Marketing Monday: The Sample Dilemma

question-markSamples cause a lot of questions among decorators. Who should receive them? What impact does a sample have on bringing in new business? When should samples be offered? Where should samples be offered,  online,  only in brick and mortar shops,  only if a customer is in front of you and asks? Why should samples even be offered at all?  How should samples be used to increase business?

That’s a lot of questions,  and there are probably just as many answers,  depending on who is supplying them.   Some companies elect to offer no samples at all. In some cases, instead of samples, a company will offer a sketch or a design mock-up.   Other companies will offer a standard sample,  but won’t do custom samples.  Another option is to offer one custom sample for free,  but charge for additional samples.   In some shops the rule is,  if you want a sample,  you pay for it.  The answers tend to depend somewhat on the philosophy of the shop being asked for a sample,  somewhat on what the competition in the market in question is doing and,  often,  on the size and potential profitability of the proposed job.

So,  given all the questions, and all the potential answers,  how do you decided what your company policy should be regarding samples?  The final decision will have to be based on the realities of your business,  but here are some things to consider while making your decision.

How does your competition handle samples? Do a little research and see if you can determine how your competition replies when asked for a sample.   If customers are conditioned to expect a “yes” when they ask for a sample,  it makes business harder for your company if you’re the only “no”. Finding out if and what everyone else charges for samples is useful too.  Knowing the norms for your market can help you decide what your company will do.

Can your shop do samples without sacrificing production? – Smaller shops that are one man bands, which have a single head machine or a manual press may not have the ability to produce samples the way a larger shop would.   If making a sample is getting in the way of work that is producing income,  it’s fairly easy to see what needs to be running.

Do you track the ratio of samples to actual jobs? The purpose of a sample is to convince the customer to give your company the job,  so you want to know how many times that actually happens.   Your tracking can be as simple as a spreadsheet,  but there should be some way to see what samples are going out, and what percentage of those samples are resulting in jobs and money coming in.  If you find you’re making a lot of samples,  but not getting a lot of jobs,  it may be time to reexamine your sample policy.

Standard samples vs. custom samples – Standard samples are samples of a product that are generic or were made simply to allow the customer to see and feel the product in question.  Some companies will have a look book or a design wall that allows customers to see and touch the work so they can understand what their particular job might look like.  For many customers this will be enough.

Custom samples, as the name implies,  are samples created for a specific customer,  generally using that customer’s artwork.  A custom sample takes more time to produce and is generally only done for larger jobs.  While customers may insist on custom samples at first,  often their questions or concerns can be addressed using a standard sample.  Creating custom samples also demands a high level of tracking,  since you want a high ratio of custom samples turning into jobs.   If you find you’re doing a lot of custom sample work and not getting a lot of orders in return,  this is another sign that your sample policy may need some thought.

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