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TIM SLATER: Whatever happened to the live lick lads?

Tim  Slater
TIM SLATER: Whatever happened to the live lick lads?

In the first of a series of exclusive online columns, former Playmusic editor, Tim Slater, muses on the demise of the demo god....

The product demonstrator gig - that weird hybrid of a salesman and a circus act - was once deemed a very necessary part of the whole PR gig for proactive distributors and manufacturers. Product demonstrators present the manufacturers products in the correct context – i.e. showing off the various features & benefits with a healthy dollop of rock & roll showbiz flair –whilst also serving as ‘stealth’ sales people, engaging with the public without the punters feeling like they are being hit on by a salesperson.

This type of ‘selling by stealth’ can and does work. Many years ago I was dispatched to the Southern Hemisphere by a well known US-based manufacturer on a month long promotional trip to the Antipodes that also included a whistle stop tour of New Zealand. My first gig was something of a high pressure deal; 9/11 had just happened and airport security had suddenly tripled, my flight to Wellington arrived late and a rather harassed looking rep duly whizzed me to my first gig in a large music store on the outskirts of the city. When I arrived the place was packed, and a not inconsiderable element of the crowd comprised a group of enormous and very stern looking Maoris who gave me the impression that a coach load of the All Blacks ‘B’ team had taken a wrong turn on the way back from a training session.

As it happened, the evening went really well; I played really great, cracked a few jokes about Quantas airlines food (Kiwis always enjoy any opportunity to enjoy a sly dig at the Aussies, especially since it wasn’t them risking getting a slap!) and the store manager hosting the event was delighted. However, the thing that really set the seal on the evening was when a couple of the big Maori guys forked out great chunky wads of cash and bought several of the very expensive guitars that I had been demonstrating during the evening.

Nobody had twisted their arm (not that you easily could, judging by the sheer size of them) but they had still enjoyed the chance to hear the guitars demonstrated and to chat with this apparently impartial guy from the UK in a way that wasn’t a direct sales pitch. Trebles all round!

More than 10 years later the product demonstrator circuit seems to have dried up, or at least slowed down. For sure the big international expos still feature a few familiar faces but the clinic tours of old are seemingly a thing of the past.

Our old mate YouTube is probably partially responsible; now that companies are far more conversant with the internet than they were even a decade ago, video demonstrations and reviews are a handy and affordable way of reaching a much wider audience than clinics, allowing companies to sidestep the hassle of paying travel expenses and the disappointment of poor audience attendances when the store hosting the clinic doesn’t do any advance promo.

Still, it is a shame that more stores aren’t hosting professional clinics. A good in-store demo still provides stores with an excellent opportunity to provide a great evening's (free) entertainment for their customers, who are also likely to feel tempted to buy some new gear into the bargain. ‘Speculate to accumulate’ is a wise saying that still counts and in these austere climate isn’t it time that we injected a bit of fun back into the art of selling?

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Tags: tim slater , product demos

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2 comments

Youtube is definitely a useful tool for retailers and suppliers alike, but it doesn't generate store traffic like a live in-store event does. In the rush to embrace social media, which is an extremely useful (and cost effective) platform for dealers, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Ronnie Dungan

Ronnie Dungan MI PRO STAFF
Jan 10th 2013 at 11:57AM

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With the internet, I think the paying public spend too much time reading reviews, listening to poor quality recordings of gear and generally being mislead. However, our business employs different strategies to meet with the public and have the chance to explain to them why they are better off going into their local retailer, talking to the sales person (who should have a good knowledge of the products they sell, if not why not?) and maybe even paying a bit more than the internet price to get proper pre and post sale service. Believe me, it does work, you just have to educate the public and you can't do that sitting behind the counter in your shop waiting for the next customer with the eternal question......'What's your best price on.......?!

There are too many people sitting on their backsides moaning about the internet driving profit margins down, losing them sales and even costing them their business. RUBBISH! It's largely their failure to think about alternative ways of getting customers to come into the store, actually getting off their tired backsides and getting out there, talking to people, explaining and educating them. It's not rocket science but it does require effort and giving up a bit of spare time, but if its giving up a couple of hours on a Sunday or losing your business, I know where my money is!

Live demo's are great, but the cost of getting a big name into your store can be off putting. What's wrong with using an unknown person to demo the gear or a rising local artist ? As long as they can show the gear to it's full potential, job done. There are some amazing musicians in most towns who would bite your arm off at the chance to show off some gear. Again, spending some time with them or sending them to the manufacturer / wholesaler to make sure they know all about what it is they are going to demo doesn't cost much and the fact they're doing it will make them enthusiastic about the products too. It's all just about thinking of new ways rather than dusting off the old ones every year. Get off your backsides and use the grey matter! Things are harder in this day and age, but there's plenty of business for those who put in the effort, and it doesn't have to be on the internet!

Rant over!

Mick Wilson

Mick Wilson INDUSTRY
Jan 10th 2013 at 1:04PM

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