Courting New Customers

Retailers like Total Wine attract customers with creative events. users tasted wine courtesy of Wines of Chile (comment cards pictured) at speed dating events held at Total Wine & More locations nationwide. users tasted wine courtesy of Wines of Chile (comment cards pictured) at speed dating events held at Total Wine & More locations nationwide.

Earlier this year, about 350 single people in 14 cities met up for an evening of wine tasting and speed dating. The venues were Total Wine & More stores, the people were members of the dating website and the featured wines were all from Chile. The events were the brainchild of Wines of Chile—executive director Marybeth Bentwood says the group’s goal was to develop “more of an emotional relationship with consumers.”

That prompted the group’s “Love Wine Love Chile” tag-line, which was in turn used as a framework for the partnership. “Love is a pretty powerful feeling, and is trying to help people find it,” says Bentwood, in describing her initial outreach efforts. “They do lots of speed dating, and it presents a great opportunity to try a handful of new wines.”

Then the parties needed to select a venue—that’s where Total Wine came in. Bentwood says the chain’s multistate footprint, the availability of classrooms within the stores and other attributes made it a desirable partner. She adds that hosting the event in a retail channel, where consumers could purchase the wines immediately after the event, was also a plus.

The speed dating events went through a successful test run last November in Austin, Texas. The promotion rolled out in 14 Total Wine & More stores in spring 2017. Each was set up in a similar fashion, with eight wine tasting stations in the room. Each station hosted four singles—two women and two men—with women moving around the room clockwise and men moving in the opposite direction. They spent seven minutes at each station. The winery representative would pour the wine, say a few words about it and answer any questions. Then the four “daters” could talk. “It wasn’t one-on-one, so it was more sociable,” notes Bentwood. “We had to balance the needs of everyone. We wanted to make sure members were getting a speed dating experience, and that Total Wine was getting pull-through. We were essentially delivering them 40 new customers.”

Brittany Thomas, senior buyer at Total Wine, says the events gave the retailer an ideal opportunity to reach new customers. “The key benefit was reaching millennial consumers, which is a focus for us,” she says. “We were able to integrate their lifestyles with Chile’s products in our stores, offering a fun activity that they’re already interested in doing.” The events appear to have paid off. “Based on data that and Wines of Chile provided, about three-quarters of the customers had not shopped with us before, but will now,” Thomas adds. “That was certainly a plus for us.”

Nancy Li, manager of sponsorship operations and strategy at, says the events were a natural fit for her company, which is constantly striving to create differentiated offerings. “What brings to the table is an audience,” Li says. “We have members all over the country, and we can bring them to partners in any market. Our members walk away knowing more about Chilean wines. They also are thinking about visiting Total Wine the next time they shop, and hopefully they’ve made some connections with other singles at the events.” Total Wine will follow the events with “ongoing promotions” as well as a national tasting table in the fall featuring wineries that participated in the event, Thomas says.

There may be more such events in the future.  Bentwood says she’d like the partnership to continue with some tweaks that would expand the promotion of Chilean wines in Total Wine stores. And both Thomas and Li say they’re on board. “We’re happy to support them in repeating and expanding this program to additional markets and stores,” Thomas notes. “We’ll continue the partnership as long as we keep seeing the benefit and and Wines of Chile see benefits as well.”