“Being back at Costco is like a breath of fresh air” – an interview with WDS BA, Yvonne Hankins

Yvonne Hankins

“Being back at Costco is like a breath of fresh air”, says WDS brand ambassador, Yvonne Hankins. Yvonne has been part of our team at Costco’s Milton Keynes warehouse for nearly 9 years, having filled out an application form on the spot when she first saw the role advertised, and being called for interview the very next day. Like all of our brand ambassadors (you can read interviews with some of our other incredible BAs on our blog), Yvonne is incredibly happy to be back doing the job she loves. We caught up with her to find out how she’s handling the changes we’ve had to make to our demo processes as a result of COVID-19.

Missing the members

“You don’t realise just how much you love something until it’s taken away”, says Yvonne. When the first national lockdown began, like many others, she was enjoying a little time off, but the boredom soon set in. It wasn’t just the boredom that affected Yvonne, though – it was not seeing the familiar faces that she sees day in, day out, in her brand ambassador role. 

“It’s been lovely to see everyone again”, she says. “Since I’ve been back, I’ve been keeping an eye out for everyone – especially the older and more vulnerable members”. Yvonne describes her relationship with some Milton Keynes Costco members as like part of the family. “There’s one couple in their 80s who came running up to the table when they spotted me”, she says. “They told me how wonderful it was to see me and that they wished they could give me a hug – people like that make your job worthwhile”. 

Guiding members through changes

While the members are keen to see Yvonne and our other brand ambassadors back behind the demo stands (some have described to her how different the atmosphere was without our demo stands in place), others have taken more time to get used to the changes we have had to put in place. 

“Some members are hesitant to come over, as they can’t see anything on the sample trays – we have to work harder than normal to encourage them over”, she says. “But once they realise they can take their mask off, try the sample and then put their mask back on, they’re happy”. She describes how the odd few are still wary of taking their mask off, but says that almost every member is getting more and more positive, and confident that they’re safe. 

Yvonne herself has had to adapt slightly to encourage members over to her stand. “I just tell them to come over, to have a look or a taste. I point out my PPE and the screen on the stand, and let them know it won’t harm them to take their mask off for a second while they’re in front of me”. She also describes how they have a bit of a laugh and joke about it to break down barriers – and how masks can sometimes break the ice. “I’ve had a few members come over, take a sample and forget that they’re wearing a mask – but still lift the sample to their mouth to taste!”, she says. 

Popular products

Despite all of the changes, Yvonne knows the value of product demos. “I still get lots of members saying, ‘you know what, I wouldn’t have bought this if I hadn’t tried it – I’ve been waiting to try it’”, she says. 

Milton Keynes was one of the five Costco warehouses selected to demo Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Cream Liqueur – and Yvonne was the brand ambassador responsible. “It went extremely well”, she says. “I managed to sell over 130 bottles on my own in a single day – the highest of all of the warehouses running the demo!”Pumpkin carving competition

Since her return, Yvonne has been demonstrating a huge range of products: Californian wines, cooked meats, cheese, yoghurts, and fruits as well. “People were delighted to try the persimmon fruits”, she says. “They were serving a dual purpose, as members were planning on using them as mini pumpkins for Halloween!”

The Milton Keynes warehouse was also the test bed for the launch of the ‘Two Bite Brownies’ and Yvonne describes the vendor as being “delighted with what we were doing” when they paid the warehouse a visit. Currently, Yvonne is working on a big perfume demo, which she says is going really well. “People are telling me, ‘I don’t know why I’m buying this, I’m not going anywhere to wear it!’”, she says. “But they’re still buying it. Others are buying it as gifts – sometimes instead of their normal gift of clothes – and they’re not afraid to take their masks off and give it a smell”. 

For Yvonne, it’s reassuring to see members growing in confidence every time they come in: sticking with the rules, but becoming more used to the fact that they are able to sample products in a safe way. The same, she says, goes for the brand ambassadors too. 

Yvonne’s tips for brand ambassadors

Yvonne describes herself as well-known for being loud. “But even I have to speak a bit louder and more clearly so that members can understand exactly what I’m saying when I’m wearing a mask”, she says. “The mask can muffle the sound at times.” 

She’s noticed that some brand ambassadors can be a little shy, and that now more than ever, they’re needing to push themselves to build up their confidence and become less timid. 

“Don’t let the screens and masks become a barrier”, she advises. “Speak loudly and smile – while members can’t see your smile itself, your eyes says everything. As long as you can smile through your eyes, people can see that you’re friendly”. 

Vendors: trust us

When asked what tips she would give to Costco vendors, Yvonne replied, “Just put your trust in us: we’ll do the job for you, we really will. The more products we demonstrate, the better for the vendor, the better for us”. 

She highlights how Costco stands a far greater chance of selling a product by demonstrating it, than by simply having it sitting on the shelf. And for Yvonne, the new COVID-19 procedures should make no difference. “If things have to be wrapped or served differently, that’s fine – we’ll do whatever it takes to sell that product”, she says. “It makes total sense for any vendor to try a product demo – just trust us, and we’ll deliver”. 

Wise words from Yvonne. And if you want to put her theory to the test for yourself, give us a call to find out how we can make a successful demo happen