January 25, 2012

Why you ought to think twice about that coupon site’s offer. ~ Angela Tomassetti

Photo: dklimde, Flickr Creative Commons

Every week, inboxes around the country are flooded with offers from Groupon, Living Social, YouSwoop, etal, from yet another studio offering deeply discounted yoga class packages.

While I would have happily promoted a ‘deal’ to students and friends in the past, having worked in several studios that jumped on the coupon site bandwagon, I am less inclined. Frankly, I don’t like these sites. And I don’t think you should support them, either.

Now, I have done my time in sales and marketing. I understand business development is a very real expense for an organization. However, I don’t think these sites are being used appropriately by many small business owners. They aren’t treating these sites as such—(very costly) marketing expenses.

You see, as independent contractors, yoga teachers charge and studio owners agree to a set fee. As contractors, we have our own marketing expenses. We create and print business cards, promotional flyers, pay for web and email hosting, invest (in some instances a great deal of) time in blogging and self-promotion through various social networking channels. These are our expenses to bear, in my view. And often times, these efforts produce results not just for the teacher but for the businesses in which they are contracted to teach. The better I am at marketing myself, the more attractive I am to employ.

So if a studio owner would like to drum up new business, how is it that a burden should fall upon contractors?

Perhaps the general public does not realize many studios featured on these sites simply do not pay teachers for coupon-holding students. Or more insulting, studios may pay teachers $1 for a coupon-holding student. And do yoga teachers get a chance to negotiate this rate? Not likely. So why when teachers are hired at an agreed rate are they expected to go along with re-negotiated rates that, well, haven’t really been re-negotiated. They’ve signed no contract stating that fees could change at any time and without notice. What independent contractor in their right mind would?

I have worked for studios that offered a coupon or daily deal. While yes, initially, they provided a large influx of new students, the momentum never lasted. And, when the packages were so deeply discounted, I found a lot of students wasted remaining classes or the last two weeks of a monthly unlimited pass. You know why? They figured by the second or third class, the pass or package paid for itself. They’ve already gotten their deal.

Based on the psychology here, wouldn’t it make more sense for a business to offer its own coupon?

This isn’t to say all studio owners are placing the financial burden on their yoga teachers. While I taught at Bend Yoga & Movement Studio in Chicago, owner Marty Clemons paid a very fair $5 per head for each student that came bearing a coupon. This is a fairly standard rate. I wondered, at the time, how she could afford to pay $5 when any income from the coupon site was in no way covering the fee. It occurs to me, Clemons was using the site as a marketing tool. Reaching such a wide audience was an expense that was absorbed by her business. Was it successful? You’d have to ask her. But I think the fact she hasn’t done another since may answer that question.

This scenario plays out similarly for massage therapists, estheticians, or any other service provider that works in multiple outlets on a contract basis. When I realized my fellow 1099-ers in the spa industry were getting treated the same way, I stopped buying coupons for $10 facials and massages. I don’t believe in paying below market value for services requiring substantial investment for training, CEUs, liscensure, so on.

If you spot a good deal, I am not saying to turn a blind eye, but I do encourage you to be responsible. Ask management how contractors are compensated when you come bearing a coupon. If they won’t tell you, take a pass. I am sure you will find that whatever you saved isn’t worth the icky feeling that comes with knowing your quest for a bargain has exploited a neighbor and equally hard hit consumer.

Angela Tomassetti is an Anusara-Inspired (TM) yoga teacher lives, learns, teaches and writes in Chicago. She, fiance and rescue dog share a home in the leafy Logan Square neighborhood. After 10 years working in sales and marketing for the investment management and professional services industries, Angela decided to trade her Jimmy Choos for a more grounded approach to life—in bare feet. She has been teaching yoga full-time since 2008 and can be found twisting and bending her way through various gyms and yoga studios in Chicago and its southwest suburbs. Angela spends her free time traveling, writing, swimming, cycling and seeking inspiration in all of nature’s splendors. You can follow her blog through www.blisswardbound.com or facebook.com/blisswardbound.


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