Spa RETAIL: Handy Retailing Guide for the Holidays

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Slick Sampling

Done wrong, product sampling can hurt your bottom line and keep your staff from selling. When mastered, however, sampling is an educational, morale-boosting and sales-generating power tool. Here are five simple strategies for smart spa sampling:

1. Offer the bulk of your samples to clients who’ve already purchased retail. If a guest buys a moisturizer or raves about a certain cleanser, tell her you’d love to have her try other products from that line. Then dig out those manufacturer-supplied samples, or create a customized, mini container of a complementary toner or serum. “Giving someone who’s already buying something else an item that they’re likely to actually want is key to turning samples into sales,” says Soukup.

2. Make the transaction interactive. Keith West-Harrison shares this strategy: “If someone is curious about a product, but not convinced, I’ll say, ‘Let me make you a sample to take home and try.’ Then I’ll scoop some into a clear container, but before the guest takes it home, I’ll wipe some on her hand, telling her what it’s doing and explaining exactly how much should be used.” Not only is this approach more personal than simply loading someone up with manufacturer-supplied product samples that may not even be suited to her skin type, but the client is typically grateful for the education and more likely to actually benefit from the product and eventually buy it.

And when you send a guest off with a sample, write down how much she should be using and when, West-Harrison adds. “If she’s in that blissful, post-service state, you’ve gotta provide at-home instructions.”

3. Have employees track their sample distribution. It’s easy for estheticians and therapists to blindly hand out samples—as West-Harrison points out, it’s a “feel good” practice and spa employees who aren’t comfortable selling due to fear of rejection know that “no one ever rejects a sample.” But supplying oodles of samples only trains guests to expect “gifts with purchase” and precludes full-size retail purchases.

Have staff keep track of which clients are receiving samples, and you’ll be able to evaluate whether sampling is actually leading to full-size product purchases. And if it isn’t? “This tells you who needs more sales training,” says West-Harrison. Soukup adds, “Tracking gets people in the habit of custom-recommending products, rather than complacently taking the path of least resistance.”

4. Set up “discovery testing stations.” Your relaxation lounge is the ideal setting. Set aside a noticeable space in which to feature open, full-size product containers and “testing” supplies. Include something for face, body, and hands and feet, and rotate the products you feature on a monthly basis. “Display framed literature explaining the benefits, ingredients and costs of each, and you may want to suggest professional treatments that pair well with featured retail products,” Soukup says.

To avoid waste, Soukup suggests using small sampling plates with spatulas. “If you don’t have room for a full station, a single shelf in your retail department or a tray in a small reception area works well,” she says. West-Harrison adds that “testers can be a lot more effective for sales than packaged samples,” because clients can actually feel and smell them.

5. Exercise caution. While they have their reservations about over-distributing manufacturer-supplied samples, both Soukup and West-Harrison are all for including samples with purchase for special promotions, and placing them in gift bags for spa event attendees. One thing to keep in mind when broadly distributing samples: “You never know how product samples are going to interact with the products guests are already using,” West-Harrison says. “People can think that because something is ‘a sample,’ it’s a one-time-use thing. Then they use too much, have an adverse reaction and lose trust in you and your product lines. Rather than risk unpredictable reactions, stick to handing out touchy-feely stuff like body lotions and basic cleansers.”

And if you find yourself with leftover samples following a big event or promotion? “Bring them to a women’s shelter,” West-Harrison advises.
—Katie O’Reilly