Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Never Offer Free Samples

I recall when you could drive through the Napa wine country and sample wine form many wineries at no cost.  that became too popular, so they started charging for a "tasting" then give a discount on a bottle, etc.

How it came to be that food people gave free samples of their products, I'm not sure.  Maybe retail practices got backwardized, and I am completely familiar with slotting fees, returns, promotional dollars, etc.  All of which I reject.  If your product sells, then no need for all that.  If it does not sell, then none of that helps.  Don't work with people who will not work with you.  Don't divert production to where it's tough to make money.

Especially in food exports, some kid working off his kitchen table, putatively running Great Harvest International Foods will have you convinced he is the kind of imports and would like to test your range of wines, or you energy bars, or whatever.  Please fedex a sample.

Well, energy bars fedexed will cost you $175.  So you answer should be a link to a retailers website where he can pay $175 for a sample.  If he is legit, this is no big deal.  If not legit, then end of story.

Now, what if the buyer is legit, and demands a free sample.  What does the sample cost, all in to get to the buyer?  Say, $175?  Then you get ten times that value in trade information.

You find out all about the company, the buyer's open to buy, they seasons, distribution network, competitors, etc, inside info about this company, from this company.    You make the sale before you ship the sample, that is to say, you learn everything you need to know to get a sale from this buyer, before you send the sample. So by the time they get the sample, an order would be the most natural thing in the world.  that is to say, in all of your back and forth, you have found out, as noted in this blog three days earlier, just what it takes to get a sale, what the buyer wants, so you are selling that.

Or not, you find out, now knowing what the buyer wants, that you do not want his business.  And you then do not send the sample.  Keep testing.

Feel free to forward this by email to three of your friends.


Anonymous said...

Offering free samples may be a good idea if it's done for marketing purposes like Rohan Oza, a multi-millionaire, did. His theory is that 1 person influences 10 people so if you can get your product into the right hands then you will build marketshare. The trick is getting your product or idea to the right people. In Oza's case he would hand out free samples of Vitamin Water to actors/actresses and flight attendants.

Nick said...

Offering samples to increase product distribution was created a long time ago by Claude Hopkins. In his books "Scientific Advertising" & "My Life in Advertising" he talks about how he developed the method, and how he used sampling to make brands like Palmolive and Quaker Oats household names.

But these companies could support mass sampling in order to create distribution. They could support nationwide sales campaigns. And they were working with Hopkins who could guarantee increased distribution through his tested methods.

Single independent food exporters cannot work at this level of scale, and as John said: it's foolish to try to copy-exact a method engineered for mass markets down to your level of business.

That being said: I recommend reading Claude Hopkin's books, and learn the principles underlying his methods... just don't try to copy-exact his methods or you are liable to go broke sending out free samples.

John Wiley Spiers said...


Thanks for the book reference, I'll read it...

Anon, I disagree with your conclusion, since it is based on the example cited.

1. If valid, unless he opens his books, we cannot know if his business prospers due to the efforts claimed.

2. Is it reliable? Why would it work anywhere else? Where is his proof that handing it out to whom he did resulted in sales? Unless he can trace the sample to sales results, there is no knowing if the samples were effective, or if something else he was doing was getting the business. You can know, so to fail to do so is to invite delusion. See Ogilvy.

3. If the trick is getting it to the right people is valid, then it is no trick, it is something that can be replicated or it is pointless.

And that is my point, we can know, and we can build business knowing what we are doing, not relying on voodoo marketing, tricks, or whatever.