“Best,” of course, can be defined in a great many ways, but for the purposes of this exercise, I’d like for you to think about the shops which have the most knowledgeable staff and the most interesting and diverse selections. You know, the kind of place where you’d say, “Those folks really know their stuff!”
This is not a question about sales volume; I think we can all agree that shelf talkers can help sell wine in many situations. Rather, this is a question about credibility, and whether or not there is any correlation between shelf talker use and perceived shop authority.
So, do shelf talkers help a retailer build credibility, or do they hinder it? Why?
Are you talking about shelf-talkers written by staff (“original material”) or cut-and-pasted Advocate/Spectator scores?
Most of my favorite shops do the former. As for the latter, I don’t have much respect for shops that have no sales strategy beyond leeching off critics’ material, but I don’t find shelf talkers nearly as bothersome as the email blasts that go right out and tell you you should buy the wine because it got X points, or that are so reliant on cut-and-pasted reviews it’s like reading an issue of the WA.
Since we sell so much stuff that people in the TRADE have never heard of, we HAVE to have signage on almost everything. BUT, we do it with a sense of humor and culture. Examples:
“Friends don’t let Friends drink Veuve Clicquot!”
“Neurologists will tell you that there are naturally occurring receptors for Marijuana and Cocaine in your brain. We’re pretty sure the one for Moscato d’Asti is right between them!”
"Meat and Dirt…Mmmmmmm Yummmy!
This wine has been made exclusively with Mazuelo grapes from Señorío de Sarría’s Vineyard N°8, a vineyard planted with goblet-pruned vines over 50 years old. The grapes are harvested manually when they reach just the right level of ripeness. Grape selection is carried out at the vines and then the fruit is given a traditional vinification that, with age, takes the last exit off the Dirt Road and heads directly into downtown Meatville. Got Offal?
"Vin Santo: Instructions for use:
Get some quality Biscotti
open this bottle with some friends
dip cookies in wine till slightly soft
enter La Dolce Vita…"
"A Flavor / Terroir / Joy Singularity?
Somehow, while a consortium of physicists is still building the world’s largest super collider in Switzerland, Giampaolo has managed to create a Black Hole in a bottle using only the sun, the unique terroir of Montefalco and minimalist cellar techniques. This makes our beloved Pigmento (which means “inky”) look like Kentish Pinot Noir and brings a fully stocked larder of flavors to your table: plums, dark cherries and prunes, earth and smoke, aged meat and an exotic spicy note in the background. Mmmm Mmmm GOOD!
"Tenuta Uccellina, Emilia-Romagna Cagnina di Romagna DOC 2001
This is a late harvest, slightly passito, insanely concentrated and fruitaceous Refosco (Cagnina is a local dialect name) with a smidge of other local varietals like Rabozo. Just on the edge of being a dessert wine, compare with late harvest Zins at $$$. Every chef who’s tasted it immediatly began foaming at the mouth about “duck sauce…no, wait…Venison with wild berries in a reduction of this and star anise…then poach some pears…”
I think that the best shops around me (Maryland) use a mix of professional and store generated shelf talkers. It is nice to get a mix. I really think they help customers and get them to try some new things.
My store uses a mix of both…maybe 25% written by me. I’m trying to slowly creep that up to highlight all the stuff that we bring in…the wines that make our store unique. Talk about the wine and why we liked it. Hopefully our customers agree.
When I go into other stores I read shelf talkers. It’s a good way to learn about new wines. Yes, 60% of it is flowery horseshit, but at least it is something to get me started.
Mixed bag…I generally don’t like the look of them, especially in a shop like mine. It cheapens the atmosphere. Having said that, customer feedback has been that they do like them and it helps in making purchasing decisions a little easier, especially for people who don’t like to interact with a salesperson on the floor. In Dan’s case, I am shocked he wouldn’t use them, as he hates people and that would give him an even greater chance of not having to talk to anybody.
We are easily the biggest culprits of fluffy emails, and we do use shelf talkers on rated items. However, all of our Point of Sale: signs, shelf talkers, case cards, etc., are all done in house, and are a click away. The uniformity helps “uncheapen” them, and we also don’t use tape to put them up, but a flag-ish system where they are attached to a plastic clip that fits in the shelf.
To Max’s point, they aren’t used as a sales tactic, but as a guide for the consumer that doesn’t want a salesmans’ help (or woman, we now have 2 on staff).
Quite often, they get taken by customers, whom I think are storing the review along with the wine!