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Winter 2006 Show Offs!

What’s New in Demo

Show me! It’s not only the state slogan of Missouri—it’s what every customer wants when they’re shopping, especially for new, improved, inventive, unusual or otherwise interesting products they’re not likely to buy unless they see it in action.

You can’t begin to fully appreciate the benefits of the Ultrasonic Stain Cleaner by Ultimass Corp. until you see it magically remove a stain from clothing. It’s impossible to be soothed or invigorated by the essential oils of an aromatherapy product without first smelling it. And you can’t have fun with the spiny Flashing Fun-Ball by Awesome Specialties International until it’s tossed around and you see it light up.

Product demonstration: It’s an age-old technique, the essence of the infomercial, and at the heart of specialty retail, especially on carts and kiosks. Why? Because it works. It’s the before-and-after, the look-at-this, the convincer, the closer. “Demonstration helps sales, because people see results in seconds, and they get very excited,” says Gabby Stern, CEO of Obey Your Body (Bensalem, PA) nail care and other Dead Sea products.

Seeing certain products work not only helps convince the customer of its worth as a gee-whiz or must-have, but can also push an impulse button in shoppers who would otherwise walk right by. The silky texture of a cream on their skin or the joy a talking plush animal brings to their child’s face stirs emotions in shoppers that a lotion in a bottle or a toy in a box never could. That emotional pull is a big reason that certain toys, bath and body products, gadgets, novelties and other items sell better, often remarkably better, when they’re demonstrated.

“The ability to sell through demonstration is a big advantage that carts have over other retailers,” says Tim Runner, president of Awesome Specialties International (Mission Viejo, CA). “Cart operators can demonstrate how a product works and then spend time one-on-one with customers, explaining the product’s attributes in detail.” There’s another factor at work: the relationship demo creates a bond between the customer and the demonstrator… and, if the customer watches the whole demo, the slight sense of obligation to buy, and they do.

For most demonstration products, it’s important that the price is within the impulse-buy price range. “In most malls, that will be $20 and below,” says Runner, although the limit may be $25 or even $30 in malls with more upscale clientele.

Showing a product off is an effective tool for a wide range of product categories. Here’s a look at some of the ones that are most commonly demonstrated at carts and kiosks, and some new items in those categories.

Fun, fun, fun

Showing kids, their parents and gift-givers how much fun a toy is to play with is crucial to the selling process. ASI’s Musical Baton, for instance, plays a march, and lights flash to the beat. “If a girl walks by, you can ask her, ‘Can you march?’” says Runner. “When she replies ‘Yes,’ hand her the baton and say, ‘Can you show me?’ Now try to pry it out of her hand. There’s a much greater probability of prying $10 or $12 out of Mom’s hand than prying the baton out of the girl’s hand.”

According to Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association, special-feature plush toys and large dolls sell particularly well when they’re demonstrated. Special-feature dolls include toddler dolls that sing, dance or incorporate interactive play, or baby dolls that coo, cry or drink from a bottle. “They’re attention-getters for kids, parents, grandparents and other gift-givers,” she says.

“The special-feature plush category can offer magic to a child in the form of a laughing, singing, dancing or otherwise interactive ‘friend’ fashioned after a licensed character such as Elmo, Tigger or Dora the Explorer, or a generic character such as a teddy bear or dinosaur.”

Also popular: radio-controlled cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, and sea and air vehicles. Demonstrating these toys is especially effective not just with boys (who all seem to love them), says Rice, but with their fathers, grandfathers and others who may consider them for gifts. Demonstrating RC vehicles also helps the mothers better understand these toys, which is important because “they tend to be pricier items,” she says. For instance, it’s difficult to imagine the unique stunts of the new five-wheeled Ramper by Ultimass Corp. (Miami, FL) without seeing it demonstrated. “It does more stunts and runs on a single charge for longer than other cars,” says Eduardo Perl, company president.

Demonstration also helps move “youth electronics” such as robotic pets, or new “smart gear” such as kids’ camcorders. “It helps kids and parents who are shopping together, as well as grandparents and other gift-givers who are seeking to understand this category and the degree of ease for kids to operate the products,” says Rice. Ultimass’s ZippyMat, a flexible electronic keyboard, has several music channels and a bunch of fun features. It lights up, makes animal sounds, and can be rolled up and taken anywhere, even the beach. “It’s a great demonstration product,” says Perl. “People love them.”

The novelty of it

Some products are so novel that prominently displaying them is enough to attract shoppers to the cart—but not quite enough to make the sale. That requires demo, and that’s just what shoppers want. Take the Ski Skoot Combo-Pak, for instance. It’s a scooter with wheels that morphs into a ski in a matter of seconds. It also folds up and comes with a carry bag. According to Ken Moscaret, president and co-founder of Ski Skoot, Inc. (Sammamish, WA), the company sold about 2,000 last year in a limited-distribution test market, and broadening its reach this year. While distribution channels for the Ski Skoot include big-box retailers, sporting-goods stores and the Internet, Moscaret says carts and kiosks are an ideal venue because of their demonstration capabilities.

