The Dimmer Switch
There’s a lot of uncertainty in this current environment. The lights for many of us have been shut off. When the lights are out, you go down to the fuse box and fix it. This, however, is a bigger problem. The power problem is at a junction or a station. You have no idea how long it’ll be out. So you’ll have to find different ways to fuel your business in the meantime. This means you must be open to changing how you sell your cider.
There is a lot of discussion about where the states, and regions within states, stand in terms of re-opening. I’m hearing quite a bit about achieving a certain Phase. The reality is that many areas don’t even qualify for Phase One yet.
In New York State, part of the standard to even qualify for Phase One is that you have to have 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents. For the Finger Lakes Region’s 1.2 million residents, 360 contact tracers have been hired. In New York City’s five boroughs - where there are nearly 8.4 million residents - that’s 1,680 tracers - minimum - that New York City will need.
Among the bigger challenges is that camps, particularly day camps that working parents need, are unlikely to be open this summer. If you can’t get children safely out of the house, how are parents supposed to go back to work?
Why is this relevant to you? Because it benefits you to embrace that this is going to take time. This is actually going to take a lot of time. Regardless of where you are, you’re probably not getting to Phase Three in six weeks. That’s not realistic. In some areas, you may not see Phase Three in the next few months.
The really scary part is that until something is discovered that can drastically limit how the contagion level of COVID-19 or a vaccine is discovered, it’s going to be extremely difficult to control the spread. A functional vaccine, on a very aggressive timeline, is 12-18 months away. You can re-open slowly, but the issue of transmission remains unchanged. Even if you want to take a different tack and be aggressive in re-opening, that’s fine. It doesn't mean customers are going to instantly come back again. Each person will make their own decisions based on their current assessment and comfort level.
To further the relevancy, the longer a particular region or state goes, the farther they will have to come to financially recover. There will be limits to what the US Government can do financially. They shouldn’t be counted on to bail out every American small business for the next three years - for many, it could take that long. Look at the challenges in just applying for and getting the PPP. Your business needs to survive under the current conditions for as long as they last.
Regardless of how old your business is, you didn’t build it to operate under these restrictions. Accepting that the “return to normal” may not happen for some time and you can understand the urgency with which you need to operate. Myself and every other cider enthusiast - every other person that believes cider is something special - every cider maker, orchardist and blender that has chosen this industry as their business and passion - needs each of us to survive.
***Every state has different laws and regulations. You should consult a legal professional to determine what is permitted locally.*** That said, here are some ways other alcohol producers are surviving and even thriving.
Online Ordering For Local Pickup
Directing consumers to your website to pre-order products for pickup later that day or the following day allows you to pre-pick orders and minimize a customer’s time on-site, making it safer for them to purchase from you. Some businesses organize it further by scheduling pickup times and having employees put purchases directly in the trunk of the vehicle.
One of the long-term advantages of doing this is that customers get used to coming to your facility. When you do re-open your tasting room, they’ll already be in the habit of coming to your door.
Some states have eased restrictions on producers to allow them the ability to do contactless delivery of alcoholic beverages to consumers. The advantage here is that it gives your tasting room employees something to do and provides thankful consumers with the opportunity to get your great product without leaving the house.
There are a few breweries in New Jersey that have actually enabled a system to deliver their beer to most of the state by setting delivery days for each area. Your business may or may not be big enough to justify that, but it’s worth exploring if it is permissible. If they are getting delivery from you, they’re not going to the store to pick out whatever is left on the shelf there.
Online Ordering for Shipping
Sites like VinoShipper and ShipCompliant have been offering Direct to Consumer (DtC) options for some time now, predominantly focusing on wine. There’s even a few options for beer as well. Significant regulatory hurdles can make managing this sales channel a full-time role. These will vary from state to state. For that reason alone, the investment to work with one of these DtC companies is worth exploring. Not all of them require significant investment to get started and, because of the current conditions, have accelerated their launching procedures to get you up and running quickly.
It’s worth noting that the most important investment you can make here is in packaging. Whether you’re shipping 750ml glass bottles or 12oz cans, it’s important for the product to arrive safely and in good condition. You’ve made the time and effort to create a branded package. The presentation quality should be consistent whether they’re picking up from your facility or receiving it at home. Protect the glass and aluminum that you ship the best you can. Purchasing the most secure packaging is a little bit more, and it’s absolutely worth it.
Setting Yourself Apart
There’s another advantage that you can provide with all of these sales avenues that could help you stand out from other producers. You can offer each customer the opportunity to connect with you or someone from your team on a video call. In this call, you provide the tasting notes and allow the consumers to ask questions about the cider. It’s an opportunity for next level education that you wouldn’t normally get nor have the time or access to perform.
Imagine being able to create a connection with individual consumers to your brand. You could even offer food pairings when they schedule the 30-minute call. Tie it to a code on their receipt and you’ll have all their information in your sales tracking system. Each dollar of purchases could earn loyalty points towards more video call time. There’s a number of possibilities here and it wouldn’t take much technical wizardry to get it going.
Finding the Lights
Cider in the US has been fighting to find ways to engage and educate consumers for the past twenty years. Now there is this severe interruptus - as horrible and painful as it is for us all - forcing us to recognize an opportunity. This opportunity to create direct one-to-one engagement could provide a distraction to some of the horrors and struggles that we are experiencing. Your brand could become something consumers associate with as something positive - a bright light in a dark time.
Change is inevitable. To turn the lights back on, consider upgrading to a dimmer switch. It may involve playing with how your business is wired, but it can work so much better for the way the world is now and will be in the future.