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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

How offering Free Stuff can blow

I like free stuff. I’m a coupon girl and, just like you, I look for high value, good bargains. When Drybar offered a special one time event later this month which includes a FREE blow dry, I was definitely interested. But then again so were thousands of other women. And that is where the story begins and where the lessons lie. In every industry, “free” doesn’t always lead to more loyal customers.

Here is the story:

I am a faithful, regular customer of Drybar . With my curly hair, my schedule, and my low maintenance lifestyle, we are a perfect match. Yesterday, Alli Webb, the founder of Drybar announced an offer through social media and email. She offered free blow drys at all Drybar locations for a specific block of time on Sunday, January 13th. The block of time is when the show GIRLS will premier for it’s second season on HBO. Drybar and HBO teamed up for the promotion. Get a free blowdry at Drybar while watching the HBO series. Sounds like a great idea for a girls’ night out.

The response was incredible. So many were interested and it was a hit! Then, within minutes of the announcement, Drybar’s scheduling software crashed and their call center became a n auditory cluster of busy signals. The criticism and dislike was instantaneous. Potential customers complained on Facebook and media was in a whirl. Alli Webb posted a sincere apology for underestimating the response and thanked people for their patience.

There were haters. People who felt entitled to the free blow dry. There were those who demanded that the hours of the offer be extended since they couldn’t get an appointment. Others wanted rain checks. Many offered advice for Alli on how to run her business. It was amusing to me because Drybar is so one of my favorite examples for how they market. They are the ones who figured out that the greatest rate of Drybar cancellations and no shows occurred when there is rain. Their response? When you get a blow dry and it is raining, Drybar gives you your own personal bright yellow signature umbrella with the phrase “Rain Blows” prominently displayed. Oh yes! I have one and use it proudly and it was FREE. I perceived it as a gift for my loyalty – as a part of the service because the people of Drybar gave it to me so the rain would not mess up my fresh and sassy hairdo. To me, that is going the extra mile when it is needed. It was unexpected and not a response to a sense of entitlement.

FREE isn’t always good when you are trying to build a customer base. In my opinion, those “potential customers” who are mad at Drybar because the free appointments were limited are unlikely to become the faithful customers that build companies anyway. They want something for “free”. That likely makes them a nonqualified buyer. Perceived value is often low when customers receive your services initially for free.

"If you can give it to me initially for ‘free’, then how much does it really cost you to provide a service and how high really is the mark up on your services when I pay?"

Free breeds free. Value breads value. While we want something for nothing, businesses have to make a profit. I know I like to feed my family and invest profit back in my business so my quality and value are maintained.

Kudos to you Alli Webb and to those at Drybar who do their best to reward the faithful. The haters will move on and we know that your scheduling software and your call centers will be ready with your next promotion. You don’t have to extend the hours. You also don’t have to give rain checks. Your locations are open 7 days a week and those who value your service will be there with their cash in hand to gladly pay. Me? My next appointment is this coming Monday at 8am and I know my favorite Drybar stylist, Myrna, will do her magic deserving of the cost of the service. Hey, I keep coming back, as do many others, and I am happy to pay.

Tell me what you think? Do you think promotions with limited services that are totally free are a Smart Move?

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