A Wine Seller Gets His Newsletter Strategy Right

Below is thorough case study of how a small business can utilize newsletters to draw customers back into the store.

WordPress freelancers and consultants take note. A newsletter strategy should be in all your packages.

For example:

  • Newsletter strategy debrief: 2 hours
  • Setup, configuration & design: 4 hours
  • Training: 1 hour
  • Debrief after first campaign: 1 hour
  • Follow up after 1 month: 1 hour
  • Total: minimum 1 day

Enough shop talk, let’s move on to our story of interest.

I walk into a store…

Aurélien and Kim
Aurélien and I, pretending to drink for the purpose of the pic

Earlier this year, I walked into a wine shop in my neighbourhood that had recently opened.

The friendly owner, Aurélien, and I quickly got talking about his new endeavour. This rapidly turned to my favorite subject: his online presence, and strategy.

He was on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Maps. A student had set up a basic WordPress website, with a customized theme. Pretty static affair. Total cost? 300 euros, or about 400 dollars.

In the footer was a signup form. After checking the source of the page, I discovered he had MailPoet installed. A nice surprise!

He admittedly never sent a single newsletter. He didn’t even know about the plugin. The student had provided no training whatsoever.

Our wine seller seemed like a quick learner, and overall curious about terms like SEO, AdWords, positioning, etc.

I made him an offer on the spot:

I’ll teach you the ropes of MailPoet in exchange for a case study on this blog.

Done deal. Nine months later, you’re about to read Aurélien’s story, and how I helped his wine store.

A newsletter twice monthly

We weren’t beginning from scratch. Aurélien was already sending an occasional email to 350 of his customers, friends and family using his good old inbox. We simply had to import these contacts to his MailPoet.

Photo of the wine store
Inside his store, we find a selection of over 1000 different bottles despite the tight real estate.

We decided to aim for two newsletters per month. But what to put in them?

There’s plenty going on in a wine shop apparently:

  1. Weekly wine tasting on Saturdays
  2. Workshops several times a week
  3. New bottle arrivals
  4. Tips, and educational content

Note that Aurélien, like most higher-end liquor stores in France, offers very few discounts or deals, if any. I did insist on trying the formula, but he wouldn’t budge.

30% open rate

Being a gifted writer, in no time, he got his first newsletter out in late March. Click to view the original in a new tab:

Example of newsletter

I intervened little in the design, simply to demonstrate how a normal person would design his newsletter.

His first newsletter gave the following stats:

Piechart of open, clicks & unsubscribe: 26%, 2.5%, 1%

Pretty decent stats for a start. Today, his open rate is around 30%.

Note that the unsubscribe rate is very slow. In other words, his original contact list was made of up of people who indeed wanted to hear from him.

How about the low click rate? His website at the time was static, so there was almost no new content to link to. This is something we improved later during this year, as well.

From open rates, to real customers

The other newsletters followed every 2 weeks thereafter, steadily. I stress the importance of sticking to a frequency in order to create an expectation from his subscribers.

Soon after, Aurélien’s customers would mention receiving the newsletter when they came in to purchase their bottles. Or call to join a wine tasting session.

The question begs: how many subscribers turn up at the store and purchase? Or in other words, what is the true conversion rate?

On average between 5 to 10 customers would mention the newsletter the week following a campaign.

It takes him one hour or two to write a newsletter. A pretty good return of sales for his effort.

Cheaper to retain than gain

The biggest challenge for Aurélien is his store’s location. A small side street, in front of an administrative building, away from crowds roaming the bigger commercial avenues.

His website position in Google didn’t help either. He was outside the first 10 results for most of his keywords.

We decided to change things around. He set up an AdWords campaign, and started polling customers on how they had heard about the store. You only need to ask a few dozen customers to get a good idea.

In March, without AdWords, 36 customers answered:

Pie charts of origin of customers, March 2013

In April, with AdWords, 47 customers answered:

Pie charts of origin of customers, April 2013

Note the 10% increase of customers coming from Google. AdWords simply works. Especially if your organic position in Google’s results is low.

But this improvement has a cost. Aurélien’s campaigns cost him 125 euros per month, or 1500 per year.

Compare this expense with a newsletter solution, like MailPoet, which is next to nothing, if not free.

They are complimentary. One requires money. The other takes a bit of time.

New website, better forms

In September, we expanded our efforts a little more:

  • We changed his theme to Hustle from WooThemes, which gives a more professional look. Take a look at this site: lesvinsdaurelien.fr
  • We reviewed his pages, and keywords to improve his organic position in Google
  • He started publishing blog posts

In August, his site had 325 visits. In October, he jumped to 1850. Very encouraging results.

On his new theme, we positioned 3 new forms to sign up to his newsletter, with the following results:

  • 9 new subscribers via the call to action in the middle of homepage, which leads to a page with a form.
  • 14 new signups via the form in the footer.
  • The right sidebar of his blog gets 22 new subscribers.

Thanks to more forms, his list will grow by an additional 150 new subscribers within 12 months. That’s nonnegligible. Make sure you read our previous post on form strategies.

Moreover, all business owners running newsletters should think “outside the form“. For example, Aurélien’s primary source of new signups come from his customer loyalty program. His returning customers get a loyalty card, and are told in store that they’ll be signed up. Here’s a good post on improving your loyalty program.

Newsletter versus Facebook & Twitter?

All channels are important. Aurélien has 140 followers on Twitter, and about 530 likes on Facebook. He’s also present on Yelp, which brings him some customers, albeit not big spenders.

Asked what he thinks of the qualitative value of his newsletter subscribers, he replies:

My subscribers are my most valuable followers. The newsletter conveys a sense of privilege, or exclusivity, especially those who are in my loyalty program. I don’t have the same results on Facebook, even less on Twitter.

Your turn! Actionable items for you

It’s not hard work, but it takes time, and a bit of patience. The rewards are often just a few months down the road.

Here’s a recap, and more:

  1. Go and get customers’ emails, even writing them down on a sheet
  2. Send them newsletters regularly, and stick to your frequency. Avoid automated newsletters.
  3. Measure the quantity, and quality of your subscribers as customers
  4. Ask them their opinion on the quality of the contents of the newsletter