The Oaks Wine Club
A while back, on a special seminar tour in South Africa, I met a most interesting young man -- Tilly Terblanche.
Tilly was educated as an attorney. He and another friend stayed in close touch, did their clerkship with a firm of attorneys in Cape Town, and both of them were bored!
Tilly and his friend, Eben Esbach, decided to start a wine club. The idea was appealing to Tilly, because he had been raised on a wine farm. And had experienced the pleasures of wine from a very early age. The idea of a wine club in which he and his friend would be the principals had much immediate appeal.
The Oaks Wine Club was launched in January, 1990. Here is how they did it.
Eben, Tilly, a couple of other girl friends and boy friends, and a secretary from the law firm they had just left headed for Nelspruit. Nelspruit was selected because it is far from Cape Town -- in the Northern part of the country. It borders Kruger National Park and is an afflent, growing area.
Making the best of "great" timing
The odds were stacked against the introduction of a new wine club. It was January. Just after Christmas, when everyone had already spent all their money. And made all their commitments. And given all of their gifts.
Nelspruit is a hot, humid area, where most of the inhabitants drink beer and brandy. The whole experiment was a gamble, although a well calculated one.
In less than two weeks, the half dozen inexperienced marketers had signed up 300 members and the Oaks Wine Club began as a business. How did they do it?
Very simply! They went door-to-door. They knocked on doors. They talked to people in the marketplace. They made a good offer of an exceptional selection of wines at a reasonable cost. And, they offered the convenience of delivery right to the customer's door.
Tilly now says that what they marketed was much more of a service than the wine.
Putting college experiences to work
During university days, Tilly Terblanche use to earn his keep by selling various products door-to-door -- frequently by going into the more affluent areas of the country, such as Nelspruit. When customers learned that the young student was all the way from Cape Town they asked if they didn't have wine to sell. "If you had wine I would buy some from you". This particular saying stuck in Tilly's mind ... he knew there was a marketplace. He wasn't sure what to do with it ... but he knew there was a marketplace.
The idea to have selected wines hand delivered straight to the customer's door was unusual. It is still unusual. As far as I know there isn't another wine club delivering door-to-door.
In order to give the Oaks Wine Club some credibility, they made contact with a local expert, Dave Hughes. He's the author of an annual buying guide on wine, has written several books on South African wines. Hughes is a Cape Wine Master and an international wine judge. Dave agreed to support their effort. And by putting together a panel of judges, they'd gotten their venture off to a good start.
How the Club works
Each month, wine producers throughout South Africa submit their wines to the Club. Judging is done by means of blind testing. The labels on the bottles are covered and the judges make their selection strictly according to merit. This way they insure objectivity at all times.
At the end of the judging, Tilly goes back to the wine producer, negotiates a price and a quantity and arranges for the wine selected to be hand delivered to the door of each and every Club member.
Three bottles are delivered with a newsletter. In the newsletter, the three winning wines are discussed. There's also background information on the producer, the harvest, and the panel's comments.
The three bottles initially delivered serve as a tasting pack. Once members have been exposed to the wines and tasted them, they order more by simply forwarding their order. This is the way The Oaks brings the best of the wines of South Africa to the homes of members throughout the country.
On occasions, the Club extends its service to include social wine tastings in selected locations, personalized wine labels, wine orders to members who have moved abroad, wine-country tours to France, and various kinds of promotional and advertising specialty items.
Marketing by repeating what works
You've learned how they got started and how they deliver. Now, how do they market?
I met Tilly at a marketing seminar. He was there because he has no formal training in marketing. He is a lawyer who got his sales and marketing experience by going door-to-door during his university holidays. Back then, he did it strictly to raise money so he could get through school the following year. It was the only thing he knew. Obviously it worked.
The Club's initial door-to-door presentations were strictly trial and error. There was no formal presentation. There was no script. The presentation was based on the knowledge they gained from their sales experience, and their limited experience with wines.
In order to assist with their marketing efforts, they had wooden boxes made of oak. Inside each box were two wine glasses together with three bottles of wine. "This was our briefcase," Tilly says.
Prospective members were treated to a glass of fine wine, which made the job of signing them up as members easy. Once a person tasted the wine, established the quality, a greater sense of commitment was easier to obtain. The sales close process was easy once someone made a commitment to taste the wine in the first place.
The club began with its 300 members and Tilly continued to be involved with marketing and sales. Eben attended to the delivery side of the business.
The first target audience were all of their friends and colleagues from the legal field. It wasn't necessary in every instance to do the "show and tell" with people they already knew. Frequently people agreed to try the product because they knew Eben or Tilly.
A big step forward came when they decided to market their product in a new marketplace -- the Transvaal. Tilly was not familiar with that part of the country, but decided to give it a try. He rented a flat, obtained several more wine box "briefcases", found an old office, and went to work.
The first day he decided to visit the Supreme Court. Feeling that since he was comfortable within the legal profession, he might be able to talk to some of those working in that building into becoming customers. It worked!
Wherever he went, he made sure he got references. He set up appointments, and he made presentations. He rang door bells. He walked the street. Later he opened a full time office and established a marketing and sales organization in Johannesburg.
He's still using students to go door-to-door. He's found that the students need the money and he needs the customers. He's not found a better way yet to present his product than to do it one-on-one.
Tilly says he always recruits his students in Cape Town, no matter where he's going to do his marketing. That's his way of insuring that they can not stay at home when they don't feel like cold calling. If they're out on the road someplace they almost have to go to work.
About two years ago, he bought out his partners' shares and has been running the program by himself ever since.
The membership now is close to 6,000 people. The Club delivers wines door-to-door in all the major provinces of South Africa. There is a full time staff that does nothing but run the delivery side and a part-time staff that does nothing but the door-to-door marketing.
Keeping the customers satisfied
Tilly told me a story of one club member who had signed up but didn't like the next month's product. The customer called with a major complaint. Tilly got on an airplane, flew to Johannesburg, and personally delivered a new box of wine. The customer was so overwhelmed he has remained an active member ever since.
There's a message in all of this. Customer service works. People are more important than technology. The one-on-one touch that is so much a part of marketing and sales in the past continues to be an important part even in the 1990s.
Today, Tilly is using some direct mail and endeavoring to get members to sign up without a taste test. He can reach a larger audience quicker, but -- no surprise -- the close ratio is not nearly as high. Tilly continues to try.
Recently he started another club -- NECTAR ... The Sweet Wine Club. Why? Because he found there was a taste for sweet wine that at the time he was not offering.
Interestingly enough Tilly offers these comments: "If you were to ask me if I enjoy my work the answer would be an emphatic 'Yes!' If you ask me if I would start it all over again and the answer would be an emphatic 'No!'"
This is an interesting comment. Tilly is a young guy. He's doing some great stuff. He has a lot of common sense as well as a lot of business sense. The business has been good to him. He tells me so.
Every now and then he thinks that maybe he should have stayed a lawyer. That he might be better off.
Maybe. My guess is that after a couple of weeks back in a law office, Tilly would be most enthusiastic about getting back in the wine business. He's obviously having a good time ... and he's having a good time keeping every customer happy, too.
by ROCKINGHAM*JUTKINS*marketing, all rights reserved.