True confessions, I’m a regular shopper at the Mettawa Costco. In the past year or two, I’ve seen CDS (Club Demonstration Services) employees at Costco doing product or food presentations in various parts of the store. Questions arise in my mind: What motivates these employees to work with the public? Does it get tiring repeating the same product information repeatedly to new customers? Can it be exasperating trying to persuade customers to pay attention to what you’re displaying when their focus might just be on food?
Recently, to satisfy my curiosity about CDS, I interviewed Stephanie Kurokawa, who currently works part-time at CDS. Stephanie does product demonstrations at Costco at the Mettawa store. Stephanie is the President of the Talk of Lincolnshire Toastmasters club and is a facilitator/life coach at Fresh Start of Illinois where she works with those in job and life transition.
What do you do for Club Demonstration Services (CDS)?
I provide food and product demonstrations at Costco. This includes Pizza, Brownies, Waffles and Coffee Makers. Officially, I believe my title at CDS is Production Demo Specialist.
Tell me more about CDS? How long have you worked for them?
CDS was founded in 1988. They are a nationwide demonstration and presentation services company and collaborate with Costco in many of their stores in the U.S. and Canada.
I went to a job fair at the College of Lake County in 2010, completed an application, received a call, and was quickly hired. I’ve been serving for almost 18 months.
Do you enjoy this work?
Yes, for the most part. I’m out of my comfort zone, talk to strangers and that’s something I like to do. I belong to Toastmasters International so I utilize and improve my speaking skills at CDS that I learn through Toastmasters.
The work has helped me to project my voice and I’m less apprehensive dealing with people overall.
What’s one thing that people don’t know about your job that you’d like them to know?
We are demonstrators and servers and have a job to do. Remember, our sole purpose is to sell products and not just provide snacks for hungry Costco customers.
There are goals we must achieve while doing presentations. If customers merely want to snack without seriously considering buying, this makes it more challenging to achieve our goals.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part is dealing with unrealistic expectations from customers. Why isn’t the food ready? It’s all about them, where’s my food? They may give the presenter a dirty look if the sample tray is empty. Sometimes, people come for seconds or thirds, which can quickly empty the tray. This may satisfy current customers but for those customers in the next aisle, there may not be food prepared for them. This may negatively reflect on the servers although it might be out of their hands.
Tell me more about the actual demoing of products?
I love to cook and wonder how much I will sell. The goal is to demonstrate and promote the item well, to help make the sale. You need to be able to cook or present items to the public – I have a marketing background so that helps. Some servers don’t do as well with cooking.
Use CDS product scripts for assistance if necessary. You can practice speaking in public while selling products. For example, for some products, you could market the nutritional value, healthy ingredients and time savings.
Are some items more difficult to demo?
Sometimes, there’s a grazing fest. Certain items, for example, pizza, are difficult to replenish because some customers just grabbed a few pieces each. Cookies and brownies may be difficult too as it can take 5-10 minutes to replenish and some customers are not interested in waiting.
One customer came to Costco for a free lunch – not satiated by the samples and complained to Costco management. Funny and amusing and it takes all kinds…
Are you fascinated working in the public eye?
Love to people watch. Different personalities. You can listen to conversations and wonder, “if I sound like that.” More aware of how people interact with others. Not what is said but how it’s said, especially non-verbal communication. How people carry themselves and how husbands and wives interact. Watching the body language is fascinating and helps pass the time.
Seeing questionable attitudes or behavior may help with coaching. Physiology is a great indicator on how they are doing. How they’re walking, study of human behavior in public.
How are you evaluated?
Bonuses are based on what you sell – certain points you can accumulate extra bonus points. I’m motivated to do well because that’s what I’m all about. Besides, I do well because I enjoy cooking so I do many cooking demos. Some were weaned in, I just jumped in.
Would you ever like to “take back” any past interactions?
How could I have done things differently? However, most people are not open or interested in changing their behavior. She wishes people were less judgmental, and saw things through other perspectives. Provide a “snapshot” to them on how they look or behave. With coaching, look in mirror and what do you see? See what we want to see instead of what we may need to see.
Have you had any extraordinary events while demoing?
With the seaweed demo, I met the goal. I actually sold twice as much as anyone else had. I knew how to use it, easy to sell in my mind. I grew up with it, part of my culture and talked about seaweed soup so had a lot of input since I grew up eating a lot of seaweed.
How well do you do with demoing?
I do it all. When I see some other demonstrators having a difficult time I will usually ask if they would like a suggestion. I try to make it look as easy as possible. People won’t purchase something if they feel it is too time consuming.
Ever get fed up with customers?
When customers come by and ignore you, it’s frustrating. People expect you to have this or that and act a certain way can be exasperating. It’s not good when customers are demanding and impatient.
When the Costco coupon book is delivered, it can be very busy the first few days or last days of the coupon cycle. Holidays can be crazy when people are so high strung with a stressed look on their face and those are not fun times. Weekends can be hectic too – especially Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
We work in Costco but are not Costco employees but customers expect us to know where things are. Costco is notorious for moving things around so it’s hard to keep up. Again, managing expectations can be a challenge.
Any other frustrating things?
Some customers think you have nothing better to do. Some servers are retirees who want to get out of the house and earn extra income. Others like the job because it fits their schedule. I’d like servers to be treated with dignity. Some think it’s a menial job without knowing one’s background or future goals. Again, people can be too judgmental.
What would you recommend to a friendly Costco shopper not interested in a sample?
Just say, “No thanks.” Acknowledge us. Say hello or say, “Good luck with your demo.”