We’re living in the age of the internet. With online retailers, like Amazon, who are able to offer the convenience and efficiency of products delivered right to your door with the click of a few buttons, it’s becoming more and more challenging for brick and mortar businesses to stay afloat. But there’s still one very effective way retailers can compete against online, and that’s through events and experiences that can’t be replicated in the same way by businesses who are exclusively online retailers.
For a dynamic example of how this might look for a brick and mortar business to create “experiences” for their customers, we need look no further than this region’s own SpringGate Vineyard.
SpringGate is a Farm Vineyard and Brewery located in Central Pennsylvania. This family owned business sits on 60 acres of farmland between the rolling hills of Lancaster County and Blue Mountain, near Harrisburg. SpringGate started growing wine grapes in 2010 following the successful establishment of their sister vineyard in Northern Virginia in 2003, North Gate Vineyard. With its tagline of “An experience, day and date – all year long” this is one local business who understands the need to create a unique and memorable experience for its customers in order to compete against online retailers.
Martin Schoffstall, owner of SpringGate Vineyard joins us for a Q&A of how they are constantly working to create a compelling experience for their customers, and how other retailers may benefit from doing the same.
Omni: How are online retailers a competition to your business? Or if not, what is your biggest competition?
There are online wine retailers who sell national products and ship nationally. While they provide some competition for us, there is still one piece that’s unique about visiting a winery that they can’t replicate – at least not well. And that’s the experience of seeing where the wine is made, how it’s made and trying and sampling the product. Fundamentally you buy what you taste. Convenience is certainly a critical aspect of buying as well, and online does provide convenience, but there are other ways to buy wine conveniently including grocery stores and classic convenience stores like Sheetz and Turkey Hill. Our biggest competitors are other retailers (online or otherwise) who can get the right “blend” of experience, convenience, and tasting together. So this is why we focus on providing these same aspects to our customers: experience, convenience, and tasting.
Omni: Describe some of the ways in which you are creating an “experience” for your guests that attract them to your location?
Experience first starts with tasting. So our tastings that we have throughout the state of Pennsylvania in grocery stores, and at wine and beer festivals are a huge help. For the estate (and soon other retail locations) a commitment to local food, music and such is the next layer. Then having themed events around fruit festivals (such as Peach) where the food and drink are coordinated go a long way. Essentially, we want our brand to be tied to an experience, something that makes a lasting memory and leaves a position impression.
Omni: What are some of the biggest challenges you, as a brick-and-mortar location face that online retailers do not?
Manufacturing. Scale. Tasting. Wineries and breweries are nearly unique in that the retailer also manufacturers. While this has capital investment issues, it provides operational and margin opportunities. An online retailer can be a college kid in a dorm room that is not true of a brick and mortar location. At the moment, consumers who choose to purchase their wine online either don’t want the experience of tasting the wine first, or they aren’t allowing it to be the reason they refuse to buy online. So for online wine retailers, the cost of manufacturing and providing tastings is a big expense that goes away for them. However, I ultimately think that is not sustainable. Either enough consumers will desire this experience and choose to go to wineries and breweries to buy, or online will need to figure out how to replicate that piece.
Omni: Conversely, as a brick-and-mortar location, what unique opportunities do you have to market your business that online retailers lack?
Fundamentally, we have the unique ability to be multi-channel. We can do online sales, we can do grocery and convenience store sales, we can sell from our estate – we can do it all. Additionally we can do tastings and events and we can imbed good experiences with the sale of our products. Certainly you have to keep a focus on what’s going to yield the best results for your business, but having many options available is immensely helpful.
Omni: What has been one of your best/most interesting marketing tools that you’ve been using lately?
Interesting is different than effective. So to share the marketing tool that has been most effective for us should be obvious. It’s social media. We have built a strong and loyal following of people who are engaged with our products and respond to opportunities to come out to the estate for events and entertainment. Additionally, we can cast a wide net with our social media marketing and reach are target demographic fairly easily and inexpensively. For retailers with brick and mortar locations, this gives you such rich content to share on social media. You can grab people’s attention with the types of experiences and images you are sharing, which provides one more way to stay top of mind.
If you live in Central Pennsylvania, or have plans to visit the region, be sure to add SpringGate to your bucket list. To learn more about their products, upcoming events, and more, visit: www.springgatevineyard.com.