Demonstrator, store selection critical

Fortunately for companies like ours, in-store sampling continues to be regarded by manufacturers as a critical piece of the product launch mosaic.Removes obstaclesThe compelling and enduring feature of in-store sampling is that it creates consumer trial in an environment that eliminates...

Fortunately for companies like ours, in-store sampling continues to be regarded by manufacturers as a critical piece of the product launch mosaic.

Removes obstacles

The compelling and enduring feature of in-store sampling is that it creates consumer trial in an environment that eliminates the remaining obstacles to buying – the consumer can hear the product story, ask a question, and get an answer; the product is readily available to go into the shopping cart; and, finally, the combination of feature pricing and couponing establishes an attractive price that effectively blocks competitive brands.

It all happens within minutes, at the same place.

Not surprisingly, sampling budgets (like all budgets) have come under greater scrutiny during the past several years. This will continue. In hard times, manufacturers must maximize every marketing dollar. Suppliers who respond to this challenge will survive and grow.

A sampling company that is ‘smelling the coffee’ will take every possible step to heighten the manufacturer’s sales during the activity.

Sales offset costs

Incremental case sales offset the out-of-pocket costs associated with sampling. It is not uncommon for a sampling execution (a mere 20 hours) to generate up to 26 weeks of regular store sales.

More training for demonstrators on how to close the sale is obviously important. Ensuring that they are armed with information and techniques to overcome objections is equally significant.

Filling stores with inexperienced, minimum-wage bodies to reduce the manufacturer’s costs is a counter-productive strategy. The quality of the demonstrator makes an enormous difference. Economies should be sought in other areas.

The amount of care that goes into selecting the individual stores for a sampling program pays out every time.

Store features

Manufacturer sales departments and sampling companies working together will optimize results by selecting only those stores that historically perform, that will bring in sufficient stock, that cater to the target demographic group, and that enjoy high traffic.

This is not glamorous work – but it does not cost more money to get this key step right.

Looking ahead, sampling companies are both well-positioned and well-advised to give more of themselves to their clients.

Remember, the demonstrator is in the store. What else can he or she do while there to help the client without adding to the client’s costs?

It does not take a lot of time to gather competitive information on shelf alignment, facings, distribution levels, and so on.

This valuable information can be fed back to the client in an organized format for internal use.

Get managers on-side

Store manager attitudes can also be quite easily secured. Like most of us, they like to be asked how a product, a brand or a company could perform better.

Depending on the product being sampled, the demonstrator will interact with 500 to 1,000 consumers during a single execution.

What consumers say, and what manufacturers want to know, is not hard to capture. Demonstrators can also do merchandising work at the completion of a program to extend its life into the next week.

Telephone numbers from sweepstakes ballots can be used to track post-purchase consumer reaction.

Giving more also means striving for ways to add energy and hype to a conventional sampling program. Revisions to booth design, a premium item in place of a coupon and changes in demonstrator apparel are typical opportunities for innovation at little or no extra cost to the client.

Sampling companies will need to develop alternative environments to generate consumer trial that offer more precise targetting and/or greater immediacy, traffic and impact.

The conventional supermarket and drugstore, while offering the ability to complete the sale, are less than ideal for special event executions, nor can they deliver certain consumer groups, such as teens, in volume.

Our company has recently concluded an agreement to sample and coupon at Toronto Transit Commission subway stations.

This alternative offers the client a chance to distribute more than 100,000 samples or coupons in one day directly into the hands of consumers across Metropolitan Toronto.

In summary, service companies need to appreciate the challenge facing most manufacturers – the need to grow with the same or fewer resources.

Companies that can take work off the client’s desk, make last year’s budget do more, and innovatively meet needs will grow.

George Evans is president of Instore Focus, a Toronto-based sampling company.