Editor’s Note: Peter Pelland is the CEO of Pelland Advertising, a company that he founded in 1980 and that has been serving the family camping industry for nearly 40 years. His company specializes in building fully responsive websites, along with producing a full range of four-color process print advertising, for clients from coast to coast. Learn more about Pelland Advertising at www.pelland.com.
Five years ago, I encouraged campground owners to take a close look at the tasting events at wineries. I wrote how wineries — and small wine producers in particular — rely upon tastings as they seek new and expanded markets, and how many campgrounds share the same marketing objectives.
I wrote how tastings meet one of several objectives:
• To introduce wine enthusiasts who are familiar with a brand, have previously purchased its wines, or who are likely to purchase (often in case quantities) new vintages that they might enjoy.
• To introduce a winery to connoisseurs who might be unfamiliar with its offerings.
• To welcome casual wine consumers who are still refining their tastes and who will appreciate the time that is spent to help them to broaden their palates.
As opposed to the free tastings that were commonplace a generation ago, most tastings today are fee-based. Nonetheless, wineries know that their costs of running tastings are roughly twice the actual cost of the wines that they pour. As is usually the case, smaller wine producers have far greater costs and competitive challenges; however, what they also understand is the old adage about having to spend money to make money.
My wife and I recently spent a week touring wineries and attending a variety of mostly private reserved tasting experiences in the Sonoma Valley of California. Fortunately, we were there about two weeks prior to the Kincaid Fire that essentially shut down the county for several harrowing days, when the fires and destruction from the 2017 Tubbs Fire were still in the forefront of most people’s memories and far too evident in Santa Rosa and other parts of the county.
The key to wine events these days — whether in Northern California or at small local wineries that might be closer to your place of business — is to provide visitors with a variety of options. Yes, you can still belly up to the bar with ten or twenty other people for a $20 flight of tastings consisting of two-ounce pours, usually on a walk-in basis. There are also wineries that schedule weekend entertainers, with outdoor seating to accommodate several hundred people who will buy their wines by the glass or the bottle. Many wineries will also offer pairing options with charcuterie, cheese, or fruit plates, an ancillary source of income.
Regardless of the level of tasting, an important component is the conversation between a knowledgeable person pouring the wine and his guests. People are asked for their thoughts and opinions regarding the taste, flavors that come to mind, and initial impressions. The discussions are always friendly, never condescending, and encourage a sense of discovery.
Our favorite events from our recent vacation week were private two- to three-hour tours and tastings that were reserved weeks in advance. These included a black glass tasting at Matanzas Creek Winery; a Meritage Blending Experience at Dry Creek Vineyard, where we carefully tasted, blended, and bottled our own bottles to take home; a truly behind the scenes tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; a private tour and lunch at Benziger Family Winery, led by Jill Benziger; a private tasting of reserve wines at Ledson Winery & Vineyards; and a Pinzgauer Excursion (on a six-wheel European military vehicle) at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Vineyards, guided by Rob Bundschu. Some of these remind me of my visit to Robert Mondavi Winery back in the mid-1970’s, when Michael Mondavi was pouring the wines at the tasting.
Not everyone who attends a wine tasting makes a purchase of even a bottle of wine, let alone a case or more. That said, most of these pricey private events are tailored toward selling either wine club memberships or cases of reserve wines that are only available at the winery itself but that can currently be shipped directly to consumers in 43 states. Although there is no pressure to purchase (because your tasting fee will already cover all costs), the hosts are earning commissions on sales.
A Campground’s Perspective
Campgrounds can also explore new ways of reaching out to their customers, generally translating into three groups of people who are very similar to the people who attend wine tastings:
• Your existing campers, who have stayed with you through the years (and sometimes generations!) but who still need to be reminded that you care, that you continue to offer new activities or amenities, and that there is no reason for them to consider camping elsewhere.
• Campers who have never stayed at your park and who need to meet you and learn about what you have to offer.
• Non-campers who are just exploring and getting introduced to the concept and need some assurance that they will enjoy the experience.
Either in your early or late shoulder seasons, how about holding a camper appreciation weekend, open house, or another special event?
How about a private event for your seasonal campers, possibly even being held off-site, where they will be given the opportunity to renew their seasonal contracts for the following year?
Make any such events significant and special, with genuine costs incurred on your part. If possible, make it a free event; otherwise, keep the cost to a bare minimum. I am not talking about a potluck dinner, where the people attending are asked to provide the food and you simply provide soft drinks and snacks. This should be a truly memorable marketing opportunity for your park. You may want to consider requiring reservations or capping the total number of people who attend at the number that you can comfortably accommodate.
Keep in mind that not everybody staying at your park is looking for the lowest cost experience. Many are willing to pay for a special and somewhat exclusive experience that has value added. What can you offer that is equivalent to the access to reserve wines that are exclusively available at a winery?
Whether or not you offer a loyalty card, you know the people who are your frequent and most profitable guests. Try to reward them and take them to the next level! Can they be encouraged to become seasonal campers or to stay even more frequently with a simple incentive or two? There are many ways to expand your reach as you seek to introduce new people to your park and to encourage existing campers to become even more profitable. Take some examples from the wine industry and use them to your advantage.