“We’ve had a lot of success when the product is out of the carton and parents and kids are able to touch it and get a demonstration of how the ski attachment goes on or off in five seconds,” he says. “There are millions of scooters in people’s garages, and they all look the same. When people see one with a ski attachment, it shocks them, and they come over to see it. It’s so new and radical—it’s one of those you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it products.” Prices range from $80-$100, which is higher than the typical cart product, but that doesn’t worry Moscaret: he notes that when Razor-style scooters first became popular, they sold for that and more in specialty retail venues.

Many novelty items are low-cost impulse buys: they’re so fun, radical or ingenious that some shoppers just have to have them as soon as they spot them. ASI has high hopes for its Topless Sandal, which sticks to the sole. “It’s like a flip-flop without the strap,” says Runner, “so there are no tan-lines—and they’re great for pedicures.” To demonstrate them, he suggests wearing them, pointing to your feet and saying, “Look at this!” Show them off and when you have the customer’s attention, answer their questions, usually about how long the adhesive lasts (it has a year’s warranty), what to do when it wears off, and if it makes your foot sticky (it doesn’t). Runner suggests holding one in your hand, too, “so customers can feel the special adhesive [and] see that it leaves no residue.”

Gadgets make great impulse buys. No one realizes they “need” them until they see them in action. Heavens Therapy (Boca Raton, FL) has a couple of new massagers that are crowd-pleasers when they’re demonstrated. The patented Head and Body Massager has two speeds and different attachments that help it soothe the head, back or elsewhere. The Hand Massager comes with a handle and can be held at various angles. Customers get to see how the massagers look, how they work, and best of all, how they feel.

Hard to resist

The aforementioned Ultrasonic Stain Cleaner from Ultimass uses ultrasonic high-frequency vibrations to clean clothing and is marketed as a “portable washing machine.” Intriguing! (But how does it work?) And when it’s demonstrated, it evokes audible wonder. Also intriguing: their Portable Steambrush—”No more ironing needed!”—which makes crisp creases and brushes away lint. (There’s even an attachment for cleaning windows.) But if you don’t demonstrate it, Perl says, “it’s very difficult to tell how many things you can do with it [if it's] on the shelf.” And shoppers won’t want to stand in the middle of the mall reading product packaging to find out.

And finally, let’s get personal. If you can put Baby’s or Pop’s or Fido’s name on it, it will sell better. And if shoppers can watch you put the name on, it sells even better. Personalized products have long been the domain of carts and kiosks; that’s not news. But with advancements in technology, names are inserted into products faster than ever, and that can make a big difference in wowing the customer and making the sale.

And what if you could put a name into a product? ASI’s children’s music recordings let you do that: put a child’s name into the songs right on the spot, and the customer hears the playback then and there. “Type [the name] into the computer, and right away songs with the child’s name inserted into the lyrics will start playing,” says Runner. “Grandmas go ga-ga when they hear little Johnny’s or Mary’s names in songs.”

Touch test

Some products have to be touched or come into contact in some way with the customer. With lotions, soaps, scrubs, scent and the like, shoppers want to know how these products look, feel and smell as well as how they work. And because bath and body products react with an individual’s body chemistry, they’re a natural for product demonstration. That’s the case for about 90 percent of the products marketed by Heavens Therapy, which include a skincare line of Dead Sea products, an “instant facelift,” hot and cold gel packs—including a “snap pack” whose gel heats up when you “snap” the metal disc. Clearly, no one would know the snap pack’s value or ease of use if sales staffers don’t demonstrate it.

“When we demonstrate our products, about 50 percent of the people will make a purchase,” says Frank Friedland, CEO of Heavens Therapy. And another 30 percent will book a party through the company’s at-home party division and get free products, he says.

For fragrance and scented products, it’s difficult to convey a scent and its effects with words alone. “People are very sensitive to smell… it’s important to let people inhale the aroma,” says Kelly Holland Azzaro, owner of Ashi Aromatics (Banner Elk, NC), a maker of aromatherapy products, and VP of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy. And it’s not only about demonstrating scent but also texture, as with gels and scrubs so that “people can feel the texture,” says Holland Azzaro. “People also like to feel the consistency of creams and lotions to determine if they’re too oily.”

Obey Your Body’s complete nail-care kit contains a shaper, buffer, and cuticle oil and cream with Dead Sea minerals. “It can be demonstrated in a minute or less on one or two nails,” says Stern. To demonstrate the company’s hand scrub, the salesperson will do one hand and then compare it to the other. “You can see 30 years’ difference between the two hands in some cases,” he says. That kind of demonstrated difference sells.

Temptu Body Art’s (New York) Paint-on Parlors and Air-Brush Parlors create temporary tattoos and body art by means of special paint and stencils. According to VP Tara David, cart operators can sell kits and demonstrate the body art on a shopper for free, or they can sell their services by charging for individual applications of body art. Applications are “quick and they’re easy to learn to do,” she says. “Once you do a temporary airbrush, you might sell a paint-on kit for the customer to take home. It’s artistic and fun. People like it.”

