I’ve learned that you are far more excited by reaching new heights when you’ve experienced deeply dissatisfying lows. When you’ve pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and made a commitment to take action, to make it happen, come hell or high water. And we did just that…
Our winery had a banner 2013. We improved performance in the tasting room so dramatically over 2012 and expected that our accomplishments would reflect a new “normal.” But 2014 didn’t meet our expectations and, in fact, we regressed from the prior year. The month-after-month trend of not reaching goals left our team feeling defeated and needless to say, morale was suffering.
In hindsight, we had a strong 2013 because we successfully picked the low-hanging fruit and it created immediate lift… but that was not going to sustain us over the long-run. So what would? What could we learn about the highs and the lows of the past two years to bounce back in 2015? And most importantly, to create the momentum that would allow us to be successful in 2016, 2017 and beyond (never forgetting this little thing called a Long Term Plan, to which we were still subscribed).
THE SECRET SAUCE
**SPOILER ALERT!** There is no secret sauce. As least, not the one you’re probably looking for. I have yet to find a revolutionary list of words to say that will suddenly get more consumers to buy wine or join the wine club.
There is, however, a very specific approach we took which led to a dramatic (and sustainable) increase in our tasting room sales, wine club signups and morale.
We acknowledged the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uber ugly.
We looked beyond what happened in 2013 and 2014, and focused on why it happened. For starters, we checked in with our tasting room staff. Numbers don’t lie, but your P&L doesn’t paint the full picture. Front-line employees are the key to understanding the real daily challenges and opportunities. We asked them to share their observations and ideas, and created a safe space for them to be candid.
Next, we brought the winery owners into the tasting room for a brainstorming session, and helped them personally see and understand the challenges and opportunities. It didn’t take long in the conversation for it to become clear that the approach we had been taking wasn’t working to achieve our collective goals (fiscal and non-fiscal). We agreed that if we wanted dramatic improvement, we’d need to take dramatic steps in a different direction. Try a new approach. Take a risk (or two, or three).
We set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
Hope is not a strategy. We acknowledge that we have dreams and wishes for our winery, but what gets us from dream to reality is a vision with an action plan.
We looked at where we were and where we wanted to go. We had data to tell us how many visitors we were seeing each year, what they were spending on wine, and how many were joining our wine club. And luckily, we were beginning to see some data about industry benchmarks to help us set realistic intentions about what was achievable for us going forward. We looked at patterns and trends in our own business and in the wine industry, and decided how we wanted to move forward. We set “SMART” goals and assigned responsibility:
- SPECIFIC: Every discussion point came with a decision of who, what, where, when, and why.
- MEASURABLE: We examined our data points and ranked the various business levers we were trying to pull by importance. Then we chose the metrics on which we would focus to track our progress.
- ACHIEVABLE: We stopped looking at “one day” and started looking at “tomorrow.” We set out to take baby steps, looking at what was within our immediate control.
- REALISTIC: As a team of ambitious high achievers, we can’t help but stretch ourselves. But stretching ourselves too thin was creating an unhappy environment for all. We opted to reset our expectations and how we defined success.
- TIME-BOUND: We made a commitment to our goals, but without imposing a timeframe, there is no sense of urgency… and really no plan of action.
We invested in our people, place and processes.
We knew we couldn’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. And doing something truly different meant making an investment – in ourselves!
We focused on leadership and management that would light a fire within the team, inspiring individuals to own their contributions to the big picture. We focused on developing the skills of our team and revised our sales incentives to reward both the group and individuals. We adjusted the balance of full-time and part-time positions, maximizing skill sets and reducing seasonal turnover.
We realized that we were casting too wide of a net and couldn't please everyone. Not only that, but trying to please everyone was making us crazy and unhappy. We discussed our current customer base and our desired clientele, and we created new experiences and streamlined our offerings to serve them, and only them.
We created systems and tools for our employees to streamline and maximize their efforts, and deliver a superlative guest experience.
We tracked, monitored and measured every action and its result. We learned in real-time, not in hindsight, what was working to drive our business. We found that no one action was responsible or significant on its own. We achieved a dramatic turnaround of our tasting room business in 2015 because of the synergy we created. Because all the wheels on the bus were turning in the same direction, at the same time, with intention and full force. And now, we're driving that awesome bus forward to new and exciting places.
#TakeAction – Here’s my advice to effect change anywhere in your business:
- Don’t be afraid to have candid conversations, and include your entire organization – up, down and sideways. Involving people who see things differently than you do is the best way to find creative solutions to any problem.
- Create a vision with an action plan. Develop SMART goals to set your intentions and start on the right foot.
- Invest in your business, your team, and yourself. Sometimes you have to do something remarkable to achieve something remarkable.