Monday, November 08, 2010

Inevitable Rant - Samples

Rants don't normally make their way to this blog, in which I strive to maintain a positive virtual environment of refuge from all the worldly hustle and bustle. This rant is inevitable because I believe it addresses issues that would be of interest for my readers, some of which are small business owners like myself.

Running a small business in a corporate-ruled world, driven by exploitation on so many levels is not an easy mission. Consumers the world over, and in North America in particular, have become accustomed to some business practices and interpersonal interactions with the "sales people" who they were taught to believe only represent some giant mega-corporation and therefore either don't care about the product or about the people they are talking to. This reflects quite miserably on about 20% of the interactions I become involved with, both online and in person at the various markets, trade shows and private sale events that I participate in.

Let's start from the easy one - the repeated online requests for free samples. Even though my website explains very clearly who I am, what I do and what my sample program is all about, I keep receiving requests for free samples on a daily basis, more or less. It usually goes like this:

"Hello (sometime it even starts with "Dear Sirs")
Your website looks fantastic and I am so curious about your perfumes!
There is no store around where I live that sells them.
Send me free samples to this address:
Jessica John
55 Jungle Drive
Rivendell, JR, 12345
(these emails rarely contain "please" "thank you" or "goodbye").

Somewhere in there, you will often find a brief yet calculated personal message that is supposed to really make me feel guilty and start handing out free samples - such as: "most perfume cause me headaches so I'm dying to try your natural perfumes" or "I'm so poor I can't afford to pay with money for your perfumes" or the best yet - after a paragraph-long intro about some of her favourite scents, a customer from Eastern Europe wrote: "As you see I put a lot of effort contacting you. I am really keen to get to know your products better. So If your company policy allow such thing, which I believe it does – please make me a happy person, I will never forget it"!

So, in case nobody ever reads my FAQ, I'll just put it all here again, plus some more background info:

Yes, I always include at least one free sample for every bottle of perfume you purchase online or on-sight at our studio. But no, I can't possibly fill the demand for free samples I get on a daily basis. As much as I'd like to - if I'll do so I'll go bankrupt and won't be able to make perfumes for you ever again. I am not a big company with a huge budget for marketing and promotional items. I make and package everything by hand, and filling sample orders takes just as long if not longer than preparing a full bottle of perfume.

And to elaborate on that: In my very early days, I was sending some samples for free. It is the kind of thing you have to do when you start a new online business in the beauty industry. Cosmetics and perfumes are just the kind of product that can't be purchased based on visuals alone. I've done that for about 6 months, and than I ran out of sample vials and didn't have money to buy more. I started charging a symbolic fee for samples, and that didn't work either - because I had to fill so many of those pin-thin sample vials that is was physically painful (pushing the tops on those is nothing short of a nightmare when you need to fill hundreds of these at a time).

And this is why I switched to the nice little jars that you can now see on my website. They are lots of work still to fill, however, they actually stand on their own, which makes the filling more reasonable (you can line them up and than drop the jus in with a dropper); plus the screw top is like a dream in comparison. The downside with these? They are not so thin, so they must be shipped as a package rather than a letter size. But that's just the kind of trade-off you have to decide on when you revamp packaging and service.

So, to make a long story short, here the official "free sample rejection email" you will get in case you feel tempted to do the online sample begging stunt:

"Dear Customer,

Thank you for your interest in Ayala Moriel Parfums!

Ayala Moriel is a one-woman-show and we get requests for free samples every day. If we were to fulfill them, we will be out of business in no time, and won't be able to make perfumes ever again.

For customers who are far away, and cannot visit our studio to experience our perfumes first-hand, we offer a sample program, where you can experience our scents before committing to a full bottle. You can see the different sample package sizes for a discount (6, 8, 10, 12 or 15) and order them through this webpage:

If you require assistance for selecting the fragrances, feel free to answer the Fragrance Questionnaire:

Warm regards,

Ayala Moriel, Perfumer & Owner
Ayala Moriel Parfums"

And as aside - the answers for these questionnaires are NOT automatic!
I take between 30-60 minutes to read, analyze your answers and reply to them with a list of recommended perfumes for the customer to try. It could be the bad economy, that makes people less willing to spend money but more willing to spend time filling them. But I can't even count how many questionnaires like that I replied to in the past two months that lead nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. And I've been responding to them for years now, and know that not all of them would (or should) end up in a sale. But this pattern is a little worrisome...

