I’m befuddled by a nagging question, so I put the conundrum to you: how do you sell less and survive? That is, how does one market the philosophy of “less.” Or, can small stay small without being subsumed by something bigger? Can the corner store compete with the big box?
In my time away from the wine industry (sad moments!), I work in research at a marketing institute that’s very keen on learning about growth and brand development. We work for clients who represent some of the biggest international names in consumer goods. And we — I should say they, my colleagues — do it awfully well.
As I straddle two worlds, I wonder how marketing growth strategies and formulas might apply in the wine world, where so many companies are extremely small and under-capitalized. At its heart, wine is a very agriculturally oriented industry. Even the world’s biggest wine companies top out at about 3% of the global market share. Everyone is struggling to get their name out to consumers, sell enough wine to afford grapes next year, and keep the business ticking over. With so many competitors (check out your local wine shop… thousands of labels kicking around!), how can small businesses rise above? More to the point, how can they rise above within the finite resources of land and vines?
Growth-driven marketing aims to create companies with ever-greater production. But part of the joy of good wine is that it comes from specific spots on the earth; ground does not expand very fast. Quality wine, among many of life’s luxuries (think coffee, chocolate, seafood, diamonds), is diluted literally and figuratively when more is made. Overextend the resources, and quality drops across the board. Nevermind what it does to our souls to get luxuries on the cheap. Some things are worth a bit more effort and cash.
There’s another way: charge more for the little you produce. The Atlantic recently ran an article about boutique California wineries whose wines cost anywhere from $400-$1400 depending on vintage. We can debate ad nauseam whether wines are ever worth that kind of money (I’d argue no), but who can blame acclaimed producers for squeezing every cent from their grapes? Well, I suppose the average folks who can’t shell out hundreds for bottles might get a little angsty. This is one reason wine gets the image of pretentiousness… which makes less expensive wines hard to sell to the average folks…
Is there a way to produce, sell, and repeat in a continuous cycle? For wine, as well as for our vegetables, our clothes, our coffee, our chocolate, our toys. Can companies grow or even survive by producing good quality on a local, sustainable level? Do co-operatives offer a scalable alternative that allows the little guys to stay little? What will become of the marketers and their careers? We love to make things grow… but what if we try to grow a philosophy as its own fortune.
Could we learn to sell “less?”
For another look at places that focus on eco-friendly eating rather than just mass selling, check out this Food of the Farm article about South Africa.