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Harnessing Data for Tasting Rooms

Harnessing Data for Tasting Rooms

The value of that customer relationship is typically 5-6 times what they spend during their tasting room visit, and it takes some effort to ascertain this value, but this is critical to understanding how much can a winery spends to attract more customers.

Direct-to-consumer sales continually grow in importance for small wineries in the face of distributor consolidation. Wineries now have a greater range of options for eCommerce and POS systems, but few wineries effectively harness all the data they have to grow sales. A good financial team can help capture, organize, and analyze this information to support management and sales to increase revenue.

This data collection and analysis should start even before a guest arrives. Hotels use pace reports to judge how well they are progressing toward their occupancy goals, and tasting rooms should use them, as well. Your tasting room seats are like hotel rooms or seats in a restaurant – if you don’t sell them, you will never have a chance to sell that same seat again. Of course, if you don’t sell a bottle of wine today, you will still have a chance to sell it tomorrow, but you will have missed the opportunity to use that perishable seat to develop another customer relationship.

The value of that customer relationship is typically 5-6 times what they spend during their tasting room visit, and it takes some effort to ascertain this value, but this is critical to understanding how much can a winery spends to attract more customers. If you know the typical customer arriving at your winery is going to spend $3,000 and generate $2,000 in marginal profit over the next three years, you can justify a fairly healthy marketing budget to find more customers.

This process does require a few steps to develop actionable information. The winery needs to track customers over time in order to determine the customer’s lifetime spend. Fortunately, most CRM software will provide sufficient historical transaction data that your accounting team can download the transaction history, clean up the data to provide a year-by-year summary of each customer’s purchases. From this, you can determine a customer’s spend over a certain period. Then, combining this purchase history along with good costing information on the wines the customer has purchased (see previous post on costings), and a good understanding of the operating costs (credit card processing fees, shipping costs not borne by the customer, commissions paid to sales staff, etc.) allows the winery to determine the marginal profit from a customer. That provides guidance on how much a winery can spend to acquire more customers. If the cost of acquiring a customer is less than the customer’s lifetime marginal profit for the winery, the winery will see a steady growth in DTC sales and profitability.

Once the customers are on-site, it is time for the hospitality staff to shine, but the financial team should be helping the hospitality staff refine their efforts by looking at conversion rates, data capture, and order sizes on a routine basis. An aggressive marketing effort to attract more customers isn’t effective if it increases visits, but the staff isn’t capturing visitor data (so you can sell them more wine in the future) and converting them into customers. Given the difference in value between a visitor and a customer, the financial team should be able to help management develop an incentive plan that will reward staff and help the business turn more visitors into customers. In some cases, we have seen simple sales incentives more than double a tasting room’s performance.

Maximizing Profit Through Wine Pricing

Maximizing Profit Through Wine Pricing

Most small wineries fail to properly maximize profit when setting prices.

In fact, most wineries evaluate and change their wine pricing too infrequently – a decision to not change wine prices is still a price-setting decision by default.

A good wine pricing exercise needs to be a three-way conversation with sales, winemaking, and accounting.  More importantly, the discussion needs to go beyond just a gut feeling about the market. Most wineries have data to guide the discussion, but it requires some effort to identify and analyze the necessary information, as it is rarely in plain sight.

The sales team can provide a sense of the market’s likely response, but the results from the winery’s most recent price change are likely to be more instructive.  If your accounting team can estimate the price elasticity of demand (basically, a measure of how sensitive the volume of sales is to a price change) for the wines, management can then have a better guide to evaluating the price-volume trade-offs. (Yes, there are some step functions in the demand curves, but management should use data, not gut, to evaluate the actual magnitude of these wine pricing changes.)

Equipped with this price elasticity estimate and the current cost of production, the accounting team can then estimate the total gross profit at each combination of price and volume.  We have seen so many wineries that haven’t changed wine prices in years, but costs have steadily crept up, eroding their margins.  In this scenario, especially when gross profit margins slip below 35%, it is actually much easier to raise total gross profit with a price increase (rather than trying to increase volume).  Furthermore, given the length of wine’s product cycle, the return on capital for growing through volume is often lower than the return on growing through price (but this is a topic for another day).

Conversely, some wineries with very high gross profit margins may be able to increase total profitability through a decrease in wine pricing, but this is actually a rarer situation, so a winery should be very careful and examine the data thoroughly before dropping prices.

Another reason for making small, thoughtful changes to wine prices more frequently, is to develop a deeper data set from which to develop insight to drive a more strategic and profitable pricing strategy.

The Importance of Product-Specific Costings

The Importance of Product-Specific Costings

Inventory costings are often an afterthought left to accountants, but they should be a key management tool to drive better decisions. 

Good costings can highlight margins within a product range, and successful businesses make calculated decisions around those findings.  Specific product costs provide insight that supports sales and growth strategies and the strategic deployment of capital.

Ask Protea Financial how they can help with your inventory costings.

 Insightful costings require forethought, effort, and CPA-level experience. It is common that small- and medium-sized wineries don’t have this experience in-house, so they leave costings to their tax accountants at year-end. The tax accountants are usually pressed for time and focused on getting tax filings right. They can get these right with a simple, quick costing, but the winery loses an opportunity to acquire insight into its business.

Simple (and unhelpful for management, but sufficiently accurate for the IRS) costings typically take a variant of the same shortcut – treating all wines alike, and just dividing total costs by total production. (Some may be slightly more detailed, but still suffer from the same principle.) However, we know all wines are not created or made alike.

Fruit costs, winemaking costs, barrel costs, and packaging costs for each wine are different, and management needs to know the specific costs of each SKU.

With this detailed knowledge, management can:

  • Accurately know the true profit margins for each wine
  • Focus sales and production on the most profitable wines
  • Conduct a profit sensitivity analysis while evaluating sales and production strategies for future vintages
  • Evaluate the return on capital used to expand a specific product line

A proper process for each of these topics merits its own discussion, as well, but these management functions can’t be effectively completed without accurate, product-specific costings. We have seen wineries set prices incorrectly (and not maximize profit), waste precious working capital on production on their less-profitable wines, and lose money on wines because they set marketing and programming budgets using a simple average cost, rather than a product-specific cost.

An insightful costing requires advance coordination between management and accounting in order to establish the procedures for tracking each cost item and knowing how to specifically allocate it to a particular product.

To gain insight into costs, establishing a clear tracking procedure is key for management and accounting teams. This will help to track each cost item and understand how to specifically allocate it to a particular SKU. It is always easier, cheaper, and faster to perform a costing when most of the work has been done in advance.  Waiting until after the wine is bottled to sift through invoices with a tax or other deadlines looming is a recipe for average (or worse) results.