Cultivating your Michigan Winery Tasting Room Customer: Part 1

Tailoring your winery tasting room presentation to a customer’s experience may earn their loyalty and business.

Michigan State University Extension-affiliated researchers in tourism, Dan McCole and Don Holecek, sought to better understand winery tasting room customers and their behaviors through a 2012 survey of visitors to 15 geographically diverse Michigan wineries. The responses to the survey have yielded rich results, including the wine tasting experience of visitors. Applying this knowledge may result in more satisfied customers and greater sales.

The person who walks through the tasting room door is probably not a newcomer to the winery scene. Over 85 percent of all customers made their first trip to a winery before 2010, and have been to more than 5 wineries, on average.

“It appears that the majority of tasting room visitors captured in this study are familiar with the tasting room product but are not heavy consumers of it [wine],” according to McCole. 

One third of these respondents, moreover, have made more than 20 tasting room visits in their lifetimes. They are more widely traveled to wineries, including those outside the US. Engaging this customer may mean repeat business.

Tasting room managers may wish to develop alternative presentations for visitors based on their winery experience. A few screening questions will help determine which presentation would be of greatest interest to the customer, and perhaps make them a regular.

 “A key takeaway from the study is that people are coming to the winery for different reasons, and, therefore, different presentations and approaches to customer interaction are needed,” McCole noted.

This study was conducted as part of the Northern Grapes Project, an initiative recognizing the emergence of cold hardy, Vitis riparia-based wine grape cultivars in the 1990’s created a new and rapidly expanding industry of small vineyard and winery enterprises in more than 12 states in New England, northern New York, and the Upper Midwest, boosting rural economies in those regions. A detailed account of this study may be found at Northern Grapes Project newsletter volume 2, Issue #3.

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