The Grapevine

Wine Shop Business Planning: Your Most Important Customer

May 28th, 2013

Last week, in my article on short- and long-term business planning for wine shop owners, I posed the question, “Who is your most important customer?” Here’s the answer. [level-members]

Since I said I’d bet that 99% of you would be wrong in deciding who your most important customer is, you are clever enough to get that it wouldn’t be the guy who comes into your shop most frequently or the woman who consistently comes in once a month and picks up 3 or 4 cases. (Let’s hope she does a lot of entertaining …) Those regulars are important to your business, but they don’t top the list.

Your most important customer is the person who will one day want to buy your business.

A good number of you are already shaking your heads about this not being your situation, but hear me out. Even if you want to be in your shop until the day you die, or you have children or a trusted assistant or someone else you know you’ll pass your shop on to, there’s real value in thinking about the person who might want to buy your business, even if this person is just an idea in your head.

And it’s not just that selling your business – or any business – is a way to generate significant financial returns. It’s that thinking about selling your business forces a level of rigorousness in approach and record-keeping that you won’t have otherwise. 

For example, it may be tempting to skim a little here, pull a few bottles for home there. (What’s a better perk of owning a wine shop than drinking at wholesale prices?)

But by putting systems in place you ensure that your shop is operating as profitably as it can, and you ensure that the shop could survive an emergency, like your extended absence. (You’re far more likely to be temporarily disabled than you are to die. Plan for it even if it seems unlikely!)

Beyond setting up solid financial controls, it’s important to keep good records of your relationships with everyone from your landlord to your distributors to your rack supplier, PoS system provider, even your handyman.

Keep instructions handy for your marketing programs, your customer email / mail database, and all the stuff you keep in your head about your best customers’ preferences.

Most importantly, find a way to look at your shop – physically and metaphorically – with fresh eyes at least once a quarter. That tired-looking check-out counter where you don’t notice the molding being held in place with duct tape? Your customers notice that. And for new customers, it’s those subtle details that make all the difference in them buying into your business and becoming long-term, loyal regulars, even if they aren’t actually buying your business.