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Unpopular Opinions and Gift Certificates

April 9, 2020 Author: Allissa Haines

Have you seen the Unpopular Opinion Game going around social media? I’m going to play.

Name 10 things you don’t like that almost everyone else likes (only I’m going to limit to 5):

  • Monty Python
  • Ice coffee with anything else in it
  • Pingu
  • Competitive sports
  • Selling gift certificates right now

Straight up: Selling gift certificates, and spending the money before services are rendered, is a very bad idea. Maybe even unethical.

I know. I KNOW. I’m a super wet blanket.

There are so many sweet and thoughtful ideas for supporting small businesses through this shutdown. And it’s so kind that people with steady incomes are asking how to support us. At the surface, selling gift certificates to help us survive seems like a fast (if only partial) solution to covering our bills while we cannot massage. Loans and grants are taking forever to happen. Unemployment for self-employed people is going to be a long wait. We need to cover our bills now.

But even in the best of times, it is a terrible idea to cover right now expenses by selling future services. Outstanding gift certificates and packages are just another form of debt, and we have no idea when we can go back to work and repay that debt.

The reality is that many, many of us will not be returning to massage for a few months, or many months, or ever. And for those of us who do return, the client base may or may not be dramatically changed. We just don’t know. And we can’t know.

Either you are living in total denial or you are aware that our return date is uncertain.

A list of things that could happen before I reopen:

  • This weird knee pain that started yesterday could render me immobile.
  • I could decide to continue as a stay at home stepmom and not return to massage.
  • My landlord could decide to not pause my rent and boot me out, or just sell the building entirely.
  • Cancer. Or MS. Or Lupus. Or whatever.

Anything could happen, at any time, even in the best of circumstances, and we are definitely not in the best of circumstances.

Some states require you to keep that money aside and should your business close, turn it over to the state for purchasers or recipients to request reimbursement. In many places, there is no recourse for customers when a business shuts down. In the absence of state requirements, you can hang on to your ethics and your reputation. That’s it.

What happens to your reputation when you close up shop because your landlord was awful and you can’t reopen right away, and you have to refuse to give refunds to clients who ask, because you didn’t put that money aside? And when you can finally reopen, will anyone want to come to the therapist who they heard stiffed a bunch of people a few years ago? No. No, they will not.

Should you accept straight-up donations? Maybe. That makes me a little uncomfortable because I’m a business, not a charity.

Should you be selling gift certificates? Unless you really can keep the money set aside and be ready to refund it if you are not able to reopen, absolutely not.