“Members love the demos” – an interview with WDS brand ambassador, Lesley Smith

From our recent blog posts, we’ve hopefully made it clear that we’re incredibly happy that we’re back up and running once again with Costco demos! But it’s not just us here at head office who are excited.

Our brand ambassadors – those incredible people you see running the Costco demo stands, sharing their incredible knowledge and getting members excited about all sorts of products thanks to the passion with which they work – are excited too. 

Without our brand ambassadors, the Costco demos that everyone knows and loves simply wouldn’t exist. And so, over the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of these incredible people, who will be sharing their thoughts on the return to demos, what they’ve been working on, and their top tips for success. 

First up, Lesley Smith – a brand ambassador who has spent eight years in the role at Costco’s Cardiff warehouse. 

A gentle return

As a result of COVID-19, we have had to make some changes to the way our demos work, meaning that they are looking quite different from before. This includes a reduction in the number of product types that we can currently demonstrate and sample – but Lesley has been pleased with the categories that she has worked with so far since returning. 

“We’ve been demonstrating lots of chilled foods recently – things like olives, cheese and non-dairy milks”, she says. “Alcoholic and soft drinks have also been included: it’s been lots of foods and drinks that have been easy to consume”. 

Lesley has also been happy that fruits are on the currently approved list, thanks to their perennial popularity. “It was whole pineapples at the weekend – and pears around a month ago”, she says. “I love selling fruit: my target for the pineapples was to sell 30, but I more than doubled that. It was a quiet day, but members love the demos, and fruit always goes down well”. 

A happy reunion

“The vendors are happy, the Costco staff are happy, and the members are really happy to have us back”, says Lesley. And, unsurprisingly, she’s pretty pleased to be back, too.

After months of cleaning and baking – “and even the dog didn’t want to go out more than three times a day” – Lesley was desperate to get back to normal. “I missed everybody”, she says. “Julie, who is the Demo Services Manager in Cardiff, obviously kept in contact about everything that’s been going on – it’s been good to get the staff newsletter to stay up-to-date”. 

Lesley describes the reactions of members to the return of demos as very positive – but with some understandable hesitation. Many members she recognised as familiar faces have approached her and told her that they’re happy to see demos back, and that the atmosphere at Costco was starting to feel more like normal as a result. “At first, though, some were a bit unsure”, she says. “It was the issue of having to take masks off to sample the products – but we’ve reinforced the message that as long as they stay at the demo stand when they do so, it’s fine”. 

A change in tactics

While there are still challenges, says Lesley. “With the very first demos after lockdown, it was very quiet – people were walking past and not even wanting to stop and try”, she says. 

While there are still challenges, Lesley says that many will stop and see what’s going on. She explains that she’s had to learn to speak a lot louder and not rely so much on lip reading and facial expressions, because of the masks that all of our brand ambassadors wear while working. With protective acrylic screens in place, aprons and PPE for our brand ambassadors, and strict guidelines around cleaning and sample serving, our staff are doing everything they can to reassure members that demos are safe – but the act of encouraging members over to demo stands has changed. 

Previously – with no COVID-19 or social distancing to worry about – members would flock to our demo stands. Now, says Lesley, her approach has had to change. “It’s about putting as much information about the product across to the member before they walk straight past”, she says. “It’s a balancing act between trying not to be too pushy, but getting to the point as quickly as possible”.  

And information is something that Lesley is keen to have as much of as possible. Before demonstrating a new product, she’ll always look for extra information online – on top of the information that’s provided in our briefing documents. “I’m just trying to be more confident”, she says. “My aim is to treat every product as if it’s the best product ever, and to give the member everything they need to make a decision”. 

A healthy dose of fun and competition

For Lesley, two aspects of her role that are more important than ever in the current climate are healthy competition, and fun. 

“This week, our Cardiff team have been top for sales”, she says. “Julie is a great leader and she’s obviously really happy with everybody – and we always want to do really well!” 

As well as competing with other warehouses, our brand ambassadors have the chance to win incentives for their performance – and we try and throw a little fun into the mix, too. “This week, there was an incentive for selling pineapples”, Lesley says. “We were tasked with decorating them with a Halloween theme. I bought some bits – eyes and glasses, that sort of thing – and decorated one for my stand. Everybody stopped and commented: it was a great talking point to get customers to the table!”

Top tips for brand ambassadors

Lesley has five tips for brand ambassadors looking to make things as normal as possible in the current climate: 

  1. Always be friendly
  2. Always do your best
  3. Always smile – it can be seen even when you’re wearing a mask
  4. Give each member as much information as possible
  5. Treat every member as a potential buyer

Many thanks to Lesley for taking the time to talk to us. To learn more about our return to product demos, visit our blog.