As I walked towards the Market Gourmet in Venice on Friday to hand out samples of my BonBonBar products for the first time in a store, I worried about my karma. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d bought a new product after being given a sample by a company’s rep in a store. Granted, I haven’t come across those types of samples much recently in stores and I buy very little prepared foods, but still… If I used myself as a barometer, the forecast was bleak… I inwardly copped to buying mostly out of habit, taking samples and running, and/or averting my eyes… and was willing to forgive anyone who did the same.
When I got into the store, I saw that only a few candy bars out of the 36 that I’d delivered on Monday had sold, and the marshmallows were still well-stocked, too. I’ve learned that introducing a new product with a relatively short shelf, small size, and high price in a store is tricky — how can you make it stand out from ALL the other products? how can you make it sell? how can people know that it’s good and worth it when they’ve never heard of it before? Customers whose eyes skim along the shelves — often in search of something that they know they want — don’t know about my products or me or my blog or website. Talking and tasting is really key in introducing new products.
Now when I go shopping in stores, I consider the hope behind each and every product sitting on the shelves… Behind each of them is a team of people — large or small — that hopes that all of the hard work of design, production, salesmanship, shipping, and so much more will have been worth it and you will want to pick it up, carry it to the register, take out your wallet, and give money in order to own their product.
I also wonder if the products are part of an order that came in months ago or that week — not out of spoilage concerns, but as a measure of how well it sells.
So, I set up a couple cutting boards with my candy bars and marshmallows on a table near the store’s chocolate display, and across from the side of the register. There were samples of the store’s guacamole, pico de gallo, and chips on the table next to mine. The first few customers had eyes only for the chips and dip, which admittedly, were excellent, but this unexpected competition was a little awkward. Sure, my confections could be the “dessert samples” of the table, but most people took a sample and walked away, or if they lingered, I had to time my own “Would you like to sample some candy bars and marshmallows?” in a perky yet unassuming tone just as they seemed to finish chewing.
But then things looked up. Customers came along who wanted my samples. I found that asking “Would you like to try some candy bars and marshmallows?” got a generally positive response, but adding “I make them myself” got an overwhelmingly positive response. People lit up immediately.
And from what I could tell, people generally loved them. And that’s when it’s really fun. That’s when you’re in it together with people — not as seller and customers — but as fellow appreciators, casually conversing. I’ve been very lucky with my products — people often get very excited about them and want to savor them and tell others about them. It reminds me of when I started this blog to tell others about culinary school and the good food that I was sampling, and it completely amazes me that now people are talking and thinking about my own candy bars and marshmallows in the same way.
One office nearby was especially abuzz about the lady giving out samples at the store — you can read Angie’s post about her take on the bars and marshmallows here (written the very same day! and be sure to check out her hair clips and artwork, too). Also, two different people left the store and returned with others to have them try samples.
When I left, my shelf space was proudly barer. And incidentally, when I delivered more bars two days ago, a customer called to have 8 of them put aside for her to pick up this week.
Of course, I’m happy that they sold, but I’m really happy about giving people food that I consider to be good and seeing them enjoy it. I just loved being in the store — I didn’t want the demo to end and I’m looking forward to going back.
And I really didn’t mind if someone sampled them and didn’t buy it, or didn’t want to try a sample, or didn’t like them (I was happy to give as many diff’t samples as people wanted, b/c it’s rare to love a company’s whole product line). It’s awkward for a second, but I know that everyone has their own palate… and they’re new products…. and they’re expensive (honestly, I was afraid that people who sampled and immediately took one, all happy and excited, would return it once they looked at the price on the bottom, but no one did). Maybe they’ll come back and buy another time, or tell someone about it, or fondly remember one nice bite… or not at all. I know what it’s like to sample food in stores, munching and walking away, sometimes remembering and sometimes forgetting about the product.
I did some eye-averting of my own, though. It didn’t seem right to stare and smile at people as they ate the samples. It’s awkward, and I think it affects how they taste. I want them to taste it fully before reacting, and I don’t want to rush that. I’m actually a little wary of people who immediately start praising them once it hits their tongue — how could they process all the flavors so quickly? Maybe the marshmallows can hold up to that — their flavors are quite up front — but chocolates work more on a time-release of taste principle, I think.
And my sales-speak usually focuses on the origin of the ingredients and a bit about technique. I need to focus more on what interests each individual person. I don’t want to chatter away, but I do want to talk about what matters to them.
And the most dangerous part of doing a demo? Having hours to discover new products myself in the store that looked so good. I got a buttermilk blue cheese from Wisconsin that was amazing on whole wheat bread.