Rick Tigner carries on the legacy of Jackson Family Wines’ founder with a focus on lands, brands and people

Rick Tigner, President, Jackson Family Wines

Rick Tigner, President, Jackson Family Wines

While many companies would be like a ship without its captain after the loss of its illustrious founder, Jess Jackson, the Jackson Family Enterprises had a very capable successor in Rick Tigner — one who would continue the family-owned winery group’s reputation and make mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay into the favorite of their millenial children too.

In April 2011, Jess Jackson died of cancer at the age of 81. He was an individual whose vision, perseverance and work ethic helped transform the wine industry.

He started the Kendall-Jackson wine business with the 1974 purchase of an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, Calif., that he converted to a vineyard. Nearly 40 years later, Jackson Family Wines is among the world’s most successful family-owned winery groups, composed of more than 35 individual wineries.

Jackson Family Enterprises is the company that oversees Jackson Family Wines, its global sales organizations and the Kendall-Jackson brand. Tigner was named president of Jackson Family Enterprises a year before Jackson passed away. A 24-year veteran of the alcohol beverage industry, Tigner has held positions at Miller Brewing Co., Gallo, Louis M. Martini and nearly 20 years with Jackson Family Wines.

“When I first became in charge of Jackson Family Wines three years ago, one of my goals was to actually get one team, one dream,” Tigner says. “If I can get all 1,200 employees going in the same direction at the same time, how powerful would that be?”

The company, its 1,200 employees and its more than 30 brands of wine, was solely in Tigner’s hands, and it was now up to him to keep the operation flourishing.

“Our company mission is to be the best wine company in the world,” Tigner says.

Here’s how Rick Tigner is taking Jess Jackson’s legacy and moving Jackson Family Enterprises forward.

Connect with consumers

In any industry, it is extremely easy to be hands-off with consumers. In the wine industry, many vineyards deal with distributors or trade partners and aren’t very tight with the consumer. Tigner says that isn’t the case at Jackson Family Wines.

“Innovation comes in different forms and fashions,” he says. “In the wine business, what you get is a lot of what I call the ‘sea of sameness.’ You look at a wine magazine ad and you see a bottle and vineyard, but it can be anybody’s bottle and anybody’s vineyard. The question is how do you connect with a consumer in different ways?”

Last January, Tigner was featured on the TV show “Undercover Boss.” He saw this as a new way for a wine company, especially a family wine company, to go on television and tell people about who the business is as a family, as a company and how it produces its products. The blogosphere gave generally rave review about Tigner’s TV appearance.

“The one thing that we’re always very, very focused on is quality,” he says. “We want to make sure that consumers know that whether it’s the Kendall-Jackson brand or the La Crema brand, quality is one of the foundations of our organization.”

To tell its consumers about its products, Jackson Family Wines is putting more focus on social media. The company recently hired a digital marketing team to make sure it has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“A lot of companies have pretty pictures,” Tigner says. “What we actually want is engaging content … versus the standard picture of a bottle in a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast magazine.”

Being involved in social media is becoming increasingly important, but it isn’t enough to just have a Facebook page; you have to engage with your fans and potential customers.

“If you look at Facebook, a lot of brands have Facebook, but the question is do you listen to the people who are on your Facebook page?” he says. “Do you react to how they talk about you on Facebook? We listen, and we learn from that activity. These are our friends and family who actually went online and signed up on our Facebook page, because they’re looking for interaction.”

Tigner says this interaction can’t be boring or constantly the same old thing. You have to be looking for ways to keep your audience involved and engaged.

“The key for us in regard to capturing our consumer is actually listening to them,” he says. “We create content that they want to see on video or in photos. We’ve done a lot of recipes. A lot of people want to talk about food and wine pairings. We have spent hours and hours and hours putting together a recipe program for our website.”

Jackson Family Wines has a lot of pages on its website and on its social media because even if a consumer doesn’t go to them all, those pages are there and available to them. The same thing goes for YouTube.

