Dazzling Them with Demos

Discussion
May 09, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Warehouse clubs such as Costco do it. Niche grocers such as Trader Joe’s do, too. Upscale merchants such as Marshall Field’s definitely do it, and not just with perfume.


What these and a growing number of retailers are doing is stepping up the amount and quality of in-store product demonstrations because shoppers love it and it moves product.


Denise Rice, a mother of three, looks forward to her trips to Costco. She told the Kansas City Star, “When they’re set up with six or eight booths, I can have lunch.”


Retailers such as Costco understand that while Ms. Rice and others are taste testing products in the store, they’re also spending more time there and that invariably adds up to increased sales, even if the sampled product isn’t purchased.


Wayne Lafollette, a grocery manager with Price Chopper, said that has led stores to increase sampling activity. “Sampling has been around, but it was nothing like they do now”, he said. Mr. Lafollette has been in the grocery business for 35 years.


Dan Borschke, executive director of the National Association for Retail Marketing Services, said it’s not just about the amount of demos but the presentation, as well. “It’s food entertainment,” he said.


Moderator’s Comment: What is involved in developing a successful demo strategy and then executing it successfully in stores?
George Anderson – Moderator

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13 Comments on "Dazzling Them with Demos"


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Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
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Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
15 years 9 months ago

First, I believe they work better with less affluent shoppers and people looking to snack in the store. For these programs to work effectively, you need to have people who are trained or versed in the product they are trialing and they need to have a little passion. I have seen both extremes and have only bought from the ones that had a little passion and “salespersonship.”

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
15 years 9 months ago

Product demonstrations work well in upscale stores as well as other, less affluent venues. The keys to a successful demo include, most importantly, having enough product on hand to sell! Don’t run out of product. I emphasize this because many demos don’t reach their potential because the consumer has nothing to buy.

Make certain that the person who is providing the sample is knowledgeable about the product, is enthusiastic, and that the area where the sample are being presented is clean and inviting. Including recipes and health oriented information — if appropriate — moves product.

Most shoppers are looking for novelty. If it tastes good and looks like something they can execute at home…it usually ends up in the market basket.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 9 months ago
A successful marketing plan utilizes as many elements of the marketing mix as can be reasonably supported by budget, resource limitation, and specific goal setting. In the end, any successful marketing element works because it is aligned with the task associated with the product. Why does food sampling work? Because it’s almost impossible to communicate the product features and benefits on the package. Most products are NOT supported by media campaigns where print supports TV and is augmented by radio and so forth. And most products have moderately complex need-benefit messages. Demos work where the product features and benefits cannot be well communicated via packaging. There may or may not be a media campaign as well, but this is not a prerequisite. Distinctive product features that deliver actual differentiated benefits in a tangible way are the guts of a successful demo. Ask these questions. Do I have a demonstrable, competitive distinction which can be experienced in a tangible way? (Lifestyle identification is seldom influenced by demos). Will the experience of this product distinction generate an… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

Spending a little extra to get good demo people would be my first priority. There is nothing I hate more than going into a supermarket, supercenter, or warehouse club and being offered a sample from someone who does not look clean or appealing, along with a disgruntled attitude.

I was in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago visiting a Wal-Mart SuperCenter. In Puerto Rico, being a demo person in a store is considered a “good job.” I only saw beautiful women with outgoing personalities working the demos. These women seemed to be getting a lot of respect from the customers, whereas, in the US, the job is considered somewhat demeaning.

The sizzle sells the steak. Go to any state fair and see who is getting the most attention demonstrating their products — professional demonstrators/entertainers or some temp worker off the street.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

As with anything, it’s all about execution. If a retailer really decides they want to demo product for the purposes of incremental sales increases, then they will develop a real program. If not, then you’ll see the most common form of demos. That is, a paper table cloth on a card table, with something cooking in an aged electric frying pan, usually a senior aged person, a vocabulary of only ‘Would you like to try ___ today,” and nothing to ‘go with’ surrounding the demo. It’s a matter of ‘we have to,’ not a matter of we believe in it and really want to use this to enhance the experience. So, in the end, this, like anything else, is a matter of execution.

The word I like and cringe about at the same time is ‘theatre.’ I’d settle for basic quality experience enhancement first. Then, graduate to the razzle dazzle that could carry the label of ‘theatre.’

Marilyn Raymond
Guest
Marilyn Raymond
15 years 9 months ago

With food demos, having suggested accompaniments available to taste with the demo product is important. But most important is having product and key ingredients right beside the demonstration that one can buy along with the recipe card so that trial becomes painless. Wegmans is another one who uses their chefs to demonstrate recipes – not just one product but a grouping of products. With the cost of one demonstration, several new products can be tried.

