Natural Foods Merchandiser

How they do it

Most of your shoppers would never buy an apple or a pumpkin without picking it up, examining it and even smelling it. And you've watched as shoppers snatch up produce when you take the time to prepare it for them to taste. Why would you expect them to go home with a pricey face cream that they haven't even smelled, let alone tried?

Need more PC know-how? Visit NFM's Personal Care Guide.

Some stores have a strong grasp on how to connect shoppers to their products. NFM went to the cream of the personal care retailing crop to get the scoop on how these retailers sample and demo.

PC goes deli-style at Lush
"Our stores are designed to be interactive," says Brandi Halls, public relations manager for Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, based in New York. "Products are displayed so they can be picked up, smelled and touched." Products are spread on tables and in bins resembling cheese in a deli or sweets in a candy store—all available for sampling.

"The fact that the majority of Lush's products are displayed naked without any packaging invites customers to interact with the products," Halls says. "Just as you would personally select that perfect apple from the pile at the grocery store, we encourage customers to do the same when selecting a bath bomb or body butter. Everything about the design of the store screams, ‘Touch me!'"

Origins not afraid to give a little
At Origins stores, sales "guides" are happy to give out samples that shoppers can take home and try before they buy. And, if that weren't generous enough, they'll offer to do a mini-facial and makeup application. "In the majority of our stores we have a sink where the customer has access to all the products and can experience them," says Stacy Panagakis, senior vice president of North American sales and global education for Origins, based in New York. "[The mini-facial] is not only a great way to try the right product for your skin but also to receive personalized and expert recommendations by our guides." Beyond training its guides about the benefits of natural ingredients and essential oils, Origins educates them about skin physiology.

Special events reel in beauty shoppers at Pharmaca
Though shoppers file into Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy every day looking for help with skin or hair issues, the company's annual Spa Day event each May is a special chance to make contact with consumers through the personal care department. Shoppers can enjoy a mini-facial or a makeover, and talk personally with vendors of Pharmaca's personal care lines, says Leslie Norcross, front store manager for Pharmaca in Boulder, Colo. The stores hand out vendor samples and hold raffles. Window signs and a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertise the store's coming events so passersby can get excited about the upcoming spa day.

Aveda draws customers in with soothing sensory rituals
Ever wonder how to pull grocery shoppers into the PC department? Take a hint from Aveda. To put harried customers at ease—and potentially extend the time they spend with the company's products in-store—Aveda employees invite shoppers to take part in one of seven complimentary sensory rituals.

A cup of soothing caffeine-free tea offered to shoppers as they walk into the store invites them to relax and stay awhile. A scalp, shoulder or hand massage allows employees to interact with customers, and a makeup finishing touch, skin care ritual or "aroma sensory journey" gives shoppers experience with products without direct pressure to buy. "That's the value-added benefit that's a big part of our philosophy," says Adrienne Coléon, global communications manager for Aveda, based in New York. "You're really able to try the products through experience."

Help PC customers feel at home

  • If you have room, set up a folding screen to add a touch of privacy to facial treatments or makeovers.
  • Fill a slow cooker with fresh towels so shoppers sampling your wares can enjoy the luxury of a hot towel.
  • Invest in a comfortable reclining chair for shoppers to relax in while they're experiencing a demo.
  • Add a couple of mirrors and a few high-quality lights to set the personal care department apart from the rest of the store. —Cheryl Bottger, natural products industry consultant and former retailer

Demos are more important than ever-here's how to do them better

A growing number of shoppers are buying their natural personal care products in the mass merchandise channel, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS. So now is the time to make your PC department more alluring than ever.

"In a grocery store environment, only around 7 percent of customers in the store come in and buy PC," says Lynea Schultz-Ela, founder and owner of A Natural Resource Consulting, based in Hotchkiss, Colo. "If the store can get customers who are buying produce to just cross their barrier, darn it if they won't be selling toothpaste."

One of the keys to successful sampling and demos is hiring the right person to do it. "PC is all about beauty, efficacy and engagement in a personal manner. If it's ‘personal care,' you want personal help," Schultz-Ela says. Finding employees with an engaging personality helps, she says. "They should be willing to reach out to the customer, should actually be excited about the product and have a high degree of passion for ingredients and efficacy."

"At [beauty retailer] Sephora, there's a demo every time someone walks into the store," says Cheryl Bottger, an independent consultant to the natural products industry and a former retailer. "We could learn from that." Sephora can provide such a high level of service because the company invests greatly in educating its staff. "They do that very well," Bottger says. "They train the people in their products and invest in teaching them how to sell." Bottger says naturals retailers should take full advantage of education and training provided by manufacturers. Also, occasionally bringing in an aesthetician from a local beauty school can be an inexpensive way to add credibility to your department, she adds.

"If you go to a department store facial care section, there are all these women who are demo people—they get it. They make sure the person who comes in goes home with a fistful of samples, coupons and business cards and knows where to come back for personal service," Schultz-Ela says. And even the tiniest retailer can provide this, she says. "All manufacturers have lovely collateral material and samples."

One other thing to keep in mind when hiring and training PC employees is their own personal appearance and presentation. "So much of sales are based on the appearance of the person," Bottger says. Make sure the sales person's presentation is neat and manicured, she says. A coat or smock can help set the PC employees apart and draw attention to them during a demo.

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