Policies about Giving Sample Products to Retailers

A couple weeks ago I posted a discussion from our Selling to Retailers’ Mastermind Group on Polices for Giving/Charging for Sample Products.  Once I posted the article on my LinkedIn Group, Selling Wholesale to Gift Shops, I received numerous comments about the issue.  In respect to different point of views, I would like to share some of the comments here:

MCKENNA:  … a hard and fast policy is useless in the long run. Have basic policies in place, but be ready to make exceptions.

So for example, when I have a good wholesale partnership going with a Salesperson - Rabbitcompany and I have a new product, I will often ship a new earring sample (unsolicited) with a re-order. I just send it for free – something in the under $20 range just doesn’t break my bank and it can make me lots of sales. It’s a form of advertising and it’s showing you care about your retailer’s future. My “policy” is that I don’t send free samples. I break that rule when it gets in the way of my overall policy: keep my partners happy and show them that I care about their success so they re-order more….

I also encourage having an exchange policy in place, so it is easy to encourage purchases of my newest designs as my retailers all know that they can return and exchange items that aren’t working for them. That may not work with all products, but if your product is exchangeable, it’s a valuable tool. …

Where I do draw the line in sending samples is where there has not been any ordering. If someone needs a sample of my workmanship before placing an order -despite my exchange policy and clear market-testing, they are either very new in a buying role, or they are not trusting on the whole of their gut feelings. Store Buyers might say, “I need to show this to several people so we can all have input.” or some such thing. (Neiman Marcus needed NO samples.) If it is a BIG deal location that I want my work in, I will charge them full retail (2.5 mark-up) for the item(s) (they pay all shipping and a 15% restocking fee if they return anything) and give them a credit on the opening order and a VERY short turnaround. They need to be serious. I would want that order within 10 days – or no credit. Personally – No FREE samples EVER for inquiries – and that is a rule I never break …

LORI: When I call a wholesaler who wants to charge me for a sample(s), frankly I am turned off, as I buy in fairly large quantities for a small business. I feel when I purchase in hundreds or thousands of pieces, one sample will not kill them for a potential new business to try. I expect for them to cover shipping. There is a cost of attaining new business. If they charge, I normally ask for the courtesy of no charge and let them know I am interested in possibly purchasing ‘xxx quantity’ depending on the quality of the item (normally it’s for packaging). If they will not make an exception, I say thank you and do not do business with them.

I send samples to buyers or owners, after speaking with them. I want to make sure there is true interest in my product(s). I do not send samples blindly. I ALWAYS follow up, ask their opinion of the item(s) and overcome whatever objections there may be. If they are not saying I want to order, I ask if they are ready to place an order, if not then, when would be a better time. THEN FOLLOW UP when they say they will be ready. I believe my product sells easily after sampling. My samples are full size so the buyer knows how it looks and what sets us apart from the others. Usually I send 3. It looks more professional.

IAN:  For our pet products business, I developed a sample pack at the same time as our regular master packs. It includes a small version of each product and is priced, yes priced well below the wholesale value of said goods. It reflects a proper outline of products and is prep’d in such a way as to suggest that we are thinking about these retailers’ needs….  In our case we charge a nominal fee for samples to insure that the folks wanting the samples are genuinely interested.

In the case of new product to existing customers we have a couple of different options. For our electronics we’ll send a sample with an invoice that can be applied to their first order if they choose. In other cases we’ll ask only for the cost of shipping (our umbrellas are oversized so $10 is reasonable. If they choose not to buy, we provide a return envelope. When we get units back, not salable as new, we give them to deserving members of our community or include them with paid samples to show range.

TONYA:  In our business samples are key. We offer a product which is not widely understood. Many people have to see inside our journals before they ‘get it,’ so we consider samples as a very common cost of doing business. Anytime we are asked for a free sample by a retailer who is considering our product we are happy to send it – especially as we send only the product, out of the packaging, and the cost is under $3.

CINDY:  We do research on a store/company before we send them a polite email or ‘contact us’ page comment, asking if we could send them a sample and a catalog to see if it would fit in with their lines. We are very unobtrusive, and if they are not interested and let us know, we don’t contact them again. If they are, it’s wonderful, and many times they become new customers.

If it’s a current customer, and they have never bought an item we think might sell well for them, then we include it in an order and mark it as a free sample.
For the most part, this all works well for us. Our samples are so small that we would never think of charging for them. That comes in handy as well. Our reps request samples and catalogs occasionally, and we can only hope they’re using them appropriately. We like our reps, and we feel they hopefully have a good relationship with us.

Excellent comments and suggestions on the subject.

What is your Policy on Samples?

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