You’ve seen them. You know, those people at the store. Hell, you may even look forward to seeing them . . . people giving out samples.
In January we took on a special marketing job for two mainland clients sampling their products in Kmart and Sam’s Club. In broad terms we were going to be the face of our clients in the marketplace since they could not be here themselves. Believe it or not, this is a fairly common practice since I hear that stores that do provide this type of service to vendors tend to charge a lot of money for the store to do it. Enter Isle Concierge.
The first was mix1 (@mix1), a protein and anti-oxidant drink that comes in five different flavors and is packaged in brightly colored bottles. For those that may not know, it’s protein based so it has it’s own distinct taste if you haven’t had protein based products. This is something you would drink as a meal on the go or would be good to drink after work outs. The second product was Bora Bora (@BoraBoraFoods) bars which are nutritional bars made up of all organic ingredients such as dried fruits, nuts, and grains. While they come in seven different varieties, we were only going to be sampling two types: Exotic Coconut Almond and Wild Pomegranate Pecan.
Believe it or not putting on a sampling, or ‘roadshow’ as it is sometimes called, takes more work than you would think.
Prep Work Involved:
- Knowledge :: Since this wasn’t our product we had to learn about it and even try the product before we could go into stores and sample it. There’s no worse situation to be in than being out on the floor when someone comes up to you and asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have the company that we’re sampling for provide us with information, brochures, handouts, or talking points for us to go over. Sometimes we don’t have this luxury and have to do research about a product on the company’s website. Whatever the case may be, knowing about the product being sampled is probably the most essential component of the whole operation.
- Logistics :: This involves knowing how much product you are going to have on hand to sample, knowing who store contacts are, knowing what kind of manpower you have, knowing what the timeline and dates for sampling are, supplies you are going to need on hand, and everything that goes with planning an event is all taken into account to make sure things run smoothly. Ideally you would like to just show up when required, pass out samples, and call it a day when done–no muss, no fuss.
- Presentation/Decor :: Perhaps you didn’t notice it at the time, but everything has a look. Any brand or product worth a grain of salt has a way that they want their product to be portrayed. Whether it’s a big tent or banners with the product’s name on it or, just the way the table is dressed, how the product is presented can sometimes be just as important as the product itself. Having whatever you need to present your product can be key to sampling.
Then we have the actual sampling itself. Now in my humble opinion, the goal of a sampling isn’t so much to sell the product to people (although that is a very important secondary goal) as it is to educate people about the product. Let’s face it, aside from those impulse buys near the checkout stand, how many of us actually buy food that we’ve never tried before? That is why samplings are so important–if you can have someone try out the product before buying it, and they like it, it’s not going to be a stretch for a customer to pick it up and throw it in their cart.
Of course the thing that will make or break any sampling is same as in real estate: location, location, location. A good location will give you two things: 1) high traffic and 2) high visibility. Near the store entrance, high traffic aisles, and near the registers are the preferred sampling spots. The further away you get from these kinds of areas, the longer your day is going to be.
Now just because you put food out in little cups for people take, doesn’t mean your job is over. It’s anything but. Here’s a list of people you need to be aware of when you’re behind that sampling table:
- The Average Customer :: The average customer is willing to stop at your table, try out the sample, possibly ask a question or two, and continue on their merry way. Let it be known I like average customers. Why? They’re bold enough to come up to the table and be open minded enough to at least try the product. Boldness + Open Mind = GOOD.
- The Strong Silent Type :: These customers are the ones that pass you by without looking at you or acknowledging you. It’s not that they’re mean, in fact they might be perfectly hospitable under other circumstances, but on the battlefield in store aisles–it’s war. The key is acknowledging them and inviting them over. Just offer up the courtesy ‘Hello, good morning/afternoon. Would you like to try some _____,’ is sometimes all you need. You might get them to open up, you might not, but anything stronger than this and you’ll lose every time.
- The Inquisitive Customer :: You’ll know these customers when you start to get a barrage of questions about the product. These customers could just be really curious or have legitimate health concerns about the product. Whatever the case may be, this is when knowing the product as well as being able to think quickly on your feet is essential. What happens when there’s a question that we can’t answer? That’s impossible because we have an answer for every question. Seriously though, when we are posed a question that we do not know the specific answer to, the follow up answer is generally ‘I’m not sure about that, but you can probably get the answer (here). ‘Here,’ in this case meaning a company website about the product, consulting with a doctor or nutritionist, or some other avenue where a customer can find out that answer. You never want to end with a simple ‘I don’t know.’
- Children :: Kids provide their own unique challenges during sampling. Most of the time they tend not to care what they’re trying, they’ll go through multiple samples, and the worst part–they don’t have purchasing power. I always suggest erring on the side of caution when children want to try samples by asking them if it’s ok with their parents (or whoever they’re with) if they can try the samples.
- Sample Pirates :: I’m not talking Captain Jack Sparrow here. These customers are the ones that raid your table, but it’s not gold or treasure their after, it’s booty of a different kind . . . in those little cups! It may come in the form of showing up and eating/taking more than two or three samples and continuing on, stopping and pretending to talk with you while they eat multiple cups, or trying to disguise their raid by coming around several times to make it seem like they haven’t taken that many (or even a combination of these tactics). Whatever the case may be, rest assured that they will relieve you of samples. The most you can do is remain vigilant and be aware of them. A good tactic to slow things down is to just to let the samples run out and wait till they move on before restocking.
In any case, giving out samples in little itty bitty cups isn’t something for the faint of heart. It takes time, careful planning, and some comfortable insoles. Remember that next time you go to the store.