Find out how this entrepreneur started to think differently and scale her business.
By Kristin MacLaughlin April 29, 2020
Vino 301 Wine Concierge’s core business, providing wine tours and tastings in Maryland vineyards, came to a crashing halt during COVID-19.
When a two week shelter in place order quickly turned into more than two months, owner Leslie Frelow knew she needed to figure out something fast or she might no longer have a business.
Frelow took a hard look at why people use their service and dramatically shifted her business model by asking herself 6 essential questions.
How Frelow got unstuck and pivoted her business during social distancing.
The main reason Vino 301 Wine Concierge’s customers book a wine tour is to celebrate a milestone with people they care about and to learn a little bit about wine. It’s a fun way to connect with people, bond over a shared experience, celebrate an occasion, and learn something new.
But COVID-19 ended wine tours. “With COVID-19, you can’t have a whole bunch of people in a vehicle together. COVID just really stopped us at first,” says Frelow.
Frelow took some time to reflect on her business and then completely changed her business model. Part of that process was taking the time to ask important questions about her business that helped lead her to create new revenue streams and scale her business to new heights.
The 6 questions every business needs to ask themselves during a crisis.
Question 1: What value am I delivering with my product and service?
Frelow focused on what her customers loved about the experience and how she could still deliver the experience in a different way. If her customers could not come to the vineyard due to social distancing, maybe she could bring the vineyard experience to her customers.
She figured out a way to create a virtual wine experience with email marketing and Zoom that allowed the same structure of the wine tasting that her customers loved.
Before the wine tasting, the host of the wine party receives an email with a list of wine selections and tasting supplies. Depending on your location, Vino 301 Wine Concierge can deliver the wine to the customer’s home or provide wine recommendations and wine descriptions so wine could be purchased at a local liquor store.
“We kind of coined it as, ‘it’s a little more than a zoom login and some wine, because we actually do take people through the basics on how to taste wine, how to read a wine label, how to discern what is being poured … all in a really fun environment,” says Frelow.
Question 2: Is there a better or different way to deliver the value of your product?
Frelow decided to turn logistic obstacles into an opportunity to get the wine hosts excited about their event through email. If customers lived outside of the delivery area, she did not just send them a list of wines to purchase. Frelow sent them information about the characteristics of the wines to get them excited about their upcoming tasting.
In order to help customers structure the ultimate celebration, Vino 301 Wine Concierge used email to also send tasting tips prior to the event.
In planning virtual events, Frelow partners with the customer hosting the party to help select a theme and wine selection that is perfectly tailored for the invited guests.
“We just had a birthday party that was a whole lot of fun. We did wines and snack foods, which is always great because people just think wine is so pretentious and they’re afraid to talk about it. So we try to create a setting in our wine tastings where you’re completely comfortable. What’s more comfortable than having some popcorn or having some spicy potato chips and learning how that actually goes with everyday wine,” says Freow.
Question 3: Have you adjusted how you speak to your customers during a crisis?
Due to COVID-19, Vino 301 has adjusted the tone of their emails and how they speak to their customers. The communication is not about selling but building a relationship and getting to know the team.
Instead of upcoming vineyard tours, Frelow’s email communications focus on the unique artistry of wine and wine-makers — especially women and minority winemakers.
“I just started this recent series ‘meet our tour ambassadors’. Those are the people who lead our wine tours. I am highlighting each of the tour ambassadors and sharing our own stories of our wine journey with people,” says Freelow.
Vino 301 Wine Concierge uses AWeber’s Campaigns feature to automate messages so that her audience gets regular communication from Frelow. She also segments her list based on the type of wine her subscribers like, so she can personalize communication to them. (A segment is a collection of subscribers that you can create based on certain search criteria.)
“I love the fact that I can go behind the scenes and see what people clicked on, and then I can segment that audience. We celebrate all of the fake holidays like MalBec Day, Chardonnay Day, and Mocato Day. I can segment the audience when they click on those particular things and I can send out something specifically to that group to say, ‘Hey, Happy Moscato Day’ because of that segmentation,” says Frelow.
Question 4: Is there an idea that you always wanted to test out?
When Frelow was getting ready to launch her virtual wine product, she decided to try AWeber’s Landing Page Builder. Landing pages allow Frelow to inform people about her virtual product and also collect contact information. She loved how easy it was to create a landing page. “I had never used landing pages before. It was easy to set up. I’m currently using the landing page with a Facebook campaign,” says Frelow.
By creating a landing page and promoting it with Facebook ads, she grew her email list and expanded her geographic footprint beyond just Maryland.
“Before our virtual wine tastings, we were just Maryland wine tours, limited to Maryland and the surrounding jurisdictions. Now we have no limitations. We could do a wine tasting in Maryland, New York, or Idaho. And then those who are local, we offer a free delivery service within a 25 mile radius,“ says Frelow.
Question 5: What other services can I provide to increase revenue?
When Frelow was taking a social distancing walk, she saw that her neighbors had wine bottles in their recycling bins. The shelter at home orders did not stop people from getting or drinking wine. If Vino 301 Wine Concierge could send their wine ambassadors to other states virtually, maybe they could ship wine too.
There are limitations in sending wine across states unless it is a subscription. So Frelow learned what was required and is in the process of setting up a wine subscription service so she can supply wine to her customers by this summer — no matter where they live.
“We decided that we are going to change our business model to start a wine subscription club. It will let us reach a larger audience. The focus of the wine subscriptions is women and minority wine makers. Exposing people to the creativity and the artisan of these winemakers,” says Frelow.
Each shipment in any subscription will also come complete with a ZOOM virtual tasting link. Whether the wine tasting is in person or virtual, an essential part of the experience is interaction between the wine ambassador and the customer. “It’s the discussion and understanding of the journey of the winemaker. Understanding why they selected certain grapes for a particular bottle and taste,” says Frelow.
Question 6: What networking groups could you join to find a mentor and colleagues to brainstorm ideas?
It is very hard to pivot your business in isolation during a crisis. It is important to share ideas with your team members or if you are a solo entrepreneur find networking opportunities.
Ideas can often be sparked from interacting with others with different points of view or experiences.
“There are networking opportunities and free or inexpensive classes everywhere. As an entrepreneur, you need a network, especially if you are working alone or have a small team, have not launched your business yet, or you have a stalled side hustle,” says Frelow.
AWeber has a Facebook Customer Community where you can connect, learn, and share with other like-minded entrepreneurs who are customers of AWeber.
AWeber also offers free courses on growing your business through our AWeber Academy.
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