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Demos Add Value in Aisles

This article originally appeared at

Demos Add Value in Aisles

A few months back, I was giving a seminar about growing sales, and the group talked about the value of a good demo program. This raised a lot of questions from the participants:

- How do we know demos are effective?

- What if you can’t afford to pay someone to do demos?

- What if your store is too small?

- How do retailers find more time to do demos?

With these questions in mind, I called John Palmer at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis and Stacie Traylor, demo coordinator for Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, to ask if they could offer some advice. John and Stacie are a couple of folks who know the value of a successful demo program.

Palmer, a man who fits his job to a “T,” offered a wealth of knowledge as we sat and had breakfast. Affectionately known as the Sample Saint and the Demo Demon, Palmer has become a fixture at the Wedge with customers young and old alike and is known for his hats (he creates one himself for every demo) that reflect the products he is sampling. One week it’s a tower of Amy’s pizza boxes hovering above his infectious grin, the next week it might be made from labels of Chocolove chocolate. As Palmer says, “The magic is in the hat,” no matter what it is made from. Once he catches a customer’s eye, he can get him or her over for a sample.

Whether or not you use a hat, the important thing to remember is that your demo should create a buzz.

Palmer’s eight tips for a great demo

1. Have a great story. This means doing a little homework. Customers love a story to go with the product—a good tag line brings them in.

2. Back up the story with printed handouts and information. A recent survey of shoppers found that customers who received product information with a sample were more apt to buy the product.

3. Offer coupons! Believe it or not, people do like coupons, and coupons work. (See the sidebar on “Palmer’s rules of thumb.”) According to The Packer 2004 fresh trends report, consumers wonder why produce departments don’t use more coupons.

4. Having a great demo person who commands attention is essential.

5. Be generous with your samples. If you are stingy, your customers will be, too!

6. Have a clean and handsome table to showcase the product.

7. Record a thorough demo report. John and Stacie both fill out reports that track what they’ve sampled, what it cost, the shelf price, etc.

8. Have an effective way to evaluate the demo. John does this by reviewing the average daily sale of the item for the week before; he then notes the sales to demo customers served, and the total sales achieved.

Palmer does demos three nights a week at the Wedge Co-op and has been at it since 1999.

Traylor, on the other hand, has been at it for about a year and is employed full-time. She organizes demos seven days a week, with a different focus each day, from 4 to 7 p.m.:

  • Mondays—The Vegan Kitchen

  • Tuesdays—Simple Soups

  • Wednesday—Savory Sandwiches

  • Thursday—Farm to Table, where customers meet farmers who grow their produce while sampling a tasty dish that is made from those products

  • Friday—Quick and Simple Dinners

  • On weekends, she presents “Cooking with Kimberley” from 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. on Saturday and “It’s in Season” from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays.

In addition to the above, daily free-standing demos feature sale items in departments throughout the store.

Traylor’s five tips for a great demo

1. Demo your sale items! A lot of companies will send you free product to demo when their items are on sale. Contact the companies directly or through their reps. Don’t be afraid to ask farmers to give product for demos—this is one of the best ways for both of you to introduce a new item.

2. Pick things that you or other staff members really like. Chances are that if you like it, others will, too. Remember, your enthusiasm is infectious!

3. Make the demo pleasing to the eye. It helps to have a nice bowl or plate; make hand-lettered signs on small stand-up chalkboards that draw people’s attention.

4. Have the product nearby. If people like the product and they can grab it right away, they will. If they have to walk across the store to find the item, they may forget about it by the time they get there.

5. If possible, have available some information about the product, as well as coupons. Many companies will send you educational materials, coupons, and recipe cards that can make your demos more effective.

Traylor mentioned also that demos are a great way to get crossover customers to try things that are new to their world. John echoed this with, “Ask yourself, would you pay $20.00 a pound for cheese you’ve never tasted?”

I’d bet each of us could think of items in the store that would do better if given a chance. Especially in produce, demos can make the difference in selling lemon grass or burdock, or in helping someone realize that a local grower’s tomatoes are worth $1.99/lb. when other stores are selling tomatoes for $.99/lb.

If you are going to do demos, make sure you let the department managers know well in advance. Both stores highlighted in this article have demo schedules and agendas that are released in time for managers to adjust their inventories and prepare for the increased sales.

Do demos work? Can you afford to pay a good demo person? Consider two final points:

  • The residual effect of a good demo lasts two to three weeks for a new product.

  • According to, in 2004, Wegman’s, a Northeast supermarket chain, increased its stores’ revenue by 9 percent after they began offering cooking demos and wine sampling.

I think it is evident that demos do work. No matter what size store you have, if you are not carrying out some sort of demo program, you are not only doing your customers a disservice, you are wasting valuable opportunities to grow your sales and maintain your place as the destination for the best food and fun in your community.

If you have questions and would like to contact John Palmer, you can reach him at the Wedge Co-op or Stacie Traylor can be reached at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, 916/669-0430 or

Palmer’s Rules of Thumb

  • Put a product on sale, and sales will double!

  • Add a demo, and sales will increase 10 times!

  • Add coupons to the demo of a product on sale, sales will increase 20 times!


Mark Mulcahy is an organic produce educator, based in Santa Cruz, California (


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