Rules and regs

It won’t come as a surprise that malls have rules about demonstration and, generally speaking, they’ve become stricter in recent years, in large part due to a consumer backlash to aggressive sales techniques. “The days of ‘hawking’ are over,” says Runner. “Malls have become more critical of hard-sell tactics.” As common-area sales staffers have grown more aggressive, such as jumping out at or in front of shoppers, blocking their way, and/or “chasing” after them with the “Can I ask you a question?” gambit after the shopper’s “No thanks,” consumers have started to complain.

“If people feel they’re getting attacked by salespeople, they complain to mall management. Mall managers want shoppers to have a pleasant experience, and they don’t want you to be a pest,” says Runner. At Monument Mall (Scottsbluff, NE), says marketing director Tera Willman, “we allow our temporary tenants to demonstrate their products and a draw a crowd to their cart that way. But they have to stay within their cart area—and there’s no hawking allowed.”

Malls also frown on loud noises, Runner says. “If you have a product that involves music or other sounds, you have to set it up so that it’s loud enough for people near you to hear it, but not so loud that it bothers people.” In malls with a good deal of background noise, “[it's] impossible to play our children’s music at a low volume.” To solve that, they have earphones at the cart. Carts selling Heavens Therapy products use speakers that make the sales presentation’s sounds audible only within three feet of the booth. They do that “so that it doesn’t upset the mall,” says Friedland.

As with sound, fragrance can be invasive and unwelcome, too, and sellers are typically restricted to applying them within limits of the cart. “A lot of people are ultra-sensitive to smells,” says Holland Azzaro. For that reason, specialty retailers usually need mall permission to use a diffuser to scent the air. It’s also why department stores as well as common area retailers no longer spritz unsuspecting shoppers without asking their permission first.

With bath and body products as with make-up, malls are concerned with the hygienic aspects of demonstration and sampling. Make-up sampling and demonstrations require cotton swabs and puffs, spatulas, and paper strips instead of open jars, bottles, trays and compacts. Holland Azzaro says samples on individual paper sheets and sanitary, disposable mini-spatulas are a must, so that sample jars aren’t contaminated by finger-dipping. In addition to taking precautions, many of Heavens Therapy’s products have anti-bacterial properties, which Friedland says malls are pleased about, for hygiene reasons. Demonstration in the common area can also be dangerous in more immediate and obvious ways. Malls prohibit any demonstration that puts the product in the shoppers’ path or could physically harm someone. “You can’t bounce balls or fly toy airplanes through the mall because of the liability issue,” says Willman. “Instead, we had a customer set up remote-controlled vehicles on a tabletop”-a “self-service” demonstration approach that solved the problem.
vThe Mall of America (Bloomington, MN) has 100 carts and kiosks but strictly limits the number that can offer demonstration products at a given time. “We want our customers to be able to shop freely without the pressure that demonstration adds,” says Lisa Taylor, specialty leasing manager. “Demonstration programs have to be policed, and in order for us to keep the level of quality we want, we keep the number down to a minimum.”

And some malls allow no demonstration at all. The Shops at Prudential Center in Boston, which has a year-round cart program, is one of them. “We have three Class A office buildings with lobbies in the center, and we have some people walking through two, three or four times a day,” says Karen Cavallo, assistant property manager for Boston Properties, which owns and manages the center. “We don’t want them to get annoyed,” she says. “But we’re atypical.”

Of course, most malls do allow and indeed encourage some demonstration. “The specialty leasing agents I’ve spoken to about the Ski Skoot Combo Pak liked that it’s a demonstration product,” says Moscaret.

Making the sale

With mall restrictions being what they are, specialty retailers have to rely on more subtle tactics to draw shoppers to your cart. “Create an atmosphere that will make them want to come up to you,” says Holland Azzaro. “Make the cart look beautiful,” suggests Friedland. Plus “you can draw people in with special giveaways, such as a free massage or free product with a purchase.”

Runner is a fan of casual, friendly greetings to passersby rather than hard-sell tactics. “Smile-show them you’re having fun with the product,” he says. “Establish communication in a non-invasive way. Then you can talk about product features.” If you’re low-key, he says, “friendly and laughing through the whole thing, they’re more inclined… to try something.”

For products with complicated features, it’s vital to educate sales staffers on what it is they’re selling. “There should be hands-on or in-class training about how to market a product,” says Holland Azzaro. “You can’t have people selling aromatherapy products if they know nothing about the difference between natural and synthetic products.”

Then after the demonstration, you must have techniques in place to facilitate the sale. With a product like ASI’s children’s songs, “almost no one says, ‘I don’t want it,’” says Runner. “The most common response is, ‘That’s great. I’ll be back.’ [So] you have to have a strategy that… makes it essential that they buy now. You have to say, ‘If you get this now, I’ll… ‘ and have some kind of closer” to fill in that blank. In the case of those songs, the closer might be to offer a small giveaway, such as a coloring book that’s tied to the song’s theme.

Secret sharer

If you don’t demonstrate it, that product may be specialty retail’s best-kept secret. And while secrets sell in spy novels, they don’t sell at the mall. Shoppers want to see it in action, see how it looks, feels and smells… how it operates, whether it works as promised, and if it solves the customer’s problem or meets the need. The best and arguably only way to do that-and make the sale-is to show it off.

Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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