I live in Ithaca and it’s home of Cornell University. If you know anything about Cornell, we are fanatical about our ice hockey. We have an amazing ice hockey program, both men’s and women’s, and I’m lucky enough to have season tickets to our men’s and women’s teams.
In the back of the season ticket booklet are coupons. You can get a free bag of popcorn when you go to the game, or a free car wash, or a free cheese pizza at a local restaurant.
I’ve had season tickets for years and every year these coupons are included at the back of the book, and every year I go to the local restaurant and I ask them if I can use the free cheese pizza coupon, but do 2 things…
- Get a gluten-free crust because unfortunately I cannot have gluten
- Upgrade it to one of the specialty pizzas
In other words, instead of a cheese pizza, can I get the Sayeed pizza which has spinach, mozzarella, feta, sliced tomato, and Kalamata olives and have it on a gluten-free crust.
For years, without fail, this has never been a problem so long as I was willing to pay the difference.
Of Course, No Problem.
I got my coupon for this year and went up to have some lunch. I sat down, and as I always do, I asked the server, “I have these coupons, but would it be okay if I upgraded to gluten-free crust and your Sayeed pizza?”
She says, “Well, I think so but let me check with the manager. I’ll be right back.”
She took our drink orders and went off. About five minutes later she came back and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. We can only use this coupon for a free cheese pizza.”
I said, “Oh, I’m bummed out to hear that. I’ve gotten these coupons for years and it’s never been a problem. I’m more than willing to pay the difference.”
She said, “Oh, I’m sorry, but my manager said no.”
I Asked to Speak to the Manager As a Little Experiment (Don’t Worry – I Was VERY Polite)
The server leaves and unfortunately another five minutes pass before the manager comes over to talk with me. I can immediately tell that he’s busy and hurried and really doesn’t want to talk to me.
I say the same thing to him.
“Hey, I’ve been bringing in these coupons for years and I’m more than willing to pay the difference.”
He says, “No, it says cheese pizza. That’s what the coupon’s for.”
I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m just interested, since I’m a business owner, I was wondering what the harm would be in allowing me to upgrade. I’m more than willing to pay the difference.”
He said, “No, you can’t do that. If you want to add toppings to your cheese pizza, you can do that and pay the difference.”
I said, “Oh okay, and I can also do the gluten-free upgrade and pay for that as well. Correct?”
He says, “Yeah, you can upgrade to gluten-free. That’s fine.”
I said, “Okay, I just can’t get the specific Sayeed pizza or any of the specialty pizzas?”
“No, because this is only for a cheese pizza.”
At this point I think he can tell my wheels are turning, and I think he kind of knows he’s in the wrong for a variety of reasons (the customer is always right and his logic makes no sense are the 2 main reasons).
So he ends up saying, “Well, I’ll let you do it just for today, but in the future we’re not going to do it any longer. These are just for cheese pizzas.”
So, he went on his way and I ended up getting the Sayeed pizza with my gluten-free crust. At the end of the meal they simply took the price of the cheese pizza off and I paid the difference.
Here’s the Larger Picture…
If you take a look at this restaurant’s menu the regular cheese pizza is $8.95 and the gluten-free crust upgrade is $3.50. The Sayeed specialty pizza is $11.95.
So I am asking to pay an additional $6.50 for the Sayeed upgrade and gluten-free crust ($3 difference between the cheese pizza and the Sayeed and $3.50 for the gluten-free crust).
I understand how business works. A business has one function – make money.
I was willing to pay the difference, but I had to go through several hoops including the server, and then questioning the manager, just to be able to pay them more money.
Let’s take a step back because some of you may be reading this and going, “You know Lynn, the coupon was for a free cheese pizza, just shut up and get the coupon and either use it or don’t.”
If You’re a Smart Business Owner, Here’s What You’d Realize.
They have to pay to be in the coupon book for season ticket holders. In fact, I called Cornell University to make sure my assumption was correct. To be included in the back of the ticket book is part of a multi-thousand dollar advertising campaign.
So they had to pay a few thousand dollars just to get their coupon in the book itself. It’s prime real estate as it goes out to all season ticket holders which are, for the most part, people who live right in town and have disposable income – after all… they are buying season ticket’s to college hockey.
In order to get in front of all these people they paid money for this campaign to put the coupon there. Now I know from the manager because he told me when I was talking to him that they redeem about 800 of these free cheese pizza coupons per year.
I started thinking about it and it really started bothering me. It goes back to what I’ve been mentioning and talking about for 10 years now. Be different. Be better. Use common sense in your business.
“Could You Imagine If Marcus Lemonis or the Shark Tank Cast Was Here…”
I said to my wife, “Could you imagine if Marcus Lemonis (of CNBC’s “The Profit”) or any of “The Shark Tank” cast was sitting right here with us and the manager had said that to me?”
These super successful business people would have looked at that manager, shaken their head, and literally walked out of the deal.
When you provide a coupon, the coupon’s job is to get people in the door and you hope that the customer buys more than the coupon’s worth.
If I would have simply just redeemed the coupon for what it is, just a free cheese pizza and ordered nothing else, no drinks, no appetizers, no nothing, the restaurant would have lost money. This is a very real possibility as I often just order water and a single item (just my meal).
I would have been taking up one of their tables. I would have been taking up their server’s time. I would have taken up the cost of having plates and silverware and cups that the dishwasher then needs to clean. They would have made no profit.
To drive my point home, I asked my wife, “Would you have come here for just a free cheese pizza?” and she said, “No. I never order a cheese pizza and I would have just gone to another establishment and paid full price for a meal I actually wanted.”
Instead we came through the door with their coupon and asked to pay them more money. I ordered drinks. I upgraded to gluten-free crust. I upgraded to one of the specialty pizzas.
They actually made more money off of me because I came in wanting to upgrade, and it didn’t cost them anything additional.
Either way they placed the coupon in the booklet. Either way I walked through the door. Either they got zero dollars for a cheese pizza if I ordered that, or they could have gotten all of the upgraded money.
As a business owner it’s your job to foster this type of mentality in all of your staff, and more specifically in yourself. The easiest way to generate buzz about your business, the easiest way to grow your business, is to BE A PHENOMENAL BUSINESS IN ALL WAYS.
This manager is costing this restaurant so much money.
I’m looking at my receipt and I spent an additional $17.28. That doesn’t include the tip or include alcoholic beverages (we ordered an iced tea and a hot tea).
If that was the average upgraded revenue of all 800 tickets that get redeemed per year… that’s an extra $13,824 just off of that one coupon in the back of the season ticket holders for Cornell University men’s hockey program.
Almost $14,000 Per Year.
This is where businesses go wrong. When they do their marketing there’s no follow through. There’s no thought put into it. This manager should have been more than willing to allow me to upgrade things and pay the difference.
That’s what’s really important. I wasn’t asking to use the free cheese pizza coupon to get a specialty pizza with a gluten-free crust and pay the same amount.
In the end it comes down to customer happiness.
I was literally asking to give them more money and had to go through the server AND push back a bit with the manager – all to give them more money.
Lesson of the Day: understand marketing concepts and how to leverage them so it works for your customers AND your business growth.
So now it’s your turn. What marketing do you put into the world and how can you…
- Make it better?
- Make it more effective in terms of ROI?
- Make the customer want to give you more money?