The Game of Chance Approach to Business

Although our annual downtown street fair came and went last week, it’s lingering on my mind. No, I’m not going throughGame of Chance prizes funnel cake and French fry withdrawal; the fair has me thinking about business and consumer expectations.

Every September, as the Ephrata fair approaches, you’ll hear plenty of locals in our town joke about the “carnies” who hitch up their wagons and bring their games of chance to our Main Street. I admit that I find most of the wagon-folk to be slightly…uh, eccentric, but I’ve decided they’re GENIUS in equal proportion.

Hear me out on this one, Okay?

Let’s talk about the game where you throw darts to try to pop balloons to win a prize. You pay $5 for 3 darts. If you’re lucky enough to pop a balloon, you receive a prize according to what the little indicator inside that balloon says. 99.9999% of the time it shows an “S” (meaning small) which means you’re the proud owner of a tiny, poorly-made plush toy (a value of about 25 cents). I paid for both my daughter and her friend to play. They popped one balloon each, so we took home 50 cents in winnings on a $10 tab.

Quite a return on investment – from the “carnies” perspective anyway.

But the business savvy extends beyond pricing…it’s the ingenuity behind setting customer expectation that has attracted my attention.

When you play a game at the fair, you pay up front for the opportunity to maybe win a prize. If you don’t win, you walk away with nothing to show for it. And that’s totally expected and accepted. How many small business owners have found a way to get people to pay for a product or service that they may – or may not – actually receive?

Aside from going into the carnival game or bingo parlor industry, I’m not sure there’s really a way for entrepreneurs and solopreneurs like us to get away with delivering nothing, make a profit and keep customers coming back year after year. Personally, I think our good consciences would stop us short from even considering it. But you have to admit, it’s an interesting case study in consumer psychology.

What customer expectations have you developed for your small business?

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