“If you go to YouTube and capture that consumer and they see a training video or a wine education video or a food-and-wine program, the next time they go look at your YouTube, you better have new content,” he says. “It has to be ongoing engagement, intriguing and informative. If you don’t have that, then you’ll lose your consumer. Those are things we’ve done to continually engage the consumer.”

What this kind of engagement helps Jackson Family Wines do more than anything is reach a more diverse audience. Many of the company’s consumers are baby boomers and social media is helping the brand reach the younger generations.

“We want to keep the baby boomers like myself who’ve been drinking our brands for a long time,” Tigner says. “But we want to capture the millennials. Who is that 25- to 35-year-old out there who has disposable income to buy premium wine? We have to give them the messaging and the content.

“We’re going out and making it new and fresh for them so it’s not just their mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay, but it becomes their favorite chardonnay and then their favorite cabernet or pinot noir.”

Educate about your product

The wine industry can be very complex due to the sheer number of wine styles, brands and varietals that make each bottle different. For Jackson Family Wines, it is crucial that its staff and its business partners are knowledgeable about the company’s products.

“In our company, we have 1,200 employees,” Tigner says. “In our sales team, there are about 400. I would argue we have the best sales team in the world and the best fine wine team.”

Tigner makes this argument because the company has four master sommeliers on staff and nine more in training out of a total of 180 in the U.S., who help to educate the sales team.

“They educate our sales teams, our distributors and our internal staff,” Tigner says. “We want to make sure everyone who works for our company, whether in IT, marketing or finance, has knowledge about wine and a passion about wine.”

Transferring that knowledge outside of the company is the hard part. Jackson Family Wines has to work with its distributors, trade partners and, more recently, directly with consumers to educate them on the products.

“In this business, 20 years ago, manufacturers or wineries like us spent all our time selling our wine to distributors and educating our distributors who then sold to retail stores who then sold to consumers,” he says. “About 15 years ago, that was still important, but the next piece was actually us communicating with our trade partners.

“In the last five years, all that is still important, but now we’re talking directly to our consumer, whether it’s online, in our tasting rooms or our wine club program.”

One of the biggest things related to education that Tigner has to keep aligned is the messaging Jackson Family Wines spreads both internally and externally.

“We broke down our strategic initiatives into three simple buckets,” he says. “You want to keep it simple so everyone knows what the plan is. Our strategy is lands, brands and people. So that when people want to know what are we working on, you can break it down to land, brands and people, and then we have the initiatives below that.”

To aid in keeping this message aligned and helping to push the company forward, Tigner has implemented management meetings.

“In the last three years since I’ve been put in charge, I’ve had more senior management team meetings,” he says. “We really didn’t have those before.

“Every quarter, we bring in the top 50 managers of the company plus outside guests and visitors and we talk about lands, brands and people. We talk about the strategic initiatives. I want to make sure everything we put in place at the beginning of the process is still being worked on.”

While his management meetings are a new tradition, there are some things that Tigner wants to maintain, like the company’s culture.

“When I first took over being the president, we had a great training program, recruiting program and succession program,” he says. “I want to make sure we have that exact same culture. Culture doesn’t show up on a P&L, but culture is very, very important to the company.”

The culture is something Tigner wants to be identical whether it’s the IT, finance, marketing or production departments.

“I want to make sure all our employees are treated similar and fair throughout the entire organization,” he says. “I take it upon myself on a regular basis to check in with middle management, lower management, field workers and sales workers because I want to make sure everyone has the right communication and we’re all on the same page.

“I spend most of my time making sure the messaging of the organization runs wide and deep.”

Just like a generous pour of chardonnay. ●

How to reach: Jackson Family Wines, (707) 544-4000 or www.kj.com

Takeaways

Connect with your consumers using new channels of communication.

Keep your content engaging and new.

Educate internally and externally about your product or service.

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