The third and final installment of demonstrator specialist,
So without further Ado:
The Event Specialist, a living advertisement for numerous companies, conveys vital information to consumers in hopes of buying their product. My second weekend (see: First Day, First Event, First Fun prequel) is an assignment at a Fred Meyer store in Portland, Oregon 15 miles distant so always the cautious one I leave 45 minutes ahead of schedule as I don’t venture into Portland often. Well, prudence pays off as the billboard lined thoroughfare hides the store’s facade requiring a painstaking search arriving with minutes to spare and a bladder ready to explode. Pressure relieved I recognize the black outfitted Event Specialists clustered around the customer service desk; introductions complete we head to the stockroom were the pushcarts are stowed no waiting for store manager to unlock a storage room, we get straight to business.
Walls of merchandise surround four carts, brush metal tops shine under stockroom lighting, extension poles for signage at half-mast Bonnie, our lead, assigns all of us a cart including a pink-boxed Event Kit. Each kit contains the Event Manual and essential supplies: toothpicks, napkins, disposable gloves, coupons, recipe cards, soufflé cups (small plastic container), sometimes food samples. Also a part of the Manual is the recipe for the event mine, caramel covered apple wedges sprinkled with various sugar-laden candies. Hang on what’s this buried under product signage a witch’s hat??? “Are we to wear the hat, I mean I understand it is Halloween and all but…” I know the answer before spoken and the attention grabbing advantage. “Yes, you are all required to wear the hat to maintain the Halloween theme,” Bonnie responds then directs each of us to a specific corner of the store based on the product sample.
Since Gala apples are the showcase product it is off to the produce department located near the front entrance I push the cart dodging hordes of hurried shoppers, overloaded grocery carts, and poorly placed displays. Speed is of the essence so placards are slapped on extending pole and cart then washing, rinsing, and sanitizing of paring knife, green cutting board, small bowl, apple corer, and spatula are fulfilled in the conveniently located cleaning station behind me. Stowed in the bottom of the cart is a microwave that is sanitized shelves are installed on the front and side of cart for merchandising; one final check of the cart’s appearance then it is off to purchase product.
Kroger Gala Apples, m&ms, mini marshmallows, gummy bears, and chocolate chips in soufflé cups line the metal top of the cart, along with napkins and boxed toothpicks, disposable gloves in apron, and lining the shelves bags of Werther’s Caramels. A reread of the recipe and selling points in the event manual explains cutting apples into eight pieces, dip in melted caramel and in each of the sweets, then hand out in soufflé cups while reciting the following:
Hi today I am sampling Werther’s NEW Original Soft Caramels with Kroger Gala Apples.
I am dipping Kroger’s fresh Gala Apples in the melted Werther’s Original Soft Caramels and topping it off with candies for a fun and delicious treat for people of all ages!
Enjoy the rich, smooth taste of Werther’s Original NOW in soft, creamy caramels. The taste you know from Werther’s, now in our softest texture yet!
Werther’s Caramels are the best quality tasting caramels and made with real butter and fresh cream.
Visit the Werther’s website (www.werthers-original.us) for more recipes!
Thank you for your business!
Over the next two days, I give away this concoction of confection made acceptable by the healthy apple to children of all ages while donning the witch’s hat. “Pardon me I seem to have run out of melted caramel I have to go down to my caldron for more,” I convey to a small audience of parents and children as I crouch out of sight then reappear with a fresh batch of melted caramel from the micro. The parents get it the kids love the show put on by the man in the witch’s hat. Three events under my belt and already the change of pace from running a small business to being a cog in a bigger wheel is refreshing, I realize this is where I am meant to be, let someone else worry about accounting.(see: Egad, the money is running out! for prequel to the prequel)
The remainder of the weekend goes off without a hitch, Bonnie’s guidance assures samplings begin and end with time for cleanup and returning carts to the stockroom guaranteeing we all leave at shift’s end. This is my last event in Portland, in the store parking over light conversation Bonnie announces she is moving on, and will no longer be an Event Specialist Lead. Wishing her the best we all go separate ways I back across the mighty Columbia River and the safe harbor of Vancouver, Washington and the store where my ES career began all of two weeks prior.
The job is now routine: I check the stockroom for the Event Kit(s), then to customer service desk, sign in, and have a store manager called for access to the storage room to extract THE CART (oh how quicker the Event would move if stored in the stockroom). I realize managers are busy and cannot drop what they are doing and come running because the Event Specialist is in the building however, even though I get paid whether it takes one or 45 minutes, I itch to begin.
