Show Warriors”, where we write about the most important learnings from the industry trade shows we attend around the world and send them straight to your inbox.

Vinexpo New York finished up a solid two days of tastings, meetings, and seminars at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan last Tuesday. Trade shows are of course about networking, but there is always much to be learned if you make the time, which is why I was excited to attend the seminar called “Expertise and Experience: Four Industry Leaders Share Their Perspective”. The panel featured four superstars in the wine business - Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor of Wine Spectator, Bill Terlato, CEO of Terlato Wine Group, Rick Tigner, President and CEO of Jackson Family Wines and Chris Adams, Co-owner and CEO of New York retail royalty Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits.

“It’s a tough time for the wine business”, said Matthews as he kicked off the seminar which focused on strategies for getting through the challenges the wine industry is living through today.

All of the speakers agree on a single piece of advice - stick with it for the long haul. The wine business is generational, we know this. Even though we are going through a tough time right now with tariffs and climate change and a changing consumer, we should all remember that this business is cyclical and will bounce back in one form or another.

Matthews asked the panelists to dig further into this idea of building a lasting brand.

For Rick Tigner it is taking a long view into the future, ten to twenty years down the line. A commitment to sustainability is hugely important to Jackson Family Wines because it is the only path to a healthy environment for future wine production. His next piece of advice is to build a team that is willing to continuously innovate on the business side. As an industry, the wine business is notorious for holding onto tradition and being resistant to change. While this mindset may produce excellent wines to drink, companies will be punished if they apply it to the business behind the wines as well. The practices that were effective yesterday do not work today and will certainly not work tomorrow so in order to build and maintain success in today’s landscape companies must be open to adjusting their playbook to account for a constantly evolving marketplace.

Bill Terlato has an optimistic view of the future. He believes that wine culture follows food culture and sees this as proof that the threats we all read about, notably hard seltzer, are temporary trends that will see a rate of descent to match their steep rate of ascent. He used Lambrusco, the semi-sweet, effervescent Italian red wine that during the ’70s sold millions of cases a year in the U.S., as an example of the sizzle and fade phenomenon he expects to see repeated with the seltzer category. People care about where their food comes from and how it is grown. Wine brands that can authentically tell a story about their origins will continue to succeed because they have a place alongside the food people are eating. So while White Claw may have a seat by the pool or while tailgating with friends, Terlato doesn’t see it fitting into a dinner table or restaurant setting and therefore believes it can only capture a small part of how wine fits into our everyday lives.

Customers and their experience in the retail setting are most important to Chris Adams. In-store tastings are standard practice at retail shops but a few years ago Chris noticed they weren’t having the desired uptick in sales that they once were. A colleague had a simple idea that turned the store’s mundane in-store tastings into something much more powerful. The basics were exactly the same, sales reps or brand ambassadors hosted a free consumer tasting, but leading up to the event Sherry-Lehmann sent store customers a simple, personalized email inviting them to attend a ‘curated tasting event’. Adams also decided to host the tasting in a spare room upstairs instead of on the shop floor. Despite the small amount of effort, Adams said the effect was huge - his customers suddenly felt like they were part of an ‘insiders only’ club. Event participation, store loyalty, and sales all increased with these two small tweaks to the customer experience. Adams closed by challenging the audience with a question; what small change can you make today to improve your customer’s experience with your brand?

To finish out the seminar the panelists reiterated their shared belief that this is a long-term business and that building a quality brand requires a combination of effort, time and investment. In addition to a high-quality product, it takes relationships that are built over the years with your importer, distributor and retailer partners by showing up and working the trenches with them. These are the not so secret secrets to pushing through today’s challenging conditions. After all, as Matthews said in his opening statements, at least “it’s not as bad as Prohibition.”

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