Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are Standing Tasting Bars Better than Seated?

“Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.”~ James Levine, MD, PhD

The votes are in and the reality is even with exercise and moderate wine consumption, the cumulative negative impacts of sitting behind a computer or gaming station can't be overcome by drinking more wine or with normal exercise regimens. That is really scary for people like me who work in an office. On the other hand, there is growing agreement that employees who work standing are not only more healthy, but they are more productive and creative than those who sit. That being the case, you would all of course naturally conclude that retail room sales people working in a standing bar should have a higher success rate converting visitors to buyers compared to sales people working in a seated venue. Of course you would conclude that ....

The Silicon Valley Bank/Wine Business Monthly Tasting Room Survey closed out 2 weeks ago, and we had a good result with responses from 866 wineries in the US and Canada. WBM's tasting room edition will come out in May analyzing the complete results. To the question posed above, it turns out that seated tasting rooms deliver better results compared to standing tasting rooms.

In the venue chart above we averaged out individual winery conversion/success rates and then sorted them by the type of tasting room experience. The standing experience came in with the lowest success rate at 64% or flipping that on its head, 36% of visitors to a standing bar were melon squeezers and bought nothing. Given the interest in the discussion last week surrounding tasting room success metrics, I thought it was worthwhile to dig a just a little deeper and discover what the data said about venue on those success rates.

Valenzano Family Winery, Shamong NJ
Perhaps the sales people are more productive and creative at the standing bars, I'm guessing there might be a few other factors that lead to greater success in seated tasting bars and private tasting room experiences compared to standing venues. I'd suggest that time spent with a guest and the attention given during the tasting has a lot to do with it.

Becker Vineyards, Austin TX
A seated experience will include a limited number of winery visitors which allows for greater interaction with a staff member compared to a standing bar. It also gives a sales person the opportunity to uncover likes and dislikes better. And before a guest even gets to a seated private experience they have probably been vetted up front regarding their wine appetite. Perhaps another reason why the success rate is higher seated is the fact that being seated might send a message that lingering is expected. Rather than renting a spot, you are invited to share around the table. Perhaps that sends a subliminal message to the visitor that they are welcomed versus a standing experience.

Some might have noticed at this point that the differences in success and failure in the venue chart above isn't huge. It's only 10% between the standing bar and a formal tasting. Maybe you think you'd rather go with a high number of people coming and going in your tasting room because you will end up with higher sales that way? Maybe, but take a look at the next chart from the SVB-WBM Survey: The average wine purchase in in a tasting room that employs a private or formal tasting, is more than double the purchase of that made in a standing Tasting Bar. 

That's a hard stat to ignore and I'd go a step further: I'm sure you have all had the experience of waking into a packed standing bar style tasting room 3 deep just to get to the bar. It's nice to be popular and have people clamoring for your wine but hopefully owners today recognize that the experience of elbowing to the front of a line isn't good for visitors and is brand negative. In my opinion that kind of a tasting bar experience says your wine is for the masses. If that is your goal versus selling an affordable luxury product then maybe that's OK, but for most brands, that's not the message to send. For most brands managed scarcity is the right path.

The way the math works, you would need to have to improve your conversion rate by 20 percentage points in a standing experience to match the success metrics in a formal seated style tasting room, holding visitor counts equal. Or, you will need to increase your existing visitor counts by more than 260% to get the same success rates in sales, holding conversion rates unchanged. In a busy stand up style tasting room, that kind of growth will also impact both the service levels and probably lower the success rate of converting visitors to customers.

Its not a one-size fits all. A lot of this also depends on where your tasting room is. Its not as if a tasting room in a remote area can double visitor counts with ease. Many like the tasting room of Riverbend Cellars on the edge of Meyers Flat in Humbolt County California look like this picture to the right. The staffing is done by the winemaker and owner and he will spend as much time with you as he can between racking. But what I see in the numbers suggests to me that more formal and seated experiences will on the whole deliver better results than a standing tasting bar. Unknown from this information (but we are trying to pull that out from the survey) is the success rate with a blended experience where visitors are brought in and funneled off to other rooms.

Bottom line: Standing might be good for office workers, but for most tasting rooms sitting shouldn't be a scary thing as a seated tasting room experience demonstrates better success metrics. What is scary is getting walk-in visitors at a standing bar like Miles in the tasting room photo above from the movie Sideways (Fess Parker Winery, Los Olivos, CA). I can only imagine what that did for any other potential sales that day. So sit down Miles! Its good for you.

  • What do you think? Does this information make you want to revisit your tasting room venue and strategy? Do you favor seated, standing or a combination strategy? Have you ever had a Miles experience with a visitor?
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