Recently, I wrote an article about the cost of trade fairs and how those can affect the price of wine you buy.
This is an article about how small wineries can find ways to present their wines at trade fairs without paying too much (and without increasing the final price of their wine).
Judging by the costs mentioned in the previous article, it’s hard to see how small or medium sized wineries can afford to go to fairs. It’s obvious that the trade fair is a marketing strategy that significantly advantages economies of scale (the more bottles you produce, the easier it is to amortize a trade fair).
So let’s explore some ways that small wineries can attend trade fairs and accomplish some of the same goals of attendance, all while keeping costs down.
Goal of a small winery at a trade fair
- make new relationships (to generate sales)
- sustain existing relationships (to generate sales)
- attract press attention (to generate sales)
I’m probably oversimplifying things, but these are the three things that participants vocalize the most often around me. You want to meet new people, say hello to the people you already know, and get a couple journalists to notice you.
To best acheive these goals, you have to do a lot of work in advance. Set up appointments ahead of time. Let everybody know you’ll be at the fair. Let everybody know why they should be interested in meeting you or coming to your stand. And naturally, you want to have the most significant impact possible with the smallest cost.
Off events after the fair
Many winemakers organize “Off” events similar to how musicians will play on an “off” stage during a major festival. Hosting an off event can sometimes be an alternative to the fair, but it is very frequently done in addition to participating in the fair. If it’s done in addition to getting a conventional stand, then it’s not cheaper at all. It’s actually even more expensive.
However, if you’re clever, you can attend the fair without a stand and organize an off event which draws a crowd. Off events should offer something juicy for journalists and other people in the trade. It has to be fun or novel.
Sometimes, off events can seem like they’re competing with the main event. I try to avoid doing this. Schedule the off event after hours to avoid competing with the actual trade fair.
Sometimes, an off event can be a refreshing counterpoint to a trade fair. Imagine holding a beer tasting after a wine conference. After a long three days of tasting wine, a lot of wine writers love nothing more than to switch drinks. Or if you’re at a fair that showcases mostly red wines, hold an event at night that’s just about your whites. After Millesime Bio, a conference focused on organic wine, Louise Hurren’s Languedoc Outsiders held an event where we tasted regional wines (mostly not organic). We all respected the ethics of the Millesime Bio producers and many of us attended that fair. But at night, after the fair was closed, we held an off event that allowed people to taste something a bit different. And we love organic wines, but a lot of people mentioned it was nice to take a break from all the vin naturel talk.
Grouping winemakers at trade shows
Grouping with other winemakers or with trade bodies can be an efficient way to reduce costs and increase visibility. Last time I participated at ViniSud, I went with Les Vins de la Cité de Carcassonne (my IGP). While the conference normally forces you to take a minimum amount of space for a single stand (I think ViniSud is like 9 square meters), we could take 70 square meters and split it 12 ways. With some creative ideas for how the stand was set up, we managed to get by with almost half the space. Additionally, the stand was much more visible when we were grouped. And we got to join forces to hire caterers, glass washers, signage, etc.
Another similar option is renting space from trade bodies. This can have all the advantages of an indie group of winemakers and some other perks. I know Sud de France and the CIVL/ CIVR (interprofessions) do collective stands at certain events. Typically, the trade body will charge the same amount per square meter that they are paying (so there’s no extra cost). And you can potentially benefit from the work that the trade body does to attract potential contacts, increase brand awareness, organize direct appointments with buyers, logistical stuff like glassware and recycling empties, etc.
Public Speaking to the trade
I insist that public speaking is one of the most cost effective ways to attend conferences. A good speaker with something smart to say can be invited to a conference. Often times the organizers are prepared to compensate the speaker for travel, accomodations, or at least the cost of entry to the fair. Speakers have a pre-arranged audience organized by the folks running the conference. If you have a stand, a good speech can draw a lot of interest to your wine later.
Wine producers are very very common. Good speakers are somewhat less common. When you see how conferences treat exhibitors compared to how they treat speakers, it becomes clear that you should be both. 😀
Don’t be just another wine producer
Taking the last point to it’s logical conclusion, you should do anything you can to avoid being just another wine producer. Think outside the box. In 2010, I attended the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) as a speaker in The Access Zone (a wifi space hosted by Vrazon). Instead of spending 2000+ Euros on a small stand, I worked out a deal with the folks running the access zone which allowed me to pour wines between presentations. It cost me nothing. And it’s a really nice, big stand with WIFI. 🙂
And I didn’t even have to arrange appointments. There was a steady flow of traffic to that space because people wanted to use the wireless connection or see presentations. That’s where I met Rowan and Derek from Naked Wines who now import my wine into the UK. A stand that cost me nothing brought me one of my strongest clients. A really good tradeoff!
This is a post about the price of participating in wine fairs (especially expensive trade fairs) and its effect on the cost of wine. I look specifically at participation in the London International Wine Fair. I think the costs of these fairs makes conventional participation too expensive for small independent producers, but the fair does make sense for larger producers or grouped producers.
What is a trade fair?
A trade fair is a large exhibition of wine producers intended for a professional audience (as opposed to a salon or foire which is generally open to the public). Trade Fairs can feature some public speakers, but they tend to center around the wine exhibition (as opposed to conferences which tend to be more about speakers). You don’t really sell bottles at a trade show. The hope is more to make deals for larger quantities.
note: this photo is of Millesime Bio which is actually one of the most reasonably priced and scaled trade fairs. Instead of hiring a stand, you get a table. And everybody has the exact same table and table cloth. No massive two story buildings for the bigger wineries. Just the same plain white table. An interesting twist.
