Indie Beauty Brand Founders Share Their Sampling Strategies

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 16 brand founders and executives: What’s your approach to sampling?

Jas Rana Founder, Lotus Potion

When launching, I always knew that we would offer sample sizes of every product within our range. As a beauty consumer, lack of samples has always been the reason why I haven’t tried a new brand or product. I didn’t want to end up with a full-size product that didn’t suit my skin, and I know others don’t either. 

We charge a small amount for samples, which covers packaging, product and postage. However, we have offered free samples in the past and will do so in the future when it aligns with our marketing strategy. We’ve found sampling to be a great way to get the product in the hands of the customer, so despite the additional investment and logistics, it’s been vital to growth and awareness.

Phil Clark Co-Founder, Fluid Fragrances

With a broad market and audience, samples are without doubt a necessity. As a startup, we need to manage this area with strict guidelines. It’s easy to get carried away and, before you know it, where did the saleable stock go? We created a “fun size" 1-ml. vial to ship to potential clients. In our first line, we have five fragrances, so the vial is a cost-effective and creative solution.     

Christinah Nicolaisen Co-Founder, Eleni & Chris

We offer an assortment of full sizes, travel sizes and some luxury samples. We offer various sizes for different marketing campaigns. Samples are important for new brands as it is a low barrier to help the customer try and buy into the brand for the first time. But ROI can be tricky to measure and is not an exact science. We have found the most successful sampling initiatives have been where we had a clear goal in mind and a clear execution plan with what we wanted to achieve as well as a structured process around it.

PILAR QUINTERO Co-Founder, Care Skincare

We are very strong believers in sampling as the actual physical product experience will many times close the sale. This becomes especially important for a digital brand where there is no store to try the product before you buy. 

For that reason, we have invested a significant amount in developing specific sampling for each of our products depending on their form, ranging from towelettes for our Micellar Cleanser+Toner to packettes for our moisturizers to mini dropper bottles for our serum. This approach also allows consumers to actually choose the samples they want to try on our website as opposed to us making the decision for them.

DAVID SIMNICK CEO and Co-Founder, Soapbox

Sampling can be tricky because it's so costly. We definitely offer travel sizes over full size for marketing programs. It really comes down to your brand's current goals. Sampling can be a great way for brand awareness, but you have to make sure the outlet in which you're sampling with is the right fit. In other words, will the samples convert into full purchases, and that depends on the type of sample, retail or program the sample has been delivered through, and if there was a coupon?

In most cases, sampling is more about long-term brand building. If you need a marketing initiative that gives you instant results, I would recommend holding off on big sampling programs that cost you money. If you can make a profit on the sampling program, do it every day!

Sara Grey Founder, Fitonic Body

When we launched we did so without travel-size or sample packs. We found that a lot of people were nervous about making an investment in an ingestible they’d never tried before. However, with our cost of goods, we couldn’t offer full-size canisters for sampling in large numbers. We now have sample packs and people love them, and so do retailers. 

For example, one retailer asked us to provide our single-serve packs for them to include in their gift baskets for everyone on their team. We are able to hand out sample packs at events, send them to influencers, send them to the women we feature in our Athlete Spotlight, and send them to people who purchase one product and we want them to try another product. 

It is a steep investment, but in terms of an overall marketing budget, it is a critical investment. Why spend money on a social media ad only to have people keep scrolling because they can’t find a low barrier to trying your product?

Evelyn Subramaniam Founder, Bija Essence

There is no formula to sampling. I can just share with you my premature experience. The truth is that every brand and every buyer think differently when it comes to sampling. I created my sampler size gift to offer media, journalists, retailers and wholesalers. My sampler consists of a small three-by-two luxury tube that holds four, 5-ml. bottles of all my formulas.

This way, they get to experience all of my formulations equally and keep waste to a minimum. It’s so cute. It feels like such a precious gift. More importantly, we are trying to minimize waste and plastic and be loving to Mother Earth.

Next, if the retailer or wholesaler becomes more interested in the brand after sampling all four small bottles then we can talk about offering our 2-oz. bottle or 4-oz. bottles. At that point, we establish a stronger relationship to know if the client is serious or not. 

Usually, when they request bigger sizes they are very interested, and I am happy to agree. Sometimes deals are closed and sometimes they are not, but I am always happy to share my story, philosophy and quality therapeutic oils with them.

Joshua Neumann Founder, Kind Lips

It has been my experience with lip balm that only a small percentage of consumers want to sample prior to making a purchase, especially in the $5 and under category. It’s my opinion that many people haven’t been exposed to, or potentially don’t even think to learn about, the impact the ingredients could have on their lips because the assumption is all lip balms are the same.  For lip balms under, $5 I don’t believe sampling is worth the investment. Use the money saved to educate the consumer!

EVELYNE NYAIRO Founder, Ellie Bianca

Our sampling strategy has been to give prospective clients, retail partners and customers full-size samples of our products. The intention is to allow prospective customers (retail store buyers) an opportunity to assess how our products might fit on their store shelves. 

Also, when we train staff at our retail partner stores, staff receive a full-size sample of a product of their choice that is sold at their location. When the associates get to try the products they are more likely to recommend it to customers. We want the retail associates to share honest and authentic recommendations to potential customers following their own experience with our brand.

