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Crafting Wine Experiences That Convert: A Q&A with Janie Heuck from Brooks Winery

Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one, according to research done by Bain & Company

It’s obvious: it costs almost nothing to show an already engaged wine club member a new varietal that was just released in an email, compared to spending marketing dollars on campaigns targeting new customers. Providing experiences that bond customers with your business will not only make you money, but will save you money in the long run.

We recently sat down with Janie Brooks-Heuck, managing director of Brooks Winery based in Willamette Valley, OR. Janie shared with us her best practices for retaining loyal customers and wine club members she’s garnered throughout the years.

What sets Brooks apart from other wineries?

From a wine stand point, Riesling is our primary varietal, which is very unique to Brooks. Also, our winemaking approach focuses on small lots. This allows us to keep different vineyards, clones, and varietals separate all throughout the winemaking process. Because of this, we end up with between 40 – 60 labels a year, mostly highlighting single vineyard wines. With so much variety to choose from, our tasting room is able to offer guests a red flight, a white flight, or a mixed flight. We change all of those flights monthly, so there is always a reason to come back to the tasting room.

Speaking of the tasting room, it stands out for its beautiful views, welcoming decor, and an on-site chef who creates custom food pairings for our wines.

As a company, we are very committed to social and environmental causes from the vineyard to the cellar. We are Demeter Certified for biodynamics and members of 1% of the Planet. Through this organization, we donate 1% of our revenues to an environmental based non-profit. We’re also members of Ecologi, which is a project that helps offset our carbon footprint by planting a tree for every $50 spent at Brooks. Additionally, we’re a Certified B Corporation, meaning that we went through a rigorous certification to demonstrate our business platform is for good and not just for profit.

How has acquiring these certifications and participating in these programs contributed to your customers’ response to your business?

I think that the reason I care so much about these certifications is because it creates transparency within our business. In many instances, we’re living in a world of greenwashing– people say they’re doing the right thing but actually aren’t. Certifications and programs like the ones we belong to hold us accountable to be transparent with our customers about what we are really doing.

Transparency is something that has allowed Brooks to create deeper relationships with our customers. At the start of the pandemic, I began writing a weekly email to our customers that wasn’t transactional, like many of the emails I was receiving during this time. Instead, I aimed to connect by writing genuine content where I could ask, “How are you doing?” or “Isn’t this weird?”. Relationship-driven communication like this helped us broaden our community.

What are you doing to create better experiences for your customers outside of the tasting room?

We have this really amazing quiz [Tastry Uncorked] that helps people figure out which of our wines they like on our website. We also try to keep our website fresh and relevant to the times. Our website changes every couple of months in terms of the homepage and the messaging. With the help of Commerce7, we will be restarting our loyalty points program in September.

On our website, we also provide a large database of recipes that our chef pairs with all of our wines.

Is there anything else you do to retain your customers or your wine club members?

We’re always trying to keep our membership perks fresh and full of variety. For example, we just launched loyalty points for members! We also host on-site pickup parties three times a year. Customers come back for this event annually.

We are also working on restructuring our website to showcase the benefits of membership for customers. These benefits will be categorized into sections, including sip, savor, and share. Sip will promote all of our wine, shipping, and discount benefits. Savor will display the different ways to experience the wines through things like the wine club pickup party and recipes.

How have your wineries hospitality practices evolved over time?

I don’t like typical tasting room experiences where you walk up to the bar, taste 4 or 5 wines, and then they pressure you to buy wine, join the wine club, or leave. I don’t like going to those because I always fall for that pressure.

So, I refused to build a typical tasting room in the spirit that life is too short. In 2004 we built a new building that was only a quarter of a mile away from our existing facility where we had no direct consumer traffic. Our tasting room is much more loungy and comfortable compared to others. The tasting room has always had tableside service so people don’t have to walk up to the bar. We continued to utilize reservations even after this trend during the pandemic because we find this makes the experience more enjoyable for everybody. We offer three flights and lots of food options. The customers’ experience is great.

Soon we will have a chatbot on our website. This will be able to constantly have someone to answer our customers’ questions quickly. We’re all about hospitality.

Are you utilizing personalization in your practices?

We of course do a lot of wine segmentation for new releases when it comes to last calls on certain vintages based on people’s purchasing behaviors in the past. One of the things we’re excited to use Tastry for is segmenting and targeting emails.

How have you incorporated modern technology into your winery?

Enolytics has helped me a lot. It’s just the most robust database we could have ever imagined. It automatically anticipates questions. This software predicts your customers’ affluency based on their zip code, their gender based on their name, and other useful information such as this. It has a log of data accuracy in general that allows me to send emails to specific groups of people, run custom reports, and debunk impressions.

We also utilize the Tastry Uncorked quiz that I think is very cutting edge and state of the art. Once we set it up, I had everyone in the company put the software to the test by seeing whether their results matched up to their preferred wine. They all thought it was super accurate. I think there is so much we can do with Tastry because we have so many labels, it can be paralyzing for someone to go onto our website and try to decide which wine they should purchase. My goal with Tastry is to help the customer. Tastry is one of the greatest things that has happened in the wine industry for a long time.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from working in the wine industry?

Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is that people get involved in the wine industry because they’re passionate about growing grapes and making wine, but they’re not necessarily passionate about selling wine. Lots of time and money is spent on vineyards and winemaking, but, on the marketing and sales side, these things fall short. I believe that marketing and sales is something that has to be invested in, and they are a shortcoming in the wine industry at large.

What are some of your biggest challenges when it comes to customer loyalty and retaining wine club members? We’d love to chat with you about it. Schedule time with us right here.

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