The Wine-of-the-Month Club is the oldest wine club in South Africa. It started with an idea by Colin Collard – who hailed from a background in direct advertising that had nothing to do with wine – back in 1986.
For him, wine was a passion, not a career, but his marketing savvy helped him to identify a gap in what was at the time a fledgling wine consumer market and with that, the Wine-of-the-Month Club was born.
Back in the 1980s wine was considered a snobbish drink; the reality is that most people didn’t understand wine, or how to buy it. When reading this wine writer’s or that food critic’s tasting notes most people were bamboozled by concepts like “sweaty saddle leather” and “puppies’ breath” in reference to taste.
Price was another scary barrier to entry, with the wines perceived to be the best usually costing an arm and a leg when that wasn’t actually the case. Collard says that from the very first wines tasted by the panel it was apparent that the best wines in each category were not the most expensive ones.
“If that had not been the case,” he says, “I would not have gone ahead and created the club.”
Collard had the vision to merge the love of wine, the taste of wine and the knowledge of wine into a well-priced package, with the wines selected blind by independent experts and delivered direct to the doors of members on a regular basis. The club first starting trading out of the historic Cape Dutch Alphen Hotel nestled in the heart of Constantia’s wine region.
Here Collard assembled all the factors needed to make Wine-of-the-Month Club the success it is today. He put together the judging panel from knowledgeable experts in the field; he was directly involved in approaching the wine farms to get them on board as suppliers; he directed the creation and placement of advertising and he oversaw the delivery of the wine, even in what became iconic wine barrel vans delivering all across the Cape Peninsula’s leafy suburbs.
In those days, the internet never existed, and Collard made the most of the virtually only powerful direct marketing means of those times, the print media. With the creative use of well-placed ads in newspapers and magazines, postal catalogues, newsletters and statement inserts that talked directly to the desired target market, the club started to grow.
A following outside of Cape Town was established and soon the Wine-of-the-Month Club was delivering wine via rail as far afield as Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein.
To members it was so much more than just the convenience of having a well picked selection of wine delivered to their homes; it was also the education they were receiving about their local, home-grown wines. What worked with what meals, how to identify the subtle flavours, where the wine was grown and how to judge a wine for yourself.
After 1994 the South African wine market experienced an unprecedented growth spurt as the international markets opened their doors and their palates to our wines.
On the wave of this growth, interest at home continued to grow and, as long-established cultural tastes and trends changed, more and more people become interested in joining the Wine-of-the-Month Club.
With growth comes change. The first change was the creation of the telemarketing sales team in 1997. This team was headed up by Colin’s oldest son, Giscard, and was responsible for the sales of individual wines over and above that of the members club wine pack. They specialised in their wine knowledge, as Giscard felt that the telephone was a very personal means of communication and that if what his team had to say sounded like they were reading from a script, it wouldn’t sell.
To ensure that his sales team were in-touch with the product they were selling Giscard made sure that they expanded their own wine education. Wine-of-the-Month sent their sales team to weekly wine tastings and lectures by various wine makers. The Club also covered the costs for those salespersons who wished to be certified via the Cape Wine Academy. The goal was if a sales person has a personal relationship in the enjoyment of wine, his or her recommendations and passion will influence the sale in a positive way. It’s a win-win situation for both the club member and the Club.
The second major changed happened in 1998. It was time to move to larger premises. One that could house the ever-expanding telesales team as well as a large enough warehouse that would accommodate enough stock so that the demand could be met in as fast and efficient way as possible. When a location was identified in Kenilworth, the Wine-of-the-Month Club bid farewell to the historic location at Alphen and moved into a new building and a new era.
Kenilworth proved a strategic move, with M5 on its doorstep, close to public transport and a short drive from Cape Town International Airport. The club began the process of expanding its business to all four corners of Southern Africa and beyond. In 2000 Giscard’s younger brother, Tai Collard came on board and started Good Taste magazine.
This magazine, along with informative, well-designed bottle neck tags was part of the added value offered to members. The high-quality magazine won numerous Pica Awards over the years for its style, layout and content.
Tai was also responsible for the creation of the new business team in 2004, whose goal was to introduce the Wine-of-the-Month Club and the associated Whisky Club, Brandy Club, Champagne/MCC Club, Coffee Club and Olive Oil Club, to a much wider audience.
It wasn’t long thereafter that Tai and Giscard took over the reins from their father in actively running the club, with sister Natalie becoming the wine buyer for the company and the Wine-of-the-Month Club became a truly family business. Since then the youngest of the Collard clan, Clifford, who was running a successful national courier business delivering wines for the Club, has become the latest helmsman.
The business is run with good home-grown South African family values and it’s these values that saw the Wine-of-the-Month Club listed at 40th in the 2009 Deloitte Financial Mail Top Company to Work For in South Africa.
The last and final location move happened in late 2009 when the Wine-of-the-Month Club built its own premises in Capricorn Park near Muizenburg. Designed along the lines of their own needs, it houses a call centre that seats 100-plus full-time sales agents, logistical staff, administrative staff, and creative/marketing staff. The secure warehouse that is over 1100 square metres and roughly nine metres high, holds more wine than the mind can possibly imagine.
The Wine-of-the-Month Club has changed with the times, but still continues to offer the same reliable service to its members that the senior Collard first envisioned: value for money, trusted advice from experts, convenience and friendly, snappy service.