This has made a positive impact on the sales with the staff having a personal connection with the brand. Occasionally, we also provide free samples to customers as a promotional gift with purchase. A free lip balm is a nice incentive for buyers and allows them to try a product free of risk. We have donated full-size samples of our lip balm tins in VIP gift bags and to attendees of certain conferences that we have been a part of. This approach has worked well, and we have seen an increase in brand awareness.

As we expand, we will make smaller sample sizes to be given direct to consumers to reduce cost, however, we will continue to give full sizes to prospective retail customers.

LaVonndra Johnson Founder and Creative Director, Elle Johnson Co.

When creating my brand, product size and sample size were definitely a huge factor in the packaging and approach. While I can admit that sample and smaller sizes are trendy right now, I must also say that I believe they’re here to stay. Today’s consumer is well-versed in products and packaging, and their need for variety. 

Our standard size is 15 milliliters, which our customers absolutely love because it’s chic, upscale, and compact. I modeled the prototype based upon women like me who are on the go, traveling, possibly in and out of airports, and want the convenience and ease of a carry-on approved size. 

In addition, we recently launched a sample-by-mail program that we’ve labeled “A Penny For Your Thoughts.” This allows us to send potential customers a sample of three items, a cleanser + moisturizer based upon skin type, plus our Sugar Rush Facial Polish, which is an exfoliator.  Traditionally, we only offered samples during trade shows, but, as a new brand, we were looking for ways to gain customer buy-in without the hesitation and skepticism that comes with trying something new.  

We’ve done really well with the program, so much so that we’ve had to limit the quantity to two per household, and even limit availability to ensure priority and fulfillment of our larger sizes. As an added incentive, we also offer those who purchase our “A Penny For Your Thoughts” sample pack an exclusive 15% off coupon code allowing them to purchase our standard size within 30 days of receipt. Since implementing this option, we’ve seen greater traffic and engagement as well as increased sales volume.

Theodora Ntovas Founder, Yasou

I have been in the game for a few years now and, as a small boutique shop, I feel the more you can do in-house for sample fulfillment, the more cost effective you are for your business. I now can fulfill my full-sized and travel-sized samples so that’s a huge savings, but I have been investing in the small foil-stamped samples, which was and has been super expensive, but worth it for me.  

First, I feel it made me look and feel legit (more professional) and have also discovered that most of my online sales come from people taking samples to try at home first. It has been very expensive because I have found only one company that will fulfill small runs. So, even 5,000 to 10,000 units is considered a very small run, and it’s not cheap.  

I am revisiting the foil-stamped samples for several reasons, including environment and cost. I am looking into ways where I can do this in-house. Equipment is expensive for this type of a machine, so I’m still not sure how to resolve this, but people love the small foil-stamped samples.

Jenni Curtice Founder, Luna Tea Co.

I have kind of a hybrid sample size. I sell a small amount of loose leaf tea (three to six cups) that is considered a sample. They come in beautiful glass test tubes and are extremely popular, especially during the holiday season. I do give out free one-cup samples that we package in tiny paper bags. These usually go in every single online order, excluding holiday season orders, and it's totally worth it for me. People are more likely to purchase tea that they can taste and smell and, if they really enjoy it, they will become a regular customer. Plus getting free stuff in the mail is always fun and appreciated!

Michelle Ranavat Founder, Ranavat Botanics

Sampling is an incredible tool, and I’ve found that it has been worth the investment. If you have a good product you believe in, the best thing to do is get it into as many hands as possible! We were able to leverage thousands of samples to our retailers, and I think that helped boost sales and productivity of our top SKU, Mighty Majesty Hair Serum.

Rozy Kriston Founder, Ampersand

We recently released our sample packs, which include a sample of all six serums in a strip. This allows us to tell the whole story: why layering and combining serums is beneficial, and helps customers decide which regimen is best suited for their skin. It has helped tremendously in sharing our products to a larger audience. It is also a great tool to use for online giveaways, making connections at trade shows, and especially for gaining trust from consumers. When you have a product that people fall in love with after one use, it is certainly worth it to invest in samples.

DANUTA DUDEK Founder, Cotarde

Our whole company is built around the travel-size products. So, yes, we do have a strategy. We believe in modern days it makes sense to go small and light in terms of packaging and product overall. We don’t want people to keep partly unused product on the shelf. Instead, we offer two sizes of our moisturizers (each cabin-friendly and matching their needs depending on the length of travel), and we will be introducing a new size very shortly.

JULIANNE ROBICHEAU Founder, Robi Luxury Skin Care

We create our own mini samples that we include in online orders. We use small, reusable containers instead of traditional one-time use plastic packets for two reasons. One, it’s wasteful, and we try to be as sustainable as possible in our everyday operations. Two, it’s expensive to manufacture. If someone reaches out by email asking for samples, I’ll usually provide them with a coupon code for the online shop. 

From my own personal experience from back in the day shopping at Sephora, I loved the samples and often liked the product, but I rarely ended up purchasing full-sized. On another note, as the co-founder of the beauty refill shop Eco + Amour in Toronto, sample-size fills are one of the selling points. Our customers can purchase a tiny amount of something to see if it works for them. No one has complained about having to pay a couple dollars for a sample, which means they’re seriously interested in the product, not just looking for a freebie.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].