My husband and I own an inflatable company. We rent out bounce houses and waterslides for private parties, church and school events, family reunions, etc. We love the industry we are in – people are always happy to see you! – and we love making people happy.
This is our 4th season in this business and there has definitely been a learning curve involved. My personality is that I’m a natural pleaser and want to leave everyone as happy as possible. However, I learned early on that a polite spine and boundaries are necessary in this business if you want to stay afloat.
The first two seasons in business we CONSTANTLY had people calling us from organizations, charities and large corporations asking for us to “sponsor” a bounce house at their event. We did this a few times, with the promise of “free advertising” as an incentive. We learned very quickly that this type of advertising is completely ineffective in our industry and we never booked a single job from doing these free events. We made a decision that we would pick our favorite charity and donate a bounce house to their annual event and that would be the end of our give- free-stuff-away-extravaganza. We’ve been happy with this arrangement for some time now. However, we still get phone calls – though not as frequent. I’ve learned how to have a polite spine, but even beyond that, I’ve learned how to expose their greediness in a fairly kind way. The conversation below is one that I had this week with a HUGE national company that was holding a health fair.
Me: How can I help you?
Freeloader: Hi, I’m with ______ and we are holding our annual event in a few months. We wanted to give you a great opportunity to sponsor our event with some bounce houses.
Me: : (pretending to feign interest) We love renting out for big events! Could you further explain what you mean by “sponsor”? What all does that entail? (I know good and well it means they want a free bounce house, but I want THEM to say it, instead of pretty it up with a word like sponsor.)
Freeloader: Oh….ummm….well, errrr…..It means that you would donate a bounce house to the event.
Me: OH. Donate a bounce house to you?? (silence)
Freeloader: But, it, ummmm, it means that you would get free advertising. It would be a great opportunity for you!
Me: We have found that this type of advertising does not work for us. (awkward silence)
Freeloader: Oh, well it would still be a nice thing for you to do.
Me: – (names company) Isn’t that a multi-million dollar company?
Freeloader: Ummm, yes.
Me: I’ve seen their commercials, gone into their stores. You guys have great products.
Freeloader: Yes we do.
Me: So, just to clarify, you are wanting me, a very small family-owned business, to donate my labor, fuel, time and bounce house to YOU, a multi-million dollar company?
Me: Would you be willing to give us the equivalent of free products in return?
Freeloader: Well, ummm, no I don’t think we could do that.
Me: I see. (silence. I let the silence get reeeeeally awkward)
Me: I’ll be happy to give you some prices on what we offer. We do offer a discount for multiple rentals and multiple days. (I then go into my spiel about what products we have.)
Sometimes I end up booking them but in this case they said they would keep calling around to find a company that would “sponsor” their event.
It’s unbelievable to me the nerve and gall that people have. This has happened with corporations, charities, churches and even private parties. It takes a crew that WE pay for labor to deliver and set up, it takes fuel in OUR diesel truck and trailer to get the bounce house to the location, it take state inspections that we pay for to make sure they are safe and it takes expensive insurance that we pay for to cover any liability. Maybe people don’t realize the cost of running a small business. Often we wonder how we will pay for insurance and overhead costs. Small businesses go under every single day. The next time you think to ask your friend, family member or random small business to give you something for free – whether it’s a haircut, a music lesson, a vehicle check-up or whatever – please remember that their livelihood depends on your business. Supporting local, small businesses doesn’t mean ask them to do stuff for free and receive “free advertising”. It means write them a check for a product or service the same way that YOU want to receive a paycheck for your time and labor. 0705-18