In non-food, particularly beauty aids, having a well versed spokesperson selling the benefits is imperative to gaining trial.

Income is not a factor in whether to do demos – more important would be their interest in the category.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

All good points. Preparation is so important. If your product has special needs or you want a sense of theater, communicate that to the demo agency. Get your whole pitch to the demo people themselves; printed materials, etc. Maybe let the demo people take the product home the night before, so they can try it and be familiar with it. If the store is in a double-coupon market, factor that into your costs beforehand. Be realistic in your expectations. One study I saw said fewer than half (personally, I’d say a lot fewer than half) of shoppers try your demo’d product, and about 10% of them actually buy the product. And perhaps 10% of this final group become regular users. All this is on the optimistic side, in my opinion. So without a lot of foot traffic in your store, the payoff is slow. It’s more about building relationships over time than it is about ringing the register on the day of the demo.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

Two thoughts spring to mind – the feel good factor and the wow factor. The former is what makes perfumes and makeovers so popular in department stores but can be applied to luxurious tastes as well when planning a food demo. Even a simple food, like an apple or a mango, not necessarily some hugely expensive handmade alcohol-filled chocolate, can do it. It’s all in the presentation, which is where the wow factor comes in. Whether kept sweet and simple or razzmatazzed up to the hilt, the product needs to stand out. And while I wouldn’t argue with David about the demonstrator looking neat and clean, I do not think that it is essential to hire gorgeous women or hunky men. The appeal should be in the product.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
Demos are clearly a valuable part of retailing, but probably NOT for selling a manufacturer’s products. Notice this important distinction: “Retailers such as Costco understand that while Ms. Rice and others are taste testing products in the store, they’re also spending more time there and that invariably adds up to increased sales, even if the sampled product isn’t purchased.” The adding “up to increased sales, even if the sampled product isn’t purchased” is the key. Demos create an attractive atmosphere that may affect a substantial swath of the store, without having much impact on sales of the product demo’d. In fact, if you look at the cost of the demo, the share of shoppers reached, and actual lift, it is doubtful that any of this makes any sense for a manufacturer (other than maybe creating some buzz with the retailer). If anyone has some economic data showing otherwise, I’d love to see it. But from here it looks like demos are great for retailers but are very nearly a total bust for manufacturers. So how… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 9 months ago

As a former supplier to Costco (Mrs. Fields Frozen Cookie Dough), we were not charged substantial slotting fees but were required to pay for demos. It worked out great, due to their professional demo staff, our product, and Costco’s reasonable distribution charges.

A demo requirement so far unmentioned is adequate room. Costco is set up, traffic and room-wise, to do it right. Cramming demo stations randomly into supermarket nooks and crannies, with no regard to traffic flow, can kill it quick. Supermarkets – where sidestacks and displays normally occupy odd spaces – don’t easily embrace product demonstrations.

Franklin Benson
Guest
Franklin Benson
15 years 9 months ago

Looking for a sales lift that is directly measurable to demos is like looking for direct results from any kind of marketing campaign. It cannot reliably be done. You can find a correlation between sales and marketing dollars spent, but you can always argue that sales would have gone up anyway.

Singling out demos as a more effective or less effective form of marketing is a quixotic quest – because marketing is not a science, it is an art. There will not be completely reproducible effects from the same process time after time.

I think retailers and manufacturers would be better off if they stopped pretending that they can get scientific results from any form of marketing program, demos or otherwise, and instead agreed to just spend some money on demos for reasons of atmosphere and brand recognition.

jim mcadoo
Guest
jim mcadoo
15 years 9 months ago

One segment where demos are extremely beneficial is Pet Supply retailers. Companies such as Nutro spend a significant portion of their marketing budget on in-store demonstrations and they’ve been extremely successful.

Kevin Sterneckert
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
It is important to recognize both Retailer and Supplier have a Brand Strategy they wish to convey to the consumer. Rather than conducting ‘Demos for the sake of Demos,’ a well planned and executed sampling program that integrates advertising and/or in-store thematic events, will ensure maximum sales and impact with the consumer. A regular presentation of samplings to the customer (a common Strategy) can be layered into the Retailer and Supplier merchandising and promotional plans with solid preplanning. The tactical execution for product demonstrations at store level is where it all happens. Experience shows that superior execution at retail has the following elements: 1. The product message is simple and direct. 2. Demos are located close to the shelf/display where the product is located. 3. Hand-outs are provided whenever possible. Coupons, recipes, and information brochures are very popular. 4. And of course, demonstrators are asking for the Sale! The level of interest in product sampling is escalating. CPG companies report the continued fragmentation of media options for consumers to receive their message is worsening. Notwithstanding… Read more »
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