BACKGROUND

Are giveaways real? This one nearly broke the store

ROBERT METCALFE February 24 1962
BACKGROUND

Are giveaways real? This one nearly broke the store

ROBERT METCALFE February 24 1962

Are giveaways real? This one nearly broke the store

BACKGROUND

When his business started to fall off last summer, Howie Jamieson, the 31-year-old operator of an ice-cream stand in the Vancouver suburb of Burquitlam, decided to try to increase sales with a gimmick: he would give away ice cream in the hope that people who got something for nothing would also buy something for cash. It sounds simple and it actually worked — for a while. Then things began to go wrong. “It’s hard to believe,” says Jamieson’s wife, “that such a small thing, started with such sincerity and hope, could become a terrifying nightmare.”

Jamieson started when he noticed that a neighboring service station was selling extra gas and oil to customers who came in to take advantage of the station’s free lubrication offer. Jamieson found out that the coupons for the lubrication jobs were being printed and sold by a local advertising agency. He got in touch with the agency and they agreed to print and sell booklets of 48 coupons for the ice cream parlor. The agency sold 700 of the booklets

for $2.49 each. Jamieson never got any of this money; it all went to the agency. But the booklets committed Jamieson to giving away nearly $14,000 worth of ice cream.

At first the gimmick worked splendidly. The booklets were worth $19.38 in ice cream but the customer could use only one coupon a day. Most people bought something else to go with their free item. Jamieson’s volume doubled and his profit increased by $15 a day.

Then sales started to drop. Families came in and ordered one milkshake and three straws. One man, whom Jamieson remembers with particular bitterness, ordered the most expensive sundae on the list w'ith his free coupon. Then he asked for four spoons. Jamieson found that he was rapidly going broke. “After three months of doing nothing but give away our products,” Mrs. Jamieson says. “Howie decided it had gone far enough. He put up a notice that he would honor cards only to the amount of the $2.49 people had paid for them. People began to think

that we w'ere con artists or something.”

Some customers called Jamieson a crook to his face. Others went to the municipal council to demand that his license to run an ice-cream stand be revoked. One irate woman asked the New' Westminster British Columbian to expose the ice-cream dealer’s perfidy.

That was what saved Jamieson. The newspaper told the full story of his troubles. As soon as the story appeared, his customers had a change of heart. Most of them turned in their coupon books, and if they hadn’t already received their $2.49 worth, Jamieson made it up to them. But some people didn’t even want the ice cream. Some w'ere so sympathetic they volunteered to help out in the shop while Jamieson was at his second job. driving a cab.

"1 didn’t keep track of exactly how much I lost," Jamieson said. "But it was certainly more than $2,500. Some customers told me they were as glad as I was when it was all over. It was certainly a lesson in human nature.”

ROBERT METCALFE