Last but not least - for all of my loyal customers, devoted readers and fellow business people who know exactly what I'm talking about and can appreciate what artisanal businesses such as mine are doing, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!


At November 08, 2010 9:28 AM, Blogger Laura said...

Oh, Ayala, I get it. Boy, do I ever. As a one-woman show myself, I would be insulted if people kept asking me for free stuff. Also: those tiny little pin-thin vials would be a nightmare if you had to do hundreds.

I think your sampling program is wonderful and more than reasonable!

At November 08, 2010 10:16 AM, Blogger Ines said...

Dear Ayala, I feel I need to add my thoughts as well even though I am not an artisan and don't sell anything. But I noticed this in everyday life how many people are extremely carefree with other people's time and effort and get very angry and upset if for some reason you want to turn the situation around.
Of course we would all love getting stuff for free but I for one value your time, effort and love poured into your work and what you do with your creations just proves you value the work you do yourself. :-)

Btw, it's nice to see you rant for a change.;-)

At November 08, 2010 11:02 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Thank you so much for your understanding and support... And just when I finished publishing this, another request came in ;-)

At November 08, 2010 11:04 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Thank you for your comment and for understanding. You know, some people get it and some don't... I'd like to think that they will, eventually!

P.s. Just watch me rant... There comes another post - part 2 and the last of this nature. I hope both have positive outcome, besides me blowing off some steam ;-)

At November 08, 2010 12:14 PM, Blogger zboudreaux said...

I'm so glad I ordered a sample set. I got some that I adore and some that are beautiful but not for me which I love showing to friends to see which one's different people gravitate toward. You can bet when I have some spare change that I'll be ordering both a bigger bottle of one of my favorites and some more samples. But now that I know about your questionnaire I'll be sure to fill it out first to get your feedback. Your perfumes are so sophisticated and rich and complicated.
I hope you know that you are really appreciated by many people.
Thanks for all that you do!

At November 08, 2010 2:18 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Thank you for your kind words!
It is really great to hear that you appreciate what I do :-)
I'm so glad you enjoyed the perfumes you ordered. Which ones were your faves? Do tell!

And thanks for showing them to your friends. Word of mouth has always been my most important channel for new business. Which is why I also give gift certificates to customers who refer more customers to me :-)

The samples are intentionally packaged as a small product - this way customers who either need more trials before deciding what perfume to pick in the larger size; and those who can't afford the larger size can still enjoy my perfumes :-)

At November 28, 2010 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I too have noticed that more and more people nowadays are approaching the Internet with an attitude of entitlement. The expectation seems to be that if Potential Customer expresses enthusiasm for a product, then Seller is instantly obligated to give something away for free as a gesture of goodwill.

I think that blogs and social networks are partially responsible for fueling this type of culture. We've all seen Facebook accounts and blogs where the owners encourage people to post a comment or "like" the company to be entered in a drawing for free merchandise. That's all good and well, but there's a big difference between voluntarily creating a giveaway and being harangued on a daily basis by strangers demanding free merchandise.

These days, only Sephora and Nordstrom's routinely hand out free samples of fragrances. The other major department stores (as far as I know) have all stopped doing this, probably for budgetary reasons. So if the big department stores aren't handing out free samples as liberally as they used to, why would anyone expect a small business owner to be any different?!

Conversely, I know of at least one published author who blogs about his favorite political cause on a daily basis. Publicly and in private, he rants about all the readers who fail to donate money to support his website. That too is a form of manipulation and narcisissm.

Good for you, setting boundaries against those on the Internet who will exploit the concept of goodwill. I'm not a perfumer or small business owner like you, but I certainly share your frustration.


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