My BFF Rupert Murdoch* has been taking some hits lately about him wanting to block Google from indexing his sites and putting up pay walls. I understand his reasoning and don’t think he is too far off the mark. In order to explain my thinking, I have an analogy.
Say you own a small grocery store. It is in an urban setting and there are lots of other stores in the neighborhood that is similar to yours. You seek more foot traffic because some fancy college grad with a marketing degree convinces you that the more traffic you can pump through your stores, the more likely these people will stop and buy some impulse item you strategically place near the exit.
In order to produce more traffic, you encourage people to stop by and use the restroom. (the other guys down the street make you buy something first!) As word gets around, the locals and tourists stop into your store and use your restroom, flush the toilet, wipe their hands and stop and buy something cause they kinda feel guilty using your restroom for free. You’re not making enough in additional sales to cover the cost of the water bill, the additional cleaning staff, the paper towel, the soap and various other things that go with making a restroom public. In addition, the city health department caught on that you were making your restroom available to the public and cited you for not being handicap accessible. You pay the fine and some contractors to put up grab rails, new toilets and a ramp. But, the marketing dude you hired kept swearing that with patience and persistence, the free restroom policy will pay off.
“Give it time. That is investment. It’s all about giving back,” he says.
As time wears on, more people are using your restrooms because they heard from a friend who heard from another who tweeted that your restroom was free. And, these folks didn’t even bother to buy anything anymore. They just wanted to use the restroom. Moreover, lots of them stopped by the magazine rack and leafed through the latest issues without buying, especially on rainy days. If you didn’t want them in your store, why did you let them use the restroom? Meanwhile, the cost of water, soap and cleaning kept going up.
Then a recession hit and you had to fire some people, including the smart marketing degree guy who seemed to want to text and tweet more than he wanted to stock shelves and help paying customers. You took down your “Restroom open to the public” sign and immediately, the freeloaders started blogging and tweeting that you do not understand customer service in the Internet age. Your customers who came in and bought something could still use the restroom and they started to remark that is was much cleaner than it had been when the public at large was there. In fact, the experience for paying customers became so nice, they didn’t even notice you raised your prices $.10 here and $.20 there.
And your bottom line got better, even when your foot traffic dropped significantly. Your water, cleaning and supplies bills went way down. Almost none of the folks who used your restrooms for free ever came around anymore and when they did, it was to insult you and your stupid, miserly ways.
That is what I think Rupert was going for. Maybe.
Feel free to snark below. Comments are free, but if you would like to buy something on the way out, you are welcome to.
*I don’t really know Rupert Murdoch and we’re not really BFF. He’s probably a pretty dangerous person with his nutty politics and such. But, he is not stupid and he really does understand people. He understands they fear more than they think and worry and dream more than they act. Video here. Gawker.com didn’t want me embedding the video for free. Ironic.