Throughout the year, there are many trade fairs such as the LIWF (London), VinExpo/ViniSud (alternating years in Bordeaux/Montpellier), and ProWein (Düsseldorf). These are massive wine fairs full of stands (hundreds or even thousands of them) intended largely for professional audiences consisting of retailers, importers, negociants, journalists, etc.
You pay a pretty penny for your stand (thousands of euros for a small stand at an event that lasts a few days) and you hope to rack up as many business meetings and journalist sightings as possible.
How much does a trade fair cost?
The short of it is that trade fairs cost a lot. There is the basic cost of getting a stand. Then there are all sorts of ancillary costs like travel, lodging, and stand furniture. In the best case scenario, a fair like ViniSud might cost just over 1,000 Euros for the small stands. In the more extravagant scenarios, shows like VineExpo and the LIWF can cost thousands just to get in the door. And then you still have to furnish the stand and make it look different than the hundreds of other stands within line sight of yours. And if you want electricity, lighting, ice to chill your whites, or really anything other than a carpeted stand, you’ll probably have to pay for it.
I don’t want to be purely theoretical, so let’s grab some real numbers from the official trade fair websites.
LIWF – costs-booking
– Shell package at £346/per sq.m.
– Space only at £291/per sq.m
Shell Package is a pre-built stand with walls, lights, name-plates, shelving and a counter, which you just need to ‘dress’.
Space only is the name given to an area with nothing whatsoever on it. You are literally renting an empty ‘space’ on which you must build your own stand.
I’m not sure what the minimum space is at LIWF, and they’re not answering my emails (probably busy organizing the event which is just around the corner). But, from memory, the smallest stands still seemed to be at least 6 square meters. You might think thrifty winemakers always choose to self-furnish, but it’s not that simple. We can’t generally bring furniture on the RyanAir flight to Stansted. It often comes out cheaper to rent the conference’s furnishings. So you come out to 2400 Euros for a tiny stand. That doesn’t include the cost of shipping wine over, travel, lodging, etc.
VinExpo – costs-registration
270 Euros / square meter with a minimum 16 square metre space (4320 Euro minimum). And that’s for the cheap spaces that are only exposed on one side. There is separate pricing for the stands that are exposed on two, three and four sides. And that is just the stand price. There are additional registration fees just to open an dossier or to gain the right to be an indirect exhibitor (600 to 740 Euros).
To give you an idea of what exhibitors spend, VinExpo now has a clef en main offer where you really get a furnished stand where all the work has been done for you.. it’s 16 square meters and costs 9,920 euro. It includes “moquette, cloisons mitoyennes, 1 fronton avec logo de l’exposant, 1 bar comptoir avec évier et branchement eau, 1 vitrine, 1 réserve avec étagères de rangement, 1 patère, du mobilier (1 table ronde, 3 chaises, 2 tabourets hauts, 1 frigo, 1 poubelle), de la décoration florale, électricité (2 prises 24H/24H éclairage), le nettoyage journalier, l’assurance.”
ProWein – costs-registration
126 E / square meter
ProWein is one of the most reasonably priced trade fairs which probably explains why it’s gaining so much popularity as an International event. Every year, they get more and more International visitors, apparently. I actually haven’t been so I can’t talk much about it. But even a less expensive fair is still going to end up costing the thriftiest exhibitor 1000+ Euros.
How do trade fairs affect cost of wine?
Well, it really depends on what kind of winemaker you are.
Some of my favorite producers like Domaine Revelh have barely 2 hectares of vines. They’re producing just a few thousand bottles of wine each year. Participation in a single trade show can easily raise the price of a bottle of their wine by 20-50 cents!
On the other hand, producers who put out 3 million bottles each year can amortize the cost of all the major wine fairs over 3 million bottles. In that case, the expense of a much larger stand at each of these fairs, and employees to occupy said stand only add fractions of a cent to each bottle.
It’s hard to generalize, but for your average boutique wine (where production tends to be less than 100,000 bottles per year) attending several trade fairs can mean a significant increase in cost on the wine (several cents per bottle).
I should note that there are a lot of strategies to mitigate trade fair costs.
What makes trade fairs worth it?
As a winery, you’re hoping to generate long term sales. Even if you only make a couple one pallet sales, there’s a chance those merchants reorder your wine again in a few months and again after that. Alternatively, you can meet up with everybody who already buys your wine and taste the new vintage with them. Or you can get some press attention while all the journalists are in town (and again, hopefully this leads to sales).
As a wine drinker though… you have to feel a bit cheated. The cost of the trade fair gets incorporated into the overhead of running a winery and it gets tacked on to the final bottle price. It’s a cost that doen’t improve the quality of the wine.
Additionally, you won’t even benefit from the experience of the the trade show since it isn’t even intended for consumers. Whereas participation in events like Le Grand Tasting can at least be enjoyed by the general wine-drinking public, participation in trade shows is never meant to trickle down to consumers. The only potential benefit to the consumer is that a trade show can create a better supply chain making the product available in your market. But generally speaking, trade shows represent a cost that does not improve the end user’s experience of the wine. So is it worth it? Hmmm..
My UK importer, Naked Wines, strongly discourages its winemakers from expensive trade shows like this. Their philosophy is that all the money we spend should go into making the wine better. However they are pretty keen on some of my low-cost shenanigans which I talk about elsewhere.
What do you think? Are trade fairs a necessary means of finding supply chains? Or are they a bit of bloat that inflates wine prices unnecessarily?