Feel icky about offering discounts for holiday sales? Here are some tips to rethink your approach to seasonal gift certificate sales.
Store-bought costume we spoke of
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Michael Reynolds Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. I’m Michael Reynolds.
Allissa Haines And I’m Allissa Haines.
MR We’re your hosts. Thanks for joining us today.
Allissa, you ready for Halloween?
AH I am so ready for Halloween. And the kids got their costumes yesterday. And so, like, store-bought costumes are weird for us because right up until last year, Walt made their costumes every year. And he made like really — Walt sews.
MR Aw, that’s awesome.
AH He sews. He sews, and he’s very crafty.
MR Of course he does.
AH And — it’s ridiculous. And so last year — it might have been the year before Sanne really wanted to be Princess Leia, and we just — but she decided last minute, and he was like, yeah, all right, I’m just going to buy the costume. And that was like —
AH But it was like two years ago was the first — the kid was like, I don’t know, 11 before she got a store-bought costume. But they loved making them, and they would always make them together. And this year, she wants to be some character from Stranger Things.
MR Oh, nice.
AH The guy in the sailor suit. I don’t know. I don’t watch Stranger Things, so.
MR Oh, it’s so good.
AH I can’t. It’s just a little too creepy for me, like —
MR Okay. Okay.
AH — I — I’m so sensitive. So anyhow.
MR I forgot how — yeah, I forgot how creepy doesn’t work for you.
AH Yeah. I’m very sensitive. I’m a delicate flower.
AH So they went to the store yesterday to get that costume because ordering it online was becoming a thing, and they came home with that. And then the little one, he has never had a store-bought costume. He came home with this really ornate Buzz Lightyear thing. It is adorbs.
MR Oh, that’s awesome.
AH In fact, it’s so cute — he was like posing in it — it’s so cute that I’m going to put a picture in our podcast notes.
MR Please do.
AH That’s how cute.
MR Please do.
AH So tell me about your guys’ costume.
MR Yeah. So Eli is Spider-Man from Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales. He is very excited. We actually recently — I think it was the beginning of October we went to the Children’s Museum Halloween bash party, and then before that we went to the ZooBoo party. So we kicked off Halloween by just going all out, all day Halloween. So our local zoo in October, they open this thing called ZooBoo. So on the weekends, they have a pumpkin town village, and they have all this Halloween stuff and little haunted houses and mazes and trick-or-treating and stuff, and everyone’s in costumes. So that was fun. And then in the evening, we went to the Children’s Museum Halloween party, which was a onetime thing this month, and it was like a whole — all the different levels had different parties and snacks and cupcakes and games. And it was just like — it was a lot of Halloween. [Laughing]. It was a lot of fun.
AH Wow. I can’t believe you’re doing all this stuff. It’s only the first weekend in October. [Laughing].
MR I know. I know. But we have other stuff we got to do too, so we got to start early to get all the Halloween stuff out of the way because there’s a Headless Horseman festival at Conner Prairie, and just — there’s a whole thing, so. Yeah. We were —
AH I saw that you guys carved a pumpkin.
MR We did. Yes.
AH You realize that it’s going to be all gross like a week before Halloween and you’re going to have to carve another one, right?
MR Yes. I know that.
MR But Eli went to the pumpkin patch on his first field trip at pre-k.
AH Right. Okay.
MR And so they got pumpkins. And of course the minute he got home, he was like, I want to carve the pumpkin. He would not stop until we carved the pumpkin.
MR So we carved the pumpkin.
AH No. It’s totally cool. I just want you to be mindful that you need to have a backup pumpkin or have some time [laughing] — ready — carved out —
AH — to go and get a second [laughing]
MR I see what you did there. I see what you did there.
AH And get a second pumpkin so that when his inevitably gets moldy and decomposes before Halloween, you have a — that — here’s another one. So be prepared for that, okay?
MR Oh, we are.
AH Because it’s devastating.
MR We are prepared. Yeah.
AH Okay. All right. I didn’t want to doubt your parenting, but I wanted you to be ready.
MR Oh, no. No. We do Halloween like — yeah. We go all out. So there will be many pumpkins I’m sure.
AH [Laughing]. All right. What are we doing?
MR So yeah. Thanks for asking.
MR Sorry you asked, and thanks for asking, right? [Laughing].
Oh, actually, there’s one more thing before we jump to the episode. It’s been on my mind, and I wanted to — kind of a little sidebar bonus thing for our audience. And maybe I’m the only one that’s benefiting this because I’m kind of behind on this, but you use Grammarly, correct?
