Friday, April 10, 2009

Let's Make A Deal and Return to Barter

I got my hair cut at the nice salon a couple of weeks ago. I noticed how empty it was – on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 PM.

The salon’s story is not a good one. The two partners spent much of their savings creating a small place with every comfort and amenity that their upscale Washington, DC clientele could want. One had worked in an upscale salon for the past decade and took her clients with her. The other was the business partner.

They opened right before the stock market fell apart – and now clients who once paid close to $100 for a haircut don’t want to do it anymore. Or they're only getting haircuts every 3-4 months instead of every six weeks. I hadn't been there in six months.

The hair cut expert partner jumped ship and got herself a deal at another upscale salon. The business partner is stuck with an expensive rent, pricey fixtures and a clientele that no longer wants many of the salon's services. And she lost the partner with all of the contacts. The remaining partner, I'll call her Gayle, has no idea how to market past word of mouth.

Her latest promo idea is bring a friend and get a free haircut. It's OK but it doesn't really build the client base beyond the neighborhood she's already in. Her other promo is a sign advertising an adult's cut for $65.00 and a child's haircut for $30.00. Eighteen months ago that would have been cheap for Chevy Chase. But not anymore.

And that’s when I remembered the last recession and the benefits of barter. We’re marketers. No one’s skills are in as much demand as ours – especially in a bad economy. I turned to Gayle as I was walking out the door and said, “If you give me free haircuts and color, I’ll do some PR and marketing for you.”

In the early 1990s in New York, when you could buy a two bedroom apartment for under $200,000 (yes I know you are gasping for breath), we were all bartering. Many of us were unemployed. We bartered for the services we needed, and traded our skills for theirs.

Write a brochure for me and I’ll give you free design services. Help me get the editor’s attention for the top 100 new restaurants' list and I’ll give you free dinners. Help me write a marketing plan and I'll give you a year of free legal services. Write theater reviews for free and we'll get you tickets to see new shows. Be creative - there are a lot of people you can help - who also need you.

Marketing services - particularly in this economy - are invaluable to someone who is trying to increase their customer base. What about customers who are about to pull the plug on a campaign because they can’t afford it anymore? Can you help them design a social media program? What about your vendors - are their businesses hurting? Can you get a deep discount on that new computer system you desperately need, if you help your supplier prospect for new business?

Have a conversation about how you can help each other through these tough economic times. When things are better your relationships will be stronger for it.

What about all the other service providers who are hurting too - your lawyer, your accountant, etc. How can you help them?

Barter isn’t a panacea of course. One thing you learn pretty quickly is when you’re not a paying customer, you are not at the top of the list of things to get done. But in most cases you’ll find a way to make it work. There are services springing up on the Internet too - that will connect companies that want to enter a barter relationship. Check them out, but make sure you get references before you agree to a deal.

Oh and the hair salon had an artsy movie theater a block away showing a film that took place in you guessed it - a hair salon. I suggested doing a special promotion with them – helped iron out the details - and several new clients came in the door.

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