Six years ago, two friends, Moritz Schreiner and Maximilian Schiefer, established a wine import business dedicated to getting South African wines into Germany. Recently, they have expanded their company operations and added digital software solutions to take South African wine sales online.
Moritz Schreiner and Maximilian Schiefer (both 26) were born on the same day and in the same hospital. They kept in touch throughout the years, and in 2014, while exchanging birthday wishes, found out they had coincidentally been accepted for the same university programme in Munich.
Max majored in Finance and Engineering, while Moritz focused on Informatics and Finance. Near the end of their studies, they flew to South Africa to visit friends and were blown away by its people, its scenery, and especially, its wines.
“It was something we’d never experienced before,” says Max. “I’d travelled a lot with my parents but never encountered such warm-heartedness and people who are genuinely interested in you and your story.”
As a result, the two friends spent a lot more time and money in the winelands than they’d originally planned and returned home with a deep love for South African wines as well as the beginnings of a business plan. Their very first import, in 2016, consisted of around 3000 bottles to share with friends and family in Germany.
One import quickly became many, and that year they launched The WineStore, an online retailer for the European market, spending their semester break in South Africa to find more wines to import, relying mostly on word-of-mouth and online searches. These days, Max & Moritz visit South Africa four or five times a year.
While Moritz was working as a strategy consultant and Max ventured into investment banking, gaining experience with mergers and acquisitions and business transactions for tech companies, their import business continued to thrive – in a large part due to the local support they received.
The WineStore was supplying retailers, businesses, hotels, restaurants, and even other wine shops. Their personalised approach and local business connections provided an attractive in-market route for many boutique wineries.
The problem was that many bigger producers had already established import relationships with long-term contracts in Germany. These often came with very restrictive conditions and exclusivity clauses.
Max wanted to know how many imports actually originated with the importers themselves, and how much came from organic cellar door sales back in South Africa. “We discovered that most of the time, it was between 70%-80% cellar door sales. That means the importers were only selling 20-30% in-market,” says Max.
“We realised many of these importers were basically logistics providers.”
Max and Moritz were sure they could do better. For most wineries, the system for capturing cellar door sales is still manual, paper-based, and outdated. This all gets scanned in and sent to the importer, who then sends the customer an invoice after a couple of days or weeks.
“Europeans are so used to buying online and having a 14-day grace period where you can send a product back without paying anything, that they do the same with wine purchases. In practice, a lot of the orders are cancelled or significantly reduced.”
The problem with this process is that these orders get registered as sales by the winery, but they don’t see the cancellations on the importer’s side.
Max and Moritz wanted to put the power back in the hands of the winery. The WineStore provides the wineries with iPads and a software on it, so that sales representatives can capture orders and the respective payments, check live stock in the warehouse and cross-sell related wines on the spot. “The best thing about that, is the cancellation rate is a lot lower – far below 1%.”
Their digital cellar door sales platform, providing wineries with an effective and easy-to-use solution for selling directly to European clients was only the start of their digital journey.
As The WineStore was starting to collect a lot of data for wineries from European visitors, they were not able to collect insights from all other visitors in a tasting room, restaurant etc. including from South African visitors. This is why Max & Moritz have together with their team developed tastric.
tastric is a data collection and data analytics tool that can be used to collect data from various sales channels including the tasting room, restaurant, official events and wine shows.
“The data is then aggregated, structured, analysed and transmitted to a winery’s personal dashboard and CRM system, where we help the winery with the customer segmentation and provide them with sophisticated e-mail workflows.”
Cellar door sales solution mockup
The aim of tastric is to help wineries better understand their customers, both domestic and international, and to build up their client base quickly and organically.
“tastric helps wineries collect more data, analyse this data, and organically build up and retain their customer base. The tool helps to improve the communication between winery and customers on an automated basis, with the aim of retaining customers and generating recurring revenues.”
That said, tastric isn’t in it for the money. “We want to help wineries modernise by providing a solution to collect actionable data in a way that actually enhances the tasting experience for consumers,” says Max.
They have implemented tastric with 26 wineries in South Africa to date and are seeing very good results. “Local wineries that use tastric increase their customer base eightfold on average, and increase their customer retention rate to around 50%,” says Max.
“We see a lot of potential for the South African wine industry and try our best to contribute to the digitalisation of this industry.”