AH I don’t actually.
MR You don’t? Oh, my gosh.
AH I don’t.
MR So many people have been telling me how great Grammarly is for like literally five or six years, and I’m like, oh, Grammarly, yeah; sounds great; I’ve never actually used it. So I installed the Grammarly plug-in into my Chrome browser, and now it — every time I write something in Google Docs or my blog or whatever, it magically goes through and gives me grammar coaching, and it makes my writing so much better. And it’s so easy to use. And I can’t believe I haven’t used it for like the past ten years. So if anyone out there does writing for your blog or whatever, do yourself a favor; consider installing the Grammarly plug-in or Chrome extension. It is very good. It is very — it is kind of almost life-changing when it comes to writing. So I think a lot of people are already using it and I’m kind of behind the times, but I really enjoy using Grammarly, so. So check it out.
AH I used — and I don’t use it anymore, but I did use it for a long time — the Hemingway app.
MR Oh, yeah.
AH Which is very — I think it’s very similar. And so I had gotten into the Hemmingway app, and then when Grammarly came along, I just kind of ignored it. And now I don’t use anything because I’m just not doing — I’m writing, but I’m not writing the way I used to write. And so I am totally signing up for it right this second. I am putting the extension on my computer. I’m doing the whole thing so that I can start using it too. So thank you.
MR Yeah. Yeah.
So now that we’ve talked Halloween and Grammarly, I think we have a real topic today.
AH Yeah. And Grammarly’s going to freak out over all my notes right now.
AH So that’s great.
AH Awesome. I’m feeling really good about myself. Let’s do this.
MR Wonderful. [Laughing].
So today’s topic, as a nice segue actually, is rethinking the holiday discount in your massage business.
AH Yeah, man. Happy pre-holiday season. While you were Halloween shopping, did you notice that there is Christmas and such things out in the stores?
MR Oh, I noticed.
AH I did. And I don’t really mind that, so I’m not crapping all over early Christmas stuff. I’m on board. I’m embracing it.
MR Oh, we watched Polar Express last weekend already, so.
AH Nice. [Laughing]. We watch that —
MR We’re contributing to the madness.
AH We watch Elf all year round.
AH Anyhow, so enough banter. We really got to get back.
So early in my career, I got all hopped up about holiday gift certificate sales, and I wanted to sell a ton, and I loved having that big, fat wad of money in my account in January, and it was a great thing. But I, as many of us do, we definitely gave away too much in discounting and gift certificate sales because that seems to be the thing to do. You know, you get caught up. You see all of these holiday sales. You see Black Friday sales. You see all of these things, and we feel like we have to compete in this retail marketplace that we don’t really always have to compete in. So I wanted to do a little reboot of talking about discounting and gift certificate sales. We’ve covered this before. It comes up in conversation every year. So here we go.
First universal truth of gift certificate sales around the holidays is that you don’t have to sell gift certificates at all. You don’t have to offer gift certificates for your business. You don’t have to allow people to pre-pay. You don’t have to offer them for people to give away. You do not have to do it. If you do not want or need new clients or — like, if you’re super full and you’re scheduling people three months out and you get super stressed about the idea of like, what if I get sick? I have no day to move anybody to. If your schedule is mostly full and your retainment techniques — is that retaining? I don’t know. Retainment? I don’t know — your keeping your client technique —
MR Retention, I believe.
Okay. Listen, everybody, I’m like super tapped out on cold meds right now.
AH So I didn’t want to complain about it, but —
MR Just trying to help. Here to help [indiscernible].
AH — just roll with me. I clearly don’t have Grammarly installed in my brain right now, so roll with this.
So your retention techniques, if they’re good, then it — you don’t want a lot of rando new clients coming to you from weird sources. So selling gift certificates may not be a good thing for you. You might only want clients who come in regularly and not the kind of clients who just come in as a treat, so — or like when they get a gift certificate. I definitely have like 20 clients who only come in once or twice a year when they are given gift certificates. And that’s fine. Like, it works for me, but it might not work for you. And I want you to know it’s okay to not offer them.
Also, if you are staying really tight within your niche, you might not want the kinds of clients that come from random gift certificate sales. So you could sell gift certificates, but maybe just by request with screening. So if one of your clients — one of your regular clients says, hey, do you sell gift certificates? I want to get my mom in here — let me give you a little example. This is how the conversation would look for me. I would say, why do you think massage would be good for your mom? And if they said, well, she had knee surgery last year and her rehab has been going really slow, I would say, I am not the best massage therapist for her. If you want to send somebody in for anxiety and stress relief, I would love to work with them. If you know of people who are having trouble sleeping or have stress-related headaches, I’m your girl. But I’m not really good a knee rehab, and I think that would be a wasted gift for your mom.
