What Are Trade Shows Doing for Wineries?
As a co-owner of a small Italian winery, I often travel to conferences and trade shows. Conferences keep my mind open to what is new and trade shows keep me reassured that instead of running after the trade to sell or wines, we made the right decision to focus our efforts on our consumers.
The moment anyone walks into any of the major European fairs can only feel intimidated and daunted by the amount of wine brands represented. I remember the first time I walked the halls of Vinitaly back in 2003; I felt like I would never manage to get our newly inherited winery noticed. I felt discouraged and demotivated at the idea of building our new wine brand and having to be smarter than others were.
However, a winery has to sell its wines somehow, so where else can it display better than at a trade show? This is exactly where I question whether investing in fairs is a good solution for all wineries. How effective is it really to be present at these major European trade fairs?
A few years ago, when the online scene was non-existent, trade shows were an obvious and must-attend events. Wineries had no other choice than to work with export managers, sales representatives, and try to be present in as many places as possible to get the attention of importers/distributors. The objective was to sell wine and as much as possible. Not much has changed since; except that trade shows are not the only place where you can attract attention now.
We live in a sharing economy and collaborative age, where information and added value is expected because quality and higher standards are a given. This is true in all aspects of our lives, and it is true for the businesses we make. Brands, products, and services that adapt to the changing times are the ones that will succeed and manage to build sustainable business models. Today, a majority of wineries and show organizers are failing to understand that we are living in 2015 and that times are moving ahead. Two things I question:
1) Whether wineries are really looking into their business figures
2) If trade show organizers are effectively offering added value services to wineries
How many of my fellow colleagues have ever questioned how many bottles of their wines they need to sell in order to have a return on their investments? How many of them are investing in the hope of a few handshakes and business cards? How many are closing deals that actually pay-off their investment? What is the ratio of volume vs. value for a sustainable business model?
I asked these questions to a producer and he looked puzzled at me as if he had never thought about these questions before. Another producer’s sales representative just waved her hand, as these questions are not important for her as she is only there to sell. At the Bordeaux airport, I overheard a conversation between two export managers who were saying how they have to “bring home the volumes” and they are discounting to a minimum level to reach their targets.
How much money are wineries investing upfront for the hope of selling their products? How long before all this investment returns in the form of profit? Is attending trade shows the best solution for all wineries? Wineries need to understand where they have better chances and invest there. There are innumerous solutions; what wineries need to question is which solution is the most cost-effective for them. Sometimes a reallocation of budgets can result in a very pleasant business surprise.
Trade shows are not offering any new opportunities to help wineries sell more wine. Much of the business results depends on wineries’ own skills and budgets to stand out from the crowd, and honestly, a big trade show isn’t really the best place where most brands can succeed in doing so. Unless we consider some of the biggest names and brands, it is very difficult for any brand to stand out.
As with any products or services we buy, we like the ones that do something for us. We choose brands that help us solve our problems or cater to our needs. Which event is doing this for wineries? All fairs sell their spaces, sell their services and they create content that maybe is relevant for buyers and visitors, but not for wineries. What do they do to help wineries sell more? Is selling space, having more restaurants on site and offering interesting conference topics helping wineries sell more wine?
In my opinion, trade show organizers should start reflecting on what else they can do to help their customers because simply selling space and services are not going to be enough. Wineries and wine businesses need tools that can help them sell more and sell better. Event organizers should distinguish themselves by continuously offering better value and cater to their customers’ needs in ways that are more efficient.
One great example of this was Wines Unearthed at the LWF, where producers were looking for distribution and any buyer walking in their space knew that. That was a very clear way to communicate intentions and needs of wineries. The organizers of Wines Unearthed prepared a booklet about the best ways for wineries to enter the UK market. Each participating winery received this booklet and, in my opinion, it is a great value for those looking for distribution in the UK. These are the kinds of tools that wineries need.
The bottom line is simple. It is not enough to passively offer services or products. Both wineries and tradeshow organizers have to add value to their propositions. The current state of it feels stale and tiring. One walks along the halls of any trade show and they are all identical. Nothing catches the eye unless you have Angelo Gaja saying he is sorry because he almost ran over you.
Originally published at www.harpers.co.uk. on 3 July 2015