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Whats In-Store For You?

With an in-store demonstration business, you can sample your way to success.

With an in-store demonstration business, you can sample your way to success.

From pizza to perfume to espresso machines, products are demonstrated in supermarkets, department stores and discount stores across the country. Most in-store demos are done by independent contractors who accept assignments from demo-service businesses. A demo service may be the ideal start-up business for you if you have good people skills and high stamina but little capital.

Katherine and Jeff Wise, founders of SalesTalk Inc., began doing in-store demos with hard goods, such as small kitchen appliances and vacuum cleaners. Food demos soon followed.

A decade ago, Jeff was president of a firm that demonstrated food mixers in stores. When an industry contact needed an ice cream machine to be demonstrated, Katherine formed SalesTalk Inc., recruiting friends, cake decorators, caterers and in-store demonstrators to join her as independent contractors. A growing reputation brought further clients. A year later, in 1987, Jeff quit his job and joined SalesTalk full time. In 1990, realizing food demos were a major market, the Wises bought out grocery-demo companies in Texas and Washington from contacts made through the Field Marketing Services Association (FMSA), an organization representing 200 demo companies.

Jeff stresses the importance of "hustling" for more volume to compensate for rising labor, insurance and other costs. "We began to expand so that we could serve our clients in other parts of the country, and we now do demos in all 50 states," he says. "In 1992 and 1993, Inc. magazine recognized SalesTalk as one of the 500 fastest growing companies in the United States."

Today, with offices in California, Washington, Georgia and Minnesota, SalesTalk Inc. has a pool of 20,000 demonstrators; some are independent contractors, while others are employees, depending on each state's requirements. Top Priority Sales, another company owned by the Wises, has an exclusive nationwide contract for non-food demos with PriceCostco, a discount membership warehouse chain.

Carlienne A. Frisch, of Lake Crystal, Minnesota, writes on business and travel topics. She has also worked in public relations for nonprofit organizations.

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This article was originally published in the February 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Whats In-Store For You?.

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