So you can sell them but with screening. And that, of course, gets a little trickier because it means probably having phone calls with people because you can put a thing on your website that’s like, I do sell gift certificates, but only to people who — but only to be gifted to people who fit within my niche of stress and anxiety; call here for more information or email me for more information. So that gets a little trickier, and you might just want to say, no, I’m just not selling them at all. That’s fine. If you don’t want and need new clients from potentially random sources, it’s okay to not sell gift certificates.
Michael, I have to take a break to cough. So do you have anything to add to that?
MR [Laughing]. Fair enough.
No. I want to reiterate what you said at the beginning, which is you don’t have to do anything. We often feel pressure to do things based on time of year or what other people are doing. And I mean, you already said it, but I just want to kind of offer my endorsement as well that you can do whatever you want in your own business, and you don’t have to follow what the crowd or your peers are doing.
AH And I actually just ran into this where I used to donate a gift basket to a local charitable thing, and they called me to hit me up this year for the gift basket before their annual event. And I said, you know, I usually give you something with a gift certificate for a half-hour massage and a couple of my cheaper retail items. But I’m only taking new clients within my niche of anxiety; so I can’t guarantee that the person who wins this at the auction is going to be the right kind of client, and I’m not really selling those kind of retail items anymore, so I don’t have anything on hand. So I don’t think that a gift basket is a really good idea from me; how about I just give you guys a cash donation? And I did and everyone was happy.
So I think that when you — and I understand it was a charitable thing versus selling them for the holidays, but it’s — the same concept applies. When you do a good job of telling people why you’re making a change, they usually understand it.
So anyhow, let’s move along. Sorry, lost my place because I — my screen moved when I was coughing.
AH Okay. So if you do decide that you sell gift certificates, that that’s a good thing for your business, you don’t have to offer a sale just because it’s the holidays. You don’t. Even if you always have in the past, it’s okay to stop, or it’s okay to change what you offer. And I’m going to say this a few times. You are not a discount provider. We do not need to compete on price. Competing on price is a terrible business model for a service industry. Do not violate your discounting feelings just because of the season. Just because it’s getting chillier and you want some hot chocolate doesn’t mean you have to take a hit on your wages. So rethink — consider what you have done in the past, and if it makes you feel uncomfortable or resentful, then it’s definitely time to make a change. Those feelings — if when someone calls to redeem a gift certificate, you’re like, ugh, that’s a red flag. You shouldn’t feel that way about any appointment. So make the change.
And in order to make those changes, we got to decide what we’re comfortable with. So do some math. And that includes imagining the worst-case scenario. What are you okay with? So my rates are 100 bucks an hour. If I offered like a 10% off discount on gift certificates, would I feel okay when that client came in for that massage to redeem it and I was only making 90 bucks? Maybe yes. Maybe no. What if a client bought a year’s worth of those? So every three weeks or however often that client comes in for a year, I’m only getting 90 bucks. How do I feel about that? Frankly, I’m going to tell you my gut feels a little icky about that right now, so that would not be a good option for me.
And do you already have any kind of discounted pricing? So for me, if someone buys a package of five, they — each massage ends up costing $95 instead of 100. So with an extra 10% off of that, that’s going to put me at what, like, 87, I don’t know, something. Whatever. So if someone bought a couple of packages and they had ten massages and I’m now redeeming the next ten massages for them and I’m only making like $87 or something instead of 100, that would make me feel bad. So if you do decide to do some kind of discounting, is it going to apply to something that’s already discounted? Think ahead on that. Really go through your menu and your offerings and your — all of your items and see what would make you feel good or bad. Doing the math on any particular offers is really important.
So I see a lot of — and this is the biggest, I think, mistake because it wouldn’t work for me, but it might work for other people, so take this with a grain of salt. When they offer like “buy three, get one free” or “buy four, get one free,” all they think about is the number that they’re actually taking in and not the redemption value. So again, if someone — if you sell gift certificates at “buy three, get one free” — if I did it at $100 an hour, that would be dropping my rate for those four massages to $75 an hour. That is not enough for me. I would feel resentful and piffy about that.
