Only at Participating Locations


Ever wonder about this phrase often found at the bottom of advertisements, coupons and promotions? Did you ever think about what it really means or how it can be used? Or how about the phrase, ‘Participation may vary by location.’ Just what does that mean to you and me? There was a time I assumed that any business chain with multiple locations around the country owned by a single parent company had no choice but to follow all nationally advertised promotions. I also assumed that a business that was franchised had to follow any promotions of the franchiser, or parent company so that all customers would have a common experience no matter where they went. If you live in a small town, you may not notice the difference between how one business location operates compared to another because you may not have that many locations. Furthermore, you may think that if the parent company is spending large sums of money to develop and advertise promotions to drive customers to your door that you would want to take advantage of that business hoping to convert at least a percentage of them into repeat customers.

But apparently, that is not the case. In fact, I’ve notice quite a few businesses who advertise on television and direct email but when you go to their local stores, they do not honor the promotions. Perhaps the local stores feel that people might feel guilty about just getting up and walking out when a local store manager says, ‘Sorry, we are not participating.’ But are they really sorry? If they were so concerned about our feelings they would not trick us into their store only to say that they are not participating. Maybe it is time that we walked out of their store.

Truth be told, I live in tourist town, Orlando, FL. I first notice this effect several years ago. One time when we questioned the policy we were even told that because they are a tourist location, they do not honor the advertised discounts. I suppose they figure that the tourists have no choice. Most cannot make meals in their rooms. Most do not know the area well enough to risk finding another location that may be participating. And most don’t want to take the time away from their vacation just to save a few dollars. So you might think of it as a convenience fee.

Besides food chains, this effect becomes even more obvious with the price of gasoline which seems to almost consistently go up the closer you get to the major tourist attractions or the airport and its surrounding car rental agencies. Yes there are some exceptions and the locals know where they are just like the locals know the best places to eat that are not part of nationwide chains.

But let’s get back to the main issue. I know several of the fast food chains with locations near the tourist attractions that will not honor the promotions of the nationwide chain. Several times I’ve been told point blank that the locations near the attractions can charge more because they are there just for the tourists, not the locals. Were they telling me to go away? I guess I moved to the wrong side of town.

A good example occurred recently at a nationwide chain that was offering a meal deal of an entrée with an appetizer. (I will not go further into the details here.) The promotion was sent directly to my email address because I subscribed a long time ago to their ‘club’. Granted, the promotion added the words, ‘Limited time only.’ The thing is, I received that email just last Thursday. The next day, Friday, we decided to go there for supper to take advantage of the deal. As we sat down and were given menus, I noticed that there was no reference to the ‘special’. So I asked about it thinking that maybe they only gave the promotion menu to those that asked. Instead I was told by the waiter that he had heard about that promotion, but thought that it had ended but would go ask the manager. A few minutes later he came back and told us that his manager said that the promotion indeed had ended. Fortunately I could still bring that email from the previous day up on my phone. Aren’t smartphones great? So I showed him the email and the date on the email. He went back to his manager to ask again. This time when he came back, he said that his manager said, ‘We are not participating in that promotion.’ So we got up from our seats. He asked us if we were leaving. We replied that we were not participating in bait and switch tactics and left.

Really makes you wonder though whether the promotion was only for one day (which it did not say in the email) or whether they just did not want to offer it to their other customers, the majority of whom where tourists.

In any case, I say that it is bad business to advertise any promotion and then decide not to honor it just because your location is near tourists, a more affluent part of town, or any other arbitrary reason. It may be a long while until I go back to that location. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they get enough business from the tourists. For me, I’d rather find another location where the location manager operates fairly and honors the promotions of the parent organization he is a part of. If you don’t like the promotions, become a store manager of a store that does not have promotions or start your own store if you want to do whatever you want. The bottom line for me is that unless there is a legal reason not to honor a business promotion created for the chain that is designed to send more customers to your door, you should honor the promotion and give those customers the best experience possible so that they might decide to come back again and again.

C’ya next time.

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