It takes a lot to stand out from the crowd as a New York wine store. But the team at Union Square Wines (USW) have found a unique way: wine technology!
It turns out that a wine preservation system known as the Enomatic, imported directly from Italy, was the key to USW stepping up their wine game. In 2012, Union Square Wines made a risky move. They left their prime Union Square spot to move to their current location on nearby 4th Avenue. Despite only moving around the corner, they recognized a noticeable drop in foot traffic. Katherine, the general manager at USW explains their next move, “Back then, there was no Hilton on this block, or any of the other businesses that you see today. We wanted to attract people, give them a reason to come all the way here. We were the first [business to have an Enomatic here in New York”. Katherine and the team knew they’d need to do something to ensure a steady volume of customers coming through their door and they chose to make a big technology investment to boost their business. This can be a risky strategy but it’s one that has paid off handsomely for USW. I discuss below how small business owners can best evaluate these decisions but first, a little more about the Enomatic.
What Is an ‘Enomatic’ Wine Preservation System?
The Enomatic wine preservation system is an automated wine dispenser imported from Tuscany, Italy. At Union Square Wines, it lives in a large corner of the store with its own set of glass panel doors, and is available everyday from when the shop opens to an hour before it closes. The Enomatic system makes it possible to sample high-end, expensive bottles of wine that otherwise could not be left uncorked for more than a few days. Several upscale restaurants in New York have installed Enomatic systems behind their bars to allow patrons to order high-end wine by the glass, as an alternative to a bottle. According to the Economatic website, the system surrounds the wine with Argon gas, thus preventing oxidation. As a result, the machine “Protects its [each open bottle’s] organoleptic integrity (taste, aroma, body, and color).” It preserves open bottles of wine for up to four weeks, and serves a one-ounce, three ounce or six ounce sample of wine at the single push of a button. The bottles are displayed beautifully with the labels facing outward, and the machine is sleek and user friendly. All of which is undoubtedly very cool. But as a small business owner, cool isn’t enough to justify a big investment, we have to be smart about spending our limited resources. You have to ask yourself, is this worth the investment?
But as a small business owner, cool isn’t enough to justify a big investment, we have to be smart about spending our limited resources. You have to ask yourself, is this worth the investment?
Is it Worth the Investment?
Every time you take the leap and spend a significant sum on new business technology, it can feel like a big risk. But there are three quick questions you can ask yourself to help decide is the investment will be worth it: 1. Will This Technology Save Me Time and Let me Focus on My Customers? 2. Will This Technology Drive Additional Sales? 3. Will This Technology Provide Actionable Data and Make Me a Smarter Business Owner? We took these questions and applied them to USW’s investment in the Enomatic
Judging the Success of the Enomatic for USW
1. Will This Technology Save Me Time and Let me Focus on My Customers? At Union Square, they believe that the Enomatic should in no way replace interaction with the wine professionals on staff, so you’d be forgiven for thinking the time savings wouldn’t be that great. However, the Enomatic has helped in two key ways. Each customer who uses the Enomatic to sample wines is able to approach the staff with a far clearer idea of what they are looking for. As a result, the time spent on each consultation is drastically reduced. Even when staff are guiding a tasting the speed and convenience of the Enomatic reduces the time required. Equally importantly, by increasing the number of fine wines available to sample by the ounce, the wine professionals are able to taste and experience a far greater range of the store’s inventory. Union Square Wines holds regular training sessions for their staff, and the Enomatic tasting system supplements their learning. Katherine, the general manager at USW explains, “If people come from the green market with duck or fish, they want to try a wine that goes with that,” and the Enomatic allows staff to get to know more of the wines, which means that, “they are more equipped to make recommendations.”
2. Will This Technology Drive Additional Sales? Most customers aren’t wine experts with a sophisticated understanding of all the variables associated with wine quality. They may have some vague notion that they prefer a specific country/region, grape variety, etc. But with differing tastes of each wine depending on the year it was produced, it can very quickly become overwhelming deciphering what’s what. As a result, customers find it difficult to perceive the ‘right price’ for a wine. Each purchase becomes a mini leap of faith. The Enomatic removes that risk, allowing customers to take the plunge with a wine because they know they like the taste, the aroma, etc. A good wine professional can therefore clearly illustrate the value of higher priced wines and drive up the average ticket size per customer. What’s more, USW is able to use the Enomatic to drive new customers through the door and encourage repeat business. Katherine says the Enomatic drives sales because customers are more likely to recall a wine that they have tried and then “file it away in their brains for later.” The Enomatic system further encourages customer loyalty by offering a point-based system whereby each purchase is converted into points stored in a card that can then be used at the wine preservation system. Since installing this new technology, USW have also become famous for their regular Saturday tasting events. The events attract an eclectic crowd with certified sommeliers mingling with students from nearby NYU and middle class professionals – all of whom are looking to find their next favorite tipple. At Counter Culture, we’re huge advocates of using in-store events to drive revenue and word of mouth, and the team at USW have clearly cracked the code when it comes to this form of marketing.
Each purchase becomes a mini leap of faith. The Enomatic removes that risk, allowing customers to take the plunge with a wine because they know they like the taste, the aroma, etc.
3. Will This Technology Provide Actionable Data and Make Me a Smarter Business Owner? Technology, at it’s best makes us smarter and more efficient about how we spend our resources. At USW, a customer can walk through the door and sample from up to 48 different bottles of wine, across a range of qualities and regions. As a result, the owners are able to make intelligent, data-led decisions about which wines are proving immediately appealing by tracking which wines are being selected for tasting. Further, by tracking the wines selected for tasting and correlating with the wines purchased they can see which wines are ‘not converting’, i.e. they are attracting they eye, being chosen for tasting, and then not driving sales. Over a period of time, this kind of data could help a small wine store optimize inventory orders and or reposition how they are displaying their wines.
This Yelp Review for USW sums up the power of this kind of marketing nicely… ‘I never go with intention of buying, but always do’.
It’s clear that Katherine and the team at Union Square Wines have enjoyed a number of benefits from the Enomatic but it’s easy to make these judgements in retrospect. The choice to invest to invest large amounts in new technology will always be a difficult one. But that doesn’t mean it need be a ‘shot in the dark’. By carefully considering these three questions, you’ll be able to properly decide if the money is going to be well spent. 1. Will This Technology Save Me Time and Let me Focus on My Customers? 2. Will This Technology Drive Additional Sales? 3.Will This Technology Provide Actionable Data and Make Me a Smarter Business Owner? Good Luck and Happy Retailing!