Jersey Jack – October 2018


Free, Free, FREE!

Thoughts on Giving Customers Something for “Nothing”

Jack Guarnieri

by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball &

I might be getting more like Andy Rooney as I get older. (Younger readers, Google him.) I’m not quite a curmudgeon yet, but I do like things a certain way.

A trip to my favorite bagel store is an experience. Today I’m reminded to only get six bagels, that a dozen is not what we need. Okay, so I order six: two plain, two sesame, two everything. Never mind that the everything should be in a separate bag not to contaminate the plain. After I repeat my request this lady asks, “What did you want.” I silently say to myself, “I just told you so let’s go slower,” and repeat the order of two plain…….two everything…….and two sesame…… I think she’s got it and she’s wearing those plastic gloves so I feel good about this so far.

Everything is in one bag. That’s not good but it’s not the end of the world, it’s early and I’m not going to ruin my day. She then says, “So you get one free with six, what would you like?” Another decision. Free is good, so I ask for a raisin bagel. Okay, done. I have two packages, one lox cream cheese and one scallion. The total is almost $15, so I’m not sure what’s really “free” anyway. The lady then takes my money with her gloves on, so she’s handling money with the same gloves she’s wearing when handling the food, and probably has done this all morning. Apparently, the gloves are to protect HER hands from my food and my money. That’s not right. (Am I sounding like Andy Rooney yet?)

I pay and she tells me to put the cream cheese in the same bag with my bagels. That’s not happening. I leave with the two packages of cream cheese in my hand and the bag of bagels. I don’t want the plastic containers that have been who knows where touching my food. Similarly, I hate buying a salad in which they’ve put the container of dressing right inside and on top of my tomatoes. It’s gross. Okay, I clearly have some problems there. On my recent vacation to Aruba, I downloaded the late Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, and I’ll tell you that I’m not the only one who worries about these things (or should).

Let’s go back to the free bagel and hone in on what this means in business. Free is a dirty, four-letter word to some businesses, but a nice surprise for us as customers. Who doesn’t like to get something for free, ­especially when it’s something we like? I remember when I got married and the tux for the groom was free if all of the bridegrooms rented them from the same place. Surely, the groom’s tux wasn’t really “free,” but was factored into the cost of all of them.

I remember back in the 1990s when distributors who bought X amount of Merit countertop games would get one free as a spiff. My salespeople would fight to be the one selling the “free” game that was on the books for a penny so that they could rake in the big commission on that one sale. I probably ruined that practice when I asked our accounting people to cost-average down all of the games so the free game was averaged into current inventory!

At most FECs today, the birthday child is free at his own party. It sounds good and while we all know it’s not really free, as a customer there’s the perception that makes us smile that we’re getting something for nothing.

In my business, I’ve never been a big fan of giving away money for free. I think it’s best to give your customer something of perceived value that has little or no cost to you. Remember, coupons that give customers 20 percent or $20 off take real dollars off the table and out of your pocket. Think about what you can give your customers that will get them to spend more money and buy more of what you’re selling that, at the same time, gives them a sense of reward and value.

Back again to those pesky bagels. If I’d only bought three, four or five of them, I wouldn’t have gotten one free. I had to buy six to get the deal (on a dozen I would have gotten two free, by the way). That kind of offer puts the what-to-choose pressure on the customer. If you have an FEC with tokens or debit cards, you set the currency valuation –– and the resulting customer perception –– for their spend vs. reward. The same goes for ticket and prize payout and how your customers receive play and reward value in their experience at your location.

If done right, value-priced packages give that warm-and-fuzzy feeling to the customers, giving them the perception that they’re geting something for free, while at the same time driving profits for your game center.

Go through your business with the fresh eyes of a first-time customer. Take a look at every aspect of the experience. If you can’t do that, ask someone else to do that with you. If you can go “undercover boss” style, you may come up with many ideas how to sell more to the customers you have now.

“Free” is not a dirty, four-letter word if you use it the right way. Implemented correctly, it can help set you apart from your competitors.


Jack Guarnieri started servicing electro-mechanical pinball machines in 1975 and has been involved in every phase of the amusement game business since then. He was an operator in NYC, then began a distributorship in 1999,, selling coin-op to the consumer market. In January of 2011 he founded Jersey Jack Pinball (named after his RePlay Magazine pen name), which builds award-winning, full-featured, coin-op pinball machines. Email Jack at jack@


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