Enjoying the Lull: Early fall is a good time to try out new concepts

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Snack Corner

The fantastic summer is behind us and we now have a short breather. The holiday season is expected to be just as glorious, and we need to be ready. But what do we do in this downtime? We can focus on preparation, inventory planning, promotional ordering and employee staffing. But we can also use the time to try some new ideas when the rush is not so busy to skew the results. Slower periods can be a great time to try something new or run a promotion that helps push sales when they are slow. Sampling, “in and out items,” and products “for a limited time only” are all things that can fill up the lull.

Sampling has been around for a long time, and is successful sometimes and sometimes not. It is an area that can forge a new relationship with manufacturers, introduce new products and ideas to the consumer for other retail business, or simply gather data on the consumer for the sampling company. Theatres have made good money at times with sampling programs and have created nothing but headaches for themselves at others. Picking the right company and product for sampling is always the key, as is planning when and how you do it. It can add to the consumer experience in the theatre if done correctly. It is not ideal to try it during your peak seasons, although retail companies would like it to be so. The slower months are the right time, and can help make the slower atmosphere more interesting to your patrons.

“In and out items” are another thing to try during the lull. These are product ideas that you aren’t sure will work but you are willing to try. You don’t invest a lot of time, money or energy into these items until they can prove themselves at the concession stand. Unfortunately, that means they don’t have a lot of time. They need to come with punch and zing and some marketing backup or they need to be highly motivating on the profit side. Either way, they are items that you are looking to try, followed by surveys and getting the general pulse of the consumer on whether they will work, or perhaps be replaced by something similar.

These “in and out items” are often candy or similar types of product that do not require equipment in the form of fryers or coolers. They are easy to buy, stock and sell. This can be tough on your distribution partners to manage if you try too many, but they are necessary to continue product research. Working with your distributors and manufacturers to manage this rolling stock is key to making them help your sales in slow times without causing too much headache. These items can be fun and interesting for your customers to try, even if you don’t really think they will be a long-term play. On the other hand, every once in a while you will hit a home run with something new you were willing to try.

The third sale-enhancing idea to launch during slow times is tried and true products that are sold “for a limited time only.” This includes different flavors, different packing, or seasonal tie-ins to help push those customers who are not buying to give in. Since September/October is one of our slower time frames, Halloween-themed product works well, as do end-of-summer flavors. This can also include items that might be less profitable; hence, you don’t keep them all year long, but they can help with sales in slower times. Kind of like the “McRib,” that item McDonalds only teases us with at random times, making some of my friends crazy when they take it away again. My own Armageddon is Blue Bell Dos Amigos ice cream, a Mexican vanilla/cinnamon ice cream which is only offered randomly. (Of course, at the moment my household is just thrilled to see Blue Bell back on the shelves.)

The allure of “limited time only” is that you really don’t have access to it all year long, so you make that extra effort to make a purchase that you might not otherwise. When you are trying to produce concession sales from a more limited audience in the first place, you have to get creative to keep sales from taking the same dive. Putting that carrot in front of the consumer that you know they can’t resist, even at a lower profit, might keep the numbers from looking too bad.

All of these ideas are meant to help sales while you plan and plot for higher volume numbers to be moving through the theatre. You don’t have to just plan the promotions and the creative ideas for the high seasons when sales are going to be moving at a rushed pace anyway. Consider the down times for creativity and spontaneity and the sale-producing capabilities of new concepts. You may just surprise yourself, right along with the consumer.

Send your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.