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May 24, 2018

Small Business Advice:

It's simple: Sample your product to attract customers

The more you can reduce the risk to the customer of trying your products or services, the more successful your business will be.

Jerry Osteryoung | 1/27/2013

I have been helping an established bakery named Tasty Pastry in Tallahassee that had been in the community for many years. The bakery was very successful, but sales had gone flat because of the economy and because there’s so much new competition in the market.

Over the years, much of Tasty Pastry’s sales had come from supplying fresh breads to local restaurants, but this business began to dry up as franchised restaurants gained a larger presence in the area. These franchises were supplied by their own bakeries in other cities.

With bread sales declining, Tasty Pastry had to exist primarily on walk-in business and counter sales. As I observed their customers, I noted that they typically came in for one or two things and very infrequently strayed from their planned purchases.

The bakery looks very neat and organized. Breads, bagels, cookies and cakes are artfully arranged in glass display cabinets. Everything always looks so appetizing that it makes me hungry every time I stop by.

With so many delicious baked goods in plain view, we had to ask why customers were not considering other purchases, and the answer was threefold.

First, patrons were so habit-driven that they were not looking at anything else. Second, though the display is very appealing, it always looked the same. And finally, the customers had never tasted anything else and did not want to risk trying something new.

Based on my observations, I recommended a couple of simple things Tasty Pastry could do to improve sales. For one thing, the bakery could move the items around in the display cabinets every two weeks. I also encouraged the bakery to feature a product every day and give out samples for customers to taste, then offer a discount on those products if purchased on the day sampled.

The results of the tastings have been amazing. Sales are now up by 10 percent and continue to expand as customers delight in tasting new items. Point being, whether your business sells to customers or to other businesses, you need to provide an opportunity for customers to test your products and services. That lessens the uncertainty in their minds that prevents them from buying.

If you are selling a service, you can offer a no-cost (I do not like the word “free” because it can have negative connotations) evaluation. For example, if you are in the IT business, give your potential customers a no-cost assessment of their IT functions. The more you can reduce the risk to the customer of trying your products or services, the more successful your business will be.

Now go out and make sure that you have a way for potential customers to sample your products and services.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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