Be cool, join the (cider) club

By Courtney Llewellyn

It’s human nature to want to be a part of a larger group – it’s a concept called “belongingness.” Marketers know this and use it their advantage. Luckily, the concept tends to be beneficial. Consider clubs that give their members exclusive products or experiences. Wine clubs have been popular for a while. But what about cider?

This concept was explored during this year’s CiderCon by Talia Haykin (of Haykin Family Cider) and Eleanor Léger (of Eden Ciders). Haykin began by reviewing the results of an American Cider Association survey that gauged interest in cider clubs. In total, 126 cideries, producing less than 5,000 gallons to over a million, responded, representing all regions fairly equally. Of those, 36% already offer a cider club. The oldest began in 2013; 10 started in 2020. A whopping 81% of clubs reported growth last year as well.

Most of the clubs offer both pick-up and direct shipping (67%). Of the clubs that already exist, the smallest club had only 15 members, while the largest had 340. The majority (65%) ship quarterly; 16% ship thrice a year; the remainder ship either six times or only twice a year.

By far, the most important goal when founding a cider club was “to develop a loyal customer base” (84% of respondents). Growing sales (74%), generating year-round income (58%) and having an outlet to sell rare ciders (45%) were also aims. Most cideries reported their clubs generate between 0.5% and 10% of their total revenue.

As for the cideries that don’t offer clubs, reasons why not ranged from the pandemic (no surprise) to having one in the works to setting up shipping options to a general lack of demand.

“A lot of us are basing our clubs on what’s going on the wine world,” Haykin said. “Our sample size is really small. Theirs is a lot bigger.” (A survey from the Oregon Wine Symposium showed 1,800 wineries with 1.3 million club members.)

Best Practices for Cider Clubs

Haykin said the keys to creating a successful cider club are releases, communication and benefits. “A standard release is for everyone,” she said. “Then, make a plan and follow through.” That means a regular frequency of releases; clear, concise information and websites; and really knowing your audience and what they want to keep them coming back – whether that’s discounts, unique offerings or early access.

“You have to think about the cost of acquisition,” Léger said of customers. “The best sources are your tap room and direct-to-consumer shipping with a flyer in your sent packages. In that way, customer acquisition is almost free.”

Using software to help manage the club is important too. Both Léger and Haykin spoke highly of VinoShipper for assisting cideries and communicating with customers. ShipCompliant is another option. They also recommended the Wine Institute’s shipping laws map as a resource.

But before all that, figure out what ciders go to club members. Determine how you’ll price memberships. (Haykin also recommended a “lifetime membership” which means until the customer tells you to cancel, you keep shipping). Know how you’ll coordinate shipments. Get your club members to pick up their goods in a timely manner. Learn how to manage credit card charges and membership renewals. Find a method of communication that works across the board. It could be worth the effort.

“Our cider club was the one bright spot of 2020, the one thing that kept growing, that kept us excited and motivated,” Haykin said. “Our direct-to-consumer sales shifted into high gear.”

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