Occasionally, Event Kits don’t contain the necessary supplies, or the store hasn’t enough of or received the targeted product, and on rare instances the kit is a no show all creating Event Emergencies. Preceding Specialists defy company policy by saving unused napkins, disposable gloves, and soufflé cups as backup, sometimes substitute product is used, however, the granddaddy of predicaments is the kit not arriving for the event generating a Support Center call for guidance. The representative collects information then decides 1) cancel the event or, 2) perform an “educational.” The former is rare the latter occurs too often requiring the handing out of coupons instead of samples. Standing 10-25’ from the cart in head to toe black one arm behind the back tray laden with coupons resting on fingertips I begin, “Hi, how are you today? Normally I have bite-size samples but because the product proved popular all that I have are these delicious coupons.” Convincing Mr. and Mrs. Jones to buy brand x without a morsel to try results in more “no thank you” then I’d prefer some hightailing down the nearest aisle to avoid a sales pitch. Careful don’t make eye contact. Using a fanning motion over the top of the tray as if a wonderful aroma wafts catches shopper’s attention then I hit them with the “delicious coupon” spiel few take any. Several cannot say no as I discover, when restocking unsold merchandise at event’s end, delicious coupons garnishing shelves.
One Event was the sampling of whole and chocolate milk distributed by the same company but only the whole milk is available so I phone Support and from representative Shirley,…”go ahead with the event, yeah if some of the product is there proceed with the event.” “So as long as a portion of the sampling is available I can go on with the event with no problem,” I question. “Absolutely,” comes Shirley’s confirmation. Another incident found me in Fred Meyer’s meat department searching for a mashed potato product and after several minutes and no product inquires to the manager turn up the product has been discontinued so a call to Support concluded with, that rare occasion, “cancel the event and go home.” Working hours in this industry are valuable I phone supervisor Jill, “Hello Jill I am wondering if anyone needs help today as the product I am to sample is discontinued.” Jill comes back with, “As a matter of fact Debbie was to hand out laundry soap samples at the same store but called off. Are you still at the store?” “Yes,” says I. Jill responds, “Do you want to take this event?” Another affirmation and no loss of hours, talk about being in the right place at the right time, eh?
Optimum exposure is necessary for the successful Event Specialist so the cart is placed nearest the aisle where the product is located, hopefully, a high traffic area. Regulars approach, “So what are we sampling today?,” “Does this contain gluten?,” “How much sugar I need to restrict sugar intake?,” “No thank you I just ate,” are common questions and responses from customers. One regular stops by to pass along jokes, Gary oozes out of the crowd without warning a Christmas morning excitement in his eyes.
Sarcastically me: “Oh no, there goes my day
Gary: “Jim how are you doing? I have some good ones for you today.”
Me: “So far so good how are you Gary?”
Gary: “Whenever I undress in the bathroom, my shower gets turned on.”
Me: Forced laugh.
Gary: “Can February March, no but April May.”
Gary: “Last one. Do you know how they make Holy water?
Me: “No idea”
Gary: “They boil the hell out of it!”
Moments of silence, Gary’s eyes beam then he slips back into the stream of shoppers from whence he came.
Me: “See ya Gary.”
One busy holiday weekend whilst persuading shoppers to try coffee with a sliver of fresh baked pumpkin pie a notion comes to mind: consumers like to dine and dash or push the shopping cart at warp speed, extend an arm, and grab not saying a word or making eye contact. However, several use the event as a pedestal to speak their mind maybe the hip causes the knee to buckle or a doctor’s prescription recommendation reminds them of a cousin in rehab. Others explain how manufactures use preservatives that cause hiccups or sporadic twitching, a few talk politics. Black and white images steeped in Sepia tone of a country store in small town come to mind. Young, middle-aged, and elderly men in overalls several chewing on pipes huddle around a potbellied stove talk the checkers game in progress, how the lower 40 need plowing before next week, politics, or how Cousin Edna’s cows ran amuck all over her laundry. The cart is the stove inside the store that draws the people that brings out the conversation.
However, unlike those in that country store I cannot spend all day steeped in talk, time flies when you’re having fun. Packing up is timed to take the right amount of time based on the product sampling, if appliances are used more time is needed for cleanup so I get out on time. Signage removed and tossed, utensils and paraphernalia cleaned up and stowed away, then the cart is maneuvered through a gauntlet of shopper’s carts abandoned mid-aisle, slow moving customers, and those acting as if the store was their own. Whew, made it to the front of the store now to notify a manager and wait. Leaving can be like arriving, frustrating as managers are busy, forgetful, and at times have to be reminded. With the cart stowed, I walk out slamming shut the heavy metal door a thud echoes across the parking lot, car headlights reflect from the wet pavement catching my eye. How far I have progressed as an Event Specialist in the past three weeks but does it amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Do people change habits by sampling or are they just looking for a cheap meal.