“It’s been a big learning experience” – Brand Ambassador Carol Hough on the return to product demos
“It’s been a big learning experience, but that’s what life’s all about”. So says Carol Hough, who joined WDS as a brand ambassador at Costco Chester in October 2014. “I was supposed to have retired early”, she says, “but one day when I visited the warehouse I saw a gorgeous lady called Sophie demonstrating, and noticed a sign saying ‘demonstrators wanted’. I’ve been here ever since.”
It’s fair to say that since we returned to Costco demos after the first lockdown, things are looking very different for Carol and her colleagues. We caught up with her to find out how she’s handling the changes that we’ve had to put in place.
As a result of the weekly emails we have been sending out to our brand ambassadors, Carol knew that post-lockdown demos wouldn’t be “normal”. But her first day back at Costco Chester still brought some surprises.
“The first day back was a shock”, she says. “It was so different to what I was used to: PPE, temperature checks, masks, extra aprons, a new way of giving out samples – it was a cultural shock from what we’re used to”. After a few days, though, Carol got into the swing of things. “We’re now at a comfortable level”, she says. “We know what is acceptable both for members and ourselves”.
One of the biggest challenges that Carol personally had to overcome was actually encouraging members over to her demo stand. “I’ve never had to beckon people with my hands before!” she says. “Normally, members can see a full demo stand and full sample trays, and we’re not wearing PPE. Now, I sometimes have to catch their eye from behind the sneeze guard, wave people over and offer them a try”.
The simplicity of the demo stands and the inability to fill trays full of samples can sometimes be a challenge, depending on the product being sampled. “With certain products, like crisps, we can put packets on the demo table so that members can see what’s on offer even if the packet isn’t open”, Carol says. “Chilled products like cheese were more of a challenge, as we can’t have them out on the table. I suggested to Darren Pinner, Director at WDS, that we could have a photo of these types of products on the stand – that’s now happening, which makes things easier”.
Carol is turning certain other challenges into opportunities. Normally, samples can be distributed very quickly, with trays topped up with individual servings during quieter periods. Now, samples must only be served when a member is waiting. “This might involve taking a fork out of a plastic bag, putting on new gloves, filling individual cups, all while the member is standing and waiting”, says Carol. And meanwhile, she’s also having to ensure that those who are queuing for the next sample are social distancing – it can be a juggling act. However, she is using this extra time with each member to her advantage. “It gives me more time to talk about the product’s benefits as I have their attention”, she explains. “Sometimes members will just grab a sample and walk away – now, they have to wait for it to be prepared and consume it at the stand, which gives me more of a chance to sell the product to them”.
Happy members (and brand ambassadors!)
For Carol, the return to product demos is like seeing friends she hasn’t seen for a while. “When you’ve been in the job for the amount of time I have”, she says, “you end up getting to know some of the members. I don’t even know their first names, but I know about their families, I see their children growing up, and I’m just delighted to see them back happy and healthy.”
She tells us that members are equally delighted that demos – and our brand ambassadors – are back, too. “They come over saying, ‘you’re back, how wonderful, we’ve missed you!’”, she says. “They tell us how it hasn’t been the same without us!”
Carol explains that some things are taking members some time to get used to: things like knowing that there are samples available when trays are empty, and having to consume samples straight away at the demo stand. “They’re getting more used to things, though”, she says, “as are we!”
Plenty of variety
While the categories that we are able to demo safely are currently more limited than normal, Carol has been enjoying the variety in the types of products that she has been working with.
“Since I’ve been back, I’ve sampled all sorts”, she says. “Cold drinks, hot porridge served from a vacuum flask, chocolates, sweets, ham, cheese, biscuits…there’s been plenty of variety!”
One of the products that she has seen proving most popular is Au Vodka. “It’s new, very popular and very trendy”, she says. “I believe it’s all over social media. We’ve been sampling a few different vodkas from the same company – the other day, I saw my colleague Michael with a socially distanced queue of six or seven couples all waiting to try it! Anything new and trending always goes down well”.
Every week, our brand ambassadors receive an email from the WDS Managing Director, Dave Curtis, who shares more information about the demos they have been working on. “He shows us lists of the increased percentages of some foods”, she says. “It seems like the vendors are delighted – and the fact that they are still supporting demos despite the challenges is great”.
Top tips for brand ambassadors
Based on her experiences with the COVID-19 changes to demos so far, Carol has three top tips for brand ambassadors looking to make their role easier:
- Use your eyes even more – eye contact is more important than ever.
- If you can, work on your tone of voice to be even more friendly than usual: it can be difficult when working behind a mask.
- Use your hands (in a polite way) to beckon people over. Half the battle now is getting members to come to the demo stand, as the stands are relatively bare.
Top tips for vendors
With a background in merchandising and teaching design and display, Carol knows just how important an attractive-looking demo stand is when trying to entice members over. “For me, it’s vital that we tell people visually what we’re sampling”, she says, “and that we display it as best we can”.
Carol urges vendors to think about ways in which chilled products can be displayed to make members aware of what’s being sampled before they reach the stand. “With things like crisps, we can have a packet on the stand so that they can see”, she says. “With chilled blocks of cheese or packets of ham, for example, we can’t. What I’d love would be dummy packs – even if it’s something like polystyrene inside – to put on the demo table to make the product more visually obvious”.
Thank you so much to Carol for taking time before a busy day at Costco Chester to talk to us. If her words have whetted your appetite for a Costco demo, get in touch.