A lesson learned from giving away free athletic tape

In the early days, we used to keep athletic tape in the gym that people would use generously to tape their hands, their wrists, their thumbs etc… Sometimes, one person would use half a roll, rip it off halfway through the workout and then re-apply.

Then one day about three years ago, we calculated how much money we were spending on tape each year. When we realized the amount had eclipsed $2,000, we decided to start making people buy their own tape. We started selling them for $4 a roll.

The reactions were completely polarized between two groups of clients:

A. The Veteran Group: People who had been benefiting from free tape for years

B. The Newbie Group: New clients who had never experienced the free tape era

Not surprisingly, people from  the veteran group kicked up a fuss. Some were downright outraged that they had to purchase their own tape.

“This is BS!” they echoed.

On the flipside, when a coach told a new client he could buy tape for $4 from the vending machine, he nodded and said, “Cool. It’s convenient that I can buy tape right here at the gym.”

Alas, this is exactly why giving away things for free doesn’t work…

It’s just tape, but it’s symbolic of something so much bigger…

When you give valuable things away for free, people start to expect it, and almost become entitled. If and when it’s taken away, they grow resentful and outraged, as if it’s their right to be handed free tape to their heart’s content.

This concept isn’t limited to the things we do in the gym. Think about what happens when a government cuts funding to a social program. Outrage ensues! Or what about when an airline changes their policies?

“What? We don’t get free meals anymore?”

“I have to pay for a bag?”

“They didn’t even give me any peanuts!”

Lesson of the day: If you’re a new gym owner, be careful what you give away for free. Think long and hard if it’s something you’ll be able to continue to give away free of charge in the future, or whether you’re better off charging people for it right from the start.

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