Weekly BonBonBar Photo: The In-Store Demo


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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.

7 Responses to “Weekly BonBonBar Photo: The In-Store Demo”

  1. Christy Says:

    I’m so happy for you! I remember those times too, very awkward, but awesome at the same time! I remember entering the stores with a sick feeling, but I always left with a big smile on my face.

    I can’t wait for your Oprah debut…it’s just around the corner! πŸ™‚

  2. Verena Says:

    It’s wonderful to hear that some of the shoppers were so enthusiastic about your products. I just went to the SF Chocolate Salon this weekend and was wowed by some of the chocolates I sampled there as well. A lot of times I would be hesitant to try a new product initially (it’s part of human nature after all), but once I know that care and devotion has been put into it, I’d be really impressed and want to try it. I guess some of the shoppers were feeling the same way.

    I’m sure this has been a pleasant experience for you. Good luck with more of your in-store demos and chocolate-making. I’m sure your sales will be booming soon! πŸ˜‰

  3. jenny Says:

    I’ve been trying selling cookies recently and I know exactly what you mean. Its a wonderful feeling when they try the sample and then have to buy them immediately. And I totally agree with the whole ‘you made them? from scratch-wow’ !!!

  4. Ask Bjørn Hansen Says:

    So cool that you got to see people appreciate your goods.

    “I make them myself”

    Vani and I were talking about that some time ago — I totally think you should make more out of that story. When you get a box of the chocolates there’s nothing of the, very cool, story about how YOU MAKE THEM – just you and a gigantic kitchen!

    I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben & Jerry still tries to sell on the story about two guys in a garage or wherever they made icecream. And it’s a good story — but for you it’s both true and right now. πŸ™‚

    – ask

  5. Aaron Says:

    Nina,
    I love your weekly photos. I miss your stories from your home kitchen and your restaurant experiences, but I suppose your production kitchen is where you are spending most of your time now! Glad to see you still have time for the blog…very impressive.

  6. Nina Says:

    Christy – Thanks! And ha, now that I think about it if Oprah had passed on a sample or didn’t like one, I’d be pretty sad. πŸ™‚

    Verena – Thanks! I think I’ll try just about anything, but it’s the buying part that I’m probably toughest on. Sometimes, I really like the sample, but I just don’t need anymore (I don’t usually eat large portions), or if I don’t like the sample, then walk on. And I’m considering trying to participate in the next LA Chocolate Salon.

    Jenny – Yeah, it seem so rare these days to meet the actual person who makes our food! But people always love to know. I think that part of the celebrity chef phenomenon has to do with people just wanting to know who’s involved with their food.

    Ask – Yeah, that’s true. I’ve been hesitant about it b/c it’ll change when I can finally hire someone…. but I really should take advantage of that “it’s just me” fact while I can. And when I hire someone, I’d be happy to have them and their personality known, too.

    Aaron – It’s amazing how much time this business takes! Technically, it’s only part-time, but there’s ALWAYS something to do that needs to be done. I guess doing it alone is part of that.

    And I keep meaning to make new things at home, but it always gets pushed to “next week” or it goes from Orange Sorbet to OJ. πŸ™‚ A couple weeks ago I actually developed a serious longing to fold egg whites into a batter… Weird, but something having to do with that should happen soon!

    Aaron –

  7. Tammy Coxen Says:

    I’m in a very similar position – just introduced my truffles to a new store, and they’re moving pretty slowly so far. I go in tomorrow to hand out samples for a couple of hours, crossing my fingers that my day will go as well as yours did!

    Like you, I live for the feedback. It’s what makes it all worthwhile!

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