(Sept. 29) Ask any car salesman and he’ll tell you his chances of making a sale improve dramatically once he gets a potential customer to take a test drive.

The same principle exists in the produce department. If you get your customers to take a taste test, your chances of selling a product skyrocket.

Some produce managers report sales increases of 200% to 300% when they conduct in-store demos, but the average sales increase is more like 35%, says Joann Benci, owner of the Joann Benci demo firm in Burbank, Calif.

You’re likely to see a sales improvement of 20% to 25% for about three weeks after the demo, as well.

What, where and when you demo, as well as how creative you get, determine how successful your demo event will be. Consider these eight suggestions to help you put together in-store demos that work:

1. DECIDE WHAT TO DEMO.

There are several categories of produce that are ripe for a demo.

Lona Carr, produce manager at the single Dillonvale IGA store in Cincinnati, says her store conducts lots of demos. She likes to show off product as soon as it becomes available each season.

During the summer, she displayed five kinds of peaches from California and Georgia and seven kinds of melons. During a honeydew demo, she went through 20 cases in a single weekend — a big increase from the four cases she usually sells.

2. TEACH SHOPPERS SOMETHING.

In-store demos should be more than just sales events — they should be educational. There’s a lot you can teach your customers about produce.

For one thing, Judy Leonard, a home economist who conducts in-store demos for Atlantic Food Mart, a single store in Reading, Mass., says it’s important to provide nutritional information about any product you sample. Anyone conducting a demo should be familiar with the product, how it’s used and its health benefits.

3. GET CREATIVE.

There’s something to be said for a plain and simple demo in which you offer shoppers a slice of kiwifruit or a small cup of table grapes and let the flavor lure them in. But it also can be a good idea to feature the item in a simple recipe that shows consumers how to use the product.

Let shoppers experience a variety of fruits by combining fruit with yogurt, cream cheese, fruit juice and bit of nutmeg, suggests Leonard of Atlantic Food Mart.

Or make fruit shish kebabs by cutting up several kinds of fruits into chunks and separating them with grapes on a skewer.

Or marinate portabella mushrooms in garlic dressing, heat them in a skillet, cut them into squares and add romano cheese, recommends Carr of Dillonvale IGA. She also hands out copies of the recipe so shoppers can cook up their own mushroom dish at home.

4. CROSS-PROMOTE.

In-store demos offer golden opportunities to promote more than one item at a time, Leonard says. Lettuce or prepared salad mixes and salad dressings make ideal cross-promotion partners.

But don’t overwhelm the taste of the lettuce with a strong dressing if you’re trying to promote the lettuce. Consider offering shoppers a choice of lettuce by itself and with the dressing, especially if the lettuce has a distinctive taste. And offer fruit samples alone as well with a dip.

Action Demos’ Benites says she’s combined Foster Farms ready-to-eat chicken with Caesar salad mix.

5. LOCATION MATTERS.

All the experts advise conducting in-store demos near the product you’re sampling. No matter how much they may like a sample, customers may not pick up the product if they have to search for it on the other side of the department.

If it isn’t practical to conduct the sampling near the regular display, set up a smaller, temporary display near the demo site, Benci recommends.

6. OFFER PRICE INCENTIVES.

Just as the car salesman might clinch a deal by offering a hefty discount, you stand a better chance of cashing in on your in-store demo if you offer cents-off coupons or feature the demo item on ad.

Carr of Dillonvale IGA says she offers price breaks on items she wants to move in a hurry. Benites says it’s important to give consumers a price break on new products or items they haven’t seen before in order to encourage first-time sales.

7. TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

Fall and winter are the busiest seasons for in-store demos, Leonard says. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the best demo days for Atlantic Food Mart, she says, but the best time to demo can vary from store to store. The Food Mart is a small store, and Saturday is a busy day and customers want to get in and out in a hurry.

She advises against conducting demos close to major holidays. Despite the high traffic, demos can end up creating congestion in the aisles and antagonizing shoppers who already may have frayed nerves from holiday stress.

Harding’s De Young says he samples as many products as possible at store grand openings.

8. DELEGATE DEMO DUTIES.

Most demos are conducted by firms that specialize in in-store sampling.

Benites says Action Demos provides trained people who work in a controlled environment with supervisors who check to ensure the job is being done right. Her demo personnel are well-groomed and smartly attired in black pants and white shirts and are trained to approach customers to encourage sampling, to keep the demo area in order and to ensure that enough product is available.

Her company will set up tents and banners, if necessary, and provide a report at the end of the demo that covers amount of inventory sold, price information and customer comments.