James Governor's Monkchips

Note to Wine Company: Compete with Starbucks Not Microsoft

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Yeah sure, I know that only a fool would ignore the Scoble bait, Why a Wine Company Competes with Microsoft, and Hugh jumped over like a happy little puppy for some tummy rubbing link love with his new Open Letter to Bill Gates.
But it seems to me that Stormhoek should be thinking about a different Seattle company as it bids for world distribution: that’s Starbucks.
Hugh thinks packaging is important in marketing. No shit, Sherlock-that Madison Avenue education really paid off… So why not explode the packaging thought into location and open a Stormhoek Saloon in London? The packaging is the message, so why not open up a place to meet, chat, talk and drink Stormhoek? What would a Stormhoek franchise look like – how would it be designed? Now that’s an interesting question.
A naysayer might argue “but that’s a different business model and would involve leasing property”…. Yes indeed – but if Starbucks had ceded the coffee market to Nescafe we wouldn’t see that green frontage everywhere, and the economics of coffee drinking would never have changed.
Some might say wine is not like coffee- after all, nobody drinks it in the morning. Maybe not this century in London, San Francisco or New York, but I bet the French police in Paulliac still drink a glass of wine in the morning with their croissants.
Why shouldn’t we have a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with our friends and colleagues for lunch? Why shouldn’t we pop into the local Stormhoek for a glass of wine and some cheese? Let’s face it – when better to start a winebar franchise than in a city that just introduced 24 hour drinking…
The government should encourage “slow” wine drinking: it seems to be less associated with domestic violence that super strength lager.  
Freshness matters – maybe it does. But most importantly, you want to be able to drink at your leisure… someone needs to teach the English how to drink. Stormhoek could volunteer.
Make the Stormhoek Salon a place to meet, drink and eat. In that order. This isn’t about getting drunk but chatting and enjoying some decent wines.
Teach the staff all about wine. Give them blogs with pictures (hire good-looking wine baristas), do deals with creative commons music companies. Offer the venue as a place for meetups. Do deals with social networking sites. Stormhoek cards with discounts for community members. Sponsor local art. Or use the walls as another place to pimp your cartoons . How can you make Stormhoek more like Fanelli’s (without the cocktails).
If you want to beat Constellation Wines (the wine industry’s version of Nestle) you will need to fundamentally change the game. Change the culture. Or you can just noodle around with a small time mindset and keep talking about microbrands.
I take your point about competing for conversation share:

we’re both competing [Microsoft and Stormhoek] for what they call “Conversation Share”. People have a choice; they can spend their limited time on earth talking about the X-Box, or talking about a small vineyard in South Africa. Their choice, not ours. All we can do is make their choice easier to make in our favor, using what limited resources we have. And that in turn sustains our markets. That in turn allows us to meet payroll.

And yes, both Microsoft and Stormhoek are ultimately selling the same thing. We’re both selling stuff that allows people to interact with each other more easily. Both software and wine are forms of social lubrucant. At the end of the day, “Other People” is all we have.

I take your point but its also kind of bullshit isn’t it? Demographics means you really aren’t selling the same thing, because the associated communities are fairly different. Now Starbucks – that is a worthy competitor as a place to have a conversation.

But coffee comes in a thousand flavors, and Starbucks benefits by offering personalised coffee. Well that is why God designed varietals, isn’t it? How about Stormhoek Viognier or Stormhoek Torrontes? How about mulled mine in Winter, with different spice mixes? Weekly specials- the variety could come in snacks associated with the wines. Teaching people about wine and food combinations. No takeaway? Why not – people could take wine home for their evening tipple, naking the afternoon just that little bit more fun. They could maybe burn a movie onto a DVD while they are there, if someone suggests a good one.

An awful lot of geeks, movers and shakers, seem to like wine. So why provide the offline meeting place for the online interaction?

You want to model that process? Check out this social software meets wine salon case study from Dwayne Melancon, called Ever-expanding Circle of Friends, with associated picture and wine tasting judgement.

Hey – you are regularly working on meetups, offering Stormhoek. You meet at the what-Mexican Cantina in London? Surely you can do better than that…
Open a Stormhoek with wireless and a huge flat screen TV for business presentations.
As big companies fall apart, and small ones nibble at the heels, as social software creates new bonds, that want to be firmed up face to face, there is surely an opportunity for someone to provide what you call a social lubricant. But in this argument the wine isn’t the lubricant, the franchised winebar is. What if I knew when I went to a major city and I dropped into the local Stormhoeks its likely I would already know some people there. that would be cool. 
And yes I know the tone of this blog is somewhat confrontational – but then again, its a love letter to Hugh, isn’t it? Drinking and swearing are not banned on the Hughtrain. Where would Scoble go for a glass of wine? If Stormhoek was in Seattle he’d be there.
Am I serious about this idea? It really doesn’t matter whether I am. But Jason and Nick might think about it.


  1. Cool ideas, James. Seriously. Thanks =)

  2. I’m such a geek. When I saw this headline in my news reader I thought it was going to be an article about the windows emulator, WINE. πŸ˜›

  3. Good rebuttal and ideas!!

    Hugh ack’s very graciously !!

    Yes, open a wine cafe, serving only cheese and wines. Stormhoek wines only served … Come to a cafe near you… Yeah I digg the idea.

  4. you digg it? please do mr dawson. i could do with the traffic… πŸ™‚

    cheers hugh. i wonder how much mckinsey would have charged for the same insight (or the fact grabbing exercise after the fact). i have another really good wine idea but i might just put it into practice. maybe we should do a collaboration?

  5. You’re not as ‘out there’ as you think on the morning wine. In my wine salon post (the one you linked to, above) I mentioned that we met with Neil and Babur the next morning for breakfast. We went to The Cock Tavern, which is under Smithfield’s Market. When we got there at 7:30 the next morning, people were having pints of beer, Bloody Mary’s, and other sorts of drinks along with their fry-ups.

    The all night workers could keep a morning wine bar (serving breakfast, of course) very busy, I suspect.

  6. yes dwayne is a truly lovely british loophole (now superceded by 24 hour drinking laws in many places) that pubs next to produce markets are allowed to open at times to suit the ours the traders need to keep. and sometimes a nip of brandy in the morning does indeed warm you up… (well it feels like it anyway). some would say very civilised. others would i am sure be horrified. certainly its not a puritan tradition. but then England made its decision about that a while ago…

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