Penny-pinching is not smart business.

Generosity is good business.

Penny-pinching is bad business. Generosity is good business.

Listen to Jimmy Hickey of hugely successful Findlay Hats: “Lets say we’re running a trade show and we run into someone who’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been buying your hats from day one. Here’s the hat I bought from you guys the fist month you came out. This is one of the oldest hats in existence.’ As a way to reward that guy for his loyalty, we’ll like, ‘Choose any hat you see here. You can have it.’ That’s going to further dedicate that person to our brand and keep them coming back as a future customer.” Hickey is smart.

Here’s a story about someone not quite as smart as Hickey. I was recently dismayed to discover that my favourite art supply store was no longer offering free cookies. My first stop in the store had always been the cookie plate intended for the pleasure of customers, art class attendees, and staff. Then it disappeared.

As an ardent student of small business management (and a cookie addict), I conducted inquiries. It turned out that the owner had canned the cookie plate because she felt that some people were overdoing it a bit. I should mention that these were not gourmet cookies. At about $3.00 for a pack of 44 cookies they were among the cheapest on the shelf at the nearby grocery store.

But cookie quality is not the point—we liked them regardless. I think I can speak for the customers, art students, and staff alike when I say that it is the gesture we miss, not just the cookies. Something for free (doesn’t matter what it is or how small it is) gives pleasure and creates a feeling of well-being. It says: “Thanks for visiting my store and thanks for doing business with me.” It reflects well on the business and is therefore smart business.

So I think the art store owner, who in every other way is an astute business person, has made a mistake. For no more than $90 a month (less than a dinner out for two) she has backed away from an opportunity to bolster goodwill among her customers, students, and staff. And it’s not about the momentary pleasure of a single cookie; it’s about the lasting impression. It’s about the gesture.

As for the over-doing-it concern, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to control consumption by putting out just one pack a day. For anyone arriving after the cookies for the day were all gone, a plate with a few crumbs still speaks to generosity, whereas, no plate at all, does the opposite.

As Findlay Hats has demonstrated — even a small gesture of generosity is smart business. When last have you given away a few Tees to delight your customers? Why not give every visitor to your shop a gift of a hat or Tee, even if it’s a promotional hat or Tee for your business? Come on, you know it will only cost you a couple of bucks. Try it — you’ll be surprised how much goodwill and business it will return.

Credits: Felix Thea, Shopify and