So you get the idea, but I really wanted to walk through how it could work with percentages and also “buy one or buy however many, get some free.” If you really want to have a — any kind of special, you got to create one that fits your comfort level. So you really got to think through what that comfort level is.
But for the moment, before I give you tips on if you do want to sell them, Michael, who is our sponsor today?
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AH And I got to tell you, jojoba’s a little hard to say with a stuffy nose. [Laughing]. So there’s that.
MR You did a pretty good job. I’m impressed.
AH Thank you. [Laughing].
MR You’re powering through it.
AH So this part will be quick. If you do want to have a holiday special, more power to you. I would suggest you keep it very simple with a lot of structure. Oftentimes, people have really complicated sales and realize that there are so many options and conditions it can cause confusion, and you end up losing money. And then someone’s like, oh, I thought it applied to blah, blah, blah, and then you end up giving them that discount, and now you’re giving away a massage for $50 an hour and feeling like a bozo. So if you do offer something, keep it very, very simple.
I’m going to give you some examples, and I’m going to remind you once again you are not a discount provider. You offer a very high-end skilled service. You deserve to get decent pay, and you don’t need to compete on price just because the weather’s getting cooler.
So considering your options. You could offer a flat dollar amount or a percentage off for each sale. So you could say, if you buy $200 of gift certificates, you get 15 bucks off. Okay. You could offer a percentage. If you buy $200 of gift certificates or more, you get 5 or 10% off. You get to decide. If you sell gift certificates in person — maybe you have like an open house event around the holidays or you participate in some kind of holiday fair. Events are really nice because it puts a nice — it puts bookends onto how long you are offering any particular sale. And it could be that if you sell in person, you can offer like a sweet bonus without having — in the — pardon me, I’m — I lost my words. You can offer some kind of sweet upgrade or bonus to a gift certificate sale in the manner of a thing, an actual thing, versus like a gift certificate sold online where there’s no exchange between people live in person.
So you could package a gift certificate up pretty so that it’s a self-contained gift so that the person doesn’t have to do anything other than buy it from you and hand it to the person they’re giving it to. You could — if you sell retail items, you could comp a small gift bag to go along with the gift certificate. A lot of people love giving gift certificates, but they feel weird about someone not having something to use right then, the moment they receive a gift. So you could make a little gift bag to accompany each gift certificate that’s kind of an immediate present, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
And I want you to really think about your cost as you do this. You wouldn’t want to spend more than 5 bucks — or if you’re a really high-end place 10 bucks — on a gift bag because that’s coming out of your profit. So again, if I give $100 massage and the gift bag was worth $15, I’m essentially giving an $85 massage, which we have already establish I am not comfortable with. So you want to be real smart about what kinds of things you can give away that are nice, without going overboard. Or you could decide that this is a great way to gift and go overboard. That’s fine.
You could gift along with a certain amount of gift certificate sales, an affordable upgrade for the buyer. So if one of my clients buys $300 in gift certificates, I am going to give them a fancy gift bag or I am going to add — I don’t do a lot of upgrades in my treatments, but let’s just pretend — I’m going to add an essential oil upgrade to their next treatment, or I’m going to give them an extra 15 minutes on their next treatment. So I’m rewarding the buyer, who is probably a client, and that is how I am incentivizing them to buy gift certificates. But again, I just want to say our clients already understand the value of our services, and these kinds of incentives may or may not be fruitful depending on your client base. You know them better than I do.
And my final point, if you are going to sell gift certificates, make it really easy for people to buy them online. Don’t have some complicated process where they fill out a form and then they pay with a PayPal link and then you manually have to put together a gift certificate. If you’re going to sell them and you’re going to sell them online, make it really easy. Use an automated service either within your scheduling system or some of — there’s Gift Up! There’s SpaBoom. There’s ways you can sell gift certificates within Square and probably even within PayPal now. Make sure it’s automated so it happens instantly without you having to do anything. And not just because that’s less work for you, but because we want it to be easy on the buyers end and it happen just instantly the way they want it to so they can print it out or email it to the recipient and have that be that.
And Michael, I’m done.
MR I got to say I’m impressed. Despite your cold and the medication you’re on [laughing], you actually powered through it very well, so.
AH Thank you.
MR I think it’s pretty complete.
I also want to reiterate the ease of purchase. If it’s not easy to purchase a gift card online, then people are just not going to do it. So make sure it’s a real system like Allissa said. So yeah. Good stuff.
AH All right. Take us home.
MR Anything else you’d add, or are we good?
AH I’m done, man.
MR All right. You need some rest.
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