Over the years I’ve been involved in organizing a range of wine events from full on exhibitions with 3 days of milling through the crowds of curious wine drinkers (as opposed to wine lovers) in China to smaller events with strict-ish access for trade only. I’ve seen hundreds of wineries spend thousands of Euros to attend these events, some with great success, others with none. So here’s my list of observations of how to get the best out of an event. It’s just common sense for the most part but you’d be surprised at how many wineries don’t do these things..
1) Firstly choose your wine event with care. They are the best way to get a foot in the door in new markets giving you the chance to meet trade and press, show your wines and hopefully get a contract. Many of these events produce super glossy materials talking of thousands of visitors when in fact the serious trade contingent in that market totals the number of people standing at the bus stop down the road and not the thousands they’re claiming. Don’t find yourself in an exhibition in a tent without glassware on a lawn with 50 visitors a day. Ask around before you decide where’s best to put your money.
2) Make sure you know where you’re going and what you need to do. Daft I know but over the years I’ve been asked by people what the weather will be like, what vaccinations they need, if they can drink the water etc. A bit of background research is easy to do, at least then when you get off the plane you know what’s waiting for you – or at least have a vague idea. I recently had an exhibitor who didn’t realize he needed a visa (by opting to use his own travel agent) to get to India and ended up going to Kathmandu for a day. He then spent 12 hours in Indian transfer area of an airport and missed the event completely.
3) Know the local culture. For example there’s not much sense in going to India and talking about how well your wine matches with roast beef when 30% of the population is vegetarian. Rather think of which dishes your wines would pair well with or which spices resound its qualities. It’s common sense but have an idea of who it is your consumers are and how and when they consume your wine…
4) Get a list of the importers before you go and start a dialogue. Once an exhibitor complained to me that over a 3 day exhibition they’d not met anyone, when asked the question – but did you try to organise any appointments? They were left rather baffled. Times have changed, everyone’s fighting to get noticed so you got to work at it rather than just standing with a bottle in your hand.
5) Get your materials translated into the local language – and well. As a English mother tongue speaker, I cringe when I read some of the materials which I see wafted around by my exhibitors. Ok you might be able to speak passable English when selling the wine, but you need to leave your contacts something that they’ll be able to understand and that they’ll then be able to transmit to their customers easily without your hand gestures to help them understand your message.
6) Take a good range of wines with you (if you have the luxury of choice) and make sure that they appeal to the local market. Find out what sells well in that market and make sure – if you can – that you have it on your table.
7) Arrive a day early if possible so you can understand where you are and also hopefully avoid unforeseen delays. This’ll give you time to see the city and read a local paper to have an idea as to where the buzz in the place is. It’s all about having an idea about where you are. Also I recently had a problem with a group of exhibitors who got stuck on a plane due to fog and ended up missing the gala dinner. I had a room with half the exhibitors missing, they didn’t get chance to meet the press and VIPS that were there. Disaster but one that resulted from cutting it too tight. .
8) Look interesting. Perhaps this is the most obvious of all, but a smile works wonders. I’ve had exhibitors complain that no-one was talking to them but they were sitting with their backs turned, and chatting amongst themselves. Obviously unless someone really wants to taste that wine, they’re going to just walk on by to the next friendly, un-intimidating wine producer who is happy to talk.
9) Do good follow-up. Many of these new markets are lacking in wine knowledge and for them to stock new brands they need to know that you’re going to be there not only in terms of pricing but also in service providing materials they may need and even perhaps organizing a visit to the winery for them to see for themselves. A friend tells me that he has never closed a deal with a new client in less a year. Work hard and be prepared to be patient.
10) Take it for what it is. It’s not a given that at every single event you’re going to make contacts to then sell 3 containers worth of stock. You may not get nothing out of the first trip but don’t necessarily think that it’s money thrown down the drain. All experience in a market is good and will somewhere down the line have a value.
Of course nothing is a given, you may decide to take a leap into the darkness and go to the least publicized wine exhibition in the most far flung reaches of China and find yourself a couple of importers. You never know, but either way, just make sure you’re at least prepared to tackle the event in the right way and have faith that somewhere down the line, it will happen..