Can I make Gift Certificates work for my little biz?

I have never actively offered gift certificates for several reasons, but I’m starting to revisit my conclusions, which you are welcome to debate, since I’m hardly infallible:

  1. I’ve always thought of gift certificates for personal services as “girl” things, and over 80% of my clientele is male.
  2. I’m a person, not an establishment – when giving a gift, most people want some kind of selection.
  3. The kind of massage you get a gift certificate for is generally perceived as a pampering indulgence, and that’s getting frowned upon these days.
  4. I work from home, which is a setting that some people find strange or uncomfortable – which is not something that will occur to most gift-givers who like this environment. And there’s a significant price differential if I do a housecall.

Now, I have actually sold a couple of gift certificates, though I don’t even mention the option on my website. Both were for two massages. The first was purchased by a woman and her mother in Florida for her sister who lives in NYC. One of them had had Thai massage and wanted to introduce her sister to it as a Hannukah gift. I guess her mother didn’t have any good gift ideas and jumped on the idea. The other was quite a cute situation – I have a regular client in a nearby law office who raves about me to his co-workers and tries to convince them to stop wasting their money at the asian rub-and-tugs. A few of them come to see me when they’re in a lot of pain. One Christmas, two of them came over to buy a gift certificate for a 3rd guy (who had been to see me once or twice), and the recipient came in for his first massage within a week of getting the GC. He said it was the best gift he had gotten in several Christmases.

I’ve also had a few clients lately who have said they wish they could come more often, but they can only afford to indulge a few times a year. I really should have piped up about adding me to their wish list when people ask what they want for birthdays, Christmases, etc. but after giving a good session, I’m just not in sales mode. I need to change that just a tiny bit. I mean, I know massage therapists who get a bit heavy handed about scheduling your next appointment at the end of your current one, but that really wouldn’t work with the last-minute nature of how most of my business happens. Besides, most appointments made more than 24 hours in advance tend to get cancelled.

So, I would love to hear from anyone about their experiences –

  • Getting a massage/spa/personal services gift certificate, or
  • Giving a massage/spa/personal services gift certificate, or
  • Incorporating gift certificates into their own small businesses

And then starts the fun of determining Terms & Conditions…


11 Responses

  1. I would love to receive a massage gift certificate. I would give one if I had a person I loved, but not sure if I would do so long distance.

    If your site outlines your work locations (ie that you work from home, hours, etc) it’s up to the gift giver to decide.

    I say go for it!

  2. I have given my husband several massage certificates for a local spa here in Virginia- he loves them!

  3. I love both giving and receiving massage gift certificates. I had to get massages because of disease-related pain, and if I hadn’t fortuitously allocated a huge chunk of money in advance for medical expenses, I would have been hard put to continue my sessions.

    They’re a great gift for someone who likes massages but doesn’t necessarily have the money to spend. I’ve bought friends massages before. Not a gift certificate, but I certainly would have done that if it was an option.

    I could see it continuing in the same vein as your previous experience with the law office client where they’re referring a friend or colleague who is familiar with your services. I vote yes!

  4. From a giver’s point of view, I have given a gift certificates to a spa as a gift once. I don’t know if I would be as comfortable with giving a gift certificate to a place that I knew was sole practitioner. I would wonder what would happen if you became sick or moved or went out of business. What this mainly means is that someone as cautious as me probably wouldn’t be part of your customer base… but that doesn’t rule out people who are more relaxed about things. I think offering gift certificates could be a good thing for you. It’s another way for you to get business, and there are a lot of benefits to you in that.

    The only potential negative for you is that you’ve often said that you rely on your own judgment of potential clients to keep yourself out of iffy or dangerous situations. Usually a gift certificate commits the business to providing the good or service, period. What happens if you get a bad vibe off of someone who has a gift certificate? Can you legally offer gift certificates and still rule out people who don’t sound right?

  5. The main thing I would warn about, if you ever start keeping accounting records, you have to remember to deal with GCs as different from normal income. It’s not considered income officially until you actually have the GC turned in.

    Since you’re a small business, I doubt it’s a problem. But it’s an idea. Another thing you should consider (one of my masseuse friends did this): Give a half hour GC for referrals. This way, you get more clients and most people who get a free half hour will upgrade to a full hour. So you will still get money for the session but you will also have customers feeling like they got a terrific deal. (Also a good way to avoid what Alicia was talking about, since you’d be giving out GCs to specific people only.)

  6. I think it’s a great idea. You could make a separate biz card if you wanted to just for that. Then you don’t have to be in sell mode at all. I don’t know what your payment options are, but I am far more likely to splurge on a gift for someone else than for myself, and if I can throw it on a credit card or do some other form of creative financing, even better. Since you are also so good at bartering, maybe even a third card with options! (will work for cereal! ha ha)

  7. I’m so glad I wrote this post – you have all raised some great points and potential problems, and I really, really appreciate it.

    SaraL – I think it was quite risky of the mother/daughter from Florida to go about it this way, but they found me on an extremely reputable site (an association for Thai Massage that I belong to). I don’t anticipate this being a common way to get GC biz, but who knows.

    Revanche – certain types of spending accounts will accept receipts from me. By the way, did your friends like your choice of provider/spa?

    Alicia – you raise some truly excellent points, ones that have been floating around in my head too. Massage therapy is famous for attracting flakey people with poor business acumen. I anticipate that the person buying a GC would know me and my services, know that I’ve been in the same location for over 5 years (a lot of them ask because they don’t want to find themselves looking for a new MT in a few months), and get the sense that I’ve got some solid ethics. And it’s because of this that I’m not worried about the wrong kind of client showing up at my door – I could be wrong, but I think most GC biz would come from existing client, and that mutual acquaintance, that one degree of separation, would keep the person on his best behavior.

    Abigail – I was indeed thinking of offering some kind of incentive for gift certificate purchases by existing clients, probably in the form of bonus time on their next treatment.

    JPT – ooh, yes, I could just print out a tiny little thing about the size of a business card when folded in half mentioning this, and then hand it to a new client along with my card. Not a bad idea! People mostly pay me in cash, but I do take any form of payment available through PayPal, and most people have bought something off of eBay at some point in their lives, so they have an account. Also, I do “ThaiForGood” massages during off-peak hours to raise money for my charitable giving habits – the recipient of the session pays half the massage’s value, I match any (non-obligatory) tip up to $30, all $$ goes to one of four little charities I like. Craigslist won’t let me run that ad for free though, so interest has been minimal lately 😦

  8. It depends on if you want one-off clients. I would expect that the kind of people who get massages with GCs are not your bread and butter customers.

    But you could offer GCs (especially around Christmas time) as a thoughtful gift from your clients. I bet they’d send their secretary or mother or housekeeper. It’s a natural upsell!

  9. Hi Kate,
    Gift certificates do work but they tend to appeal more to Gen Ys than to Baby Boomers.
    I recently did a survey on personalized gifts and asked about gift certificates. You can see the survey results at

  10. My GC giving experience was a similar situation as yours: it was for an independent practitioner I’d been frequenting, and my friend came with me when I scheduled my appt. For another one, we were having a massage day and the friend was hanging out with us already while our massage therapist was working on all the participants. Both were happy with the choice because I already knew the therapist and they weren’t surprised by the in-home factor.

  11. Late to the commenting game, but….I have given about 10 gift certificates for facials to friends to help a friend promote her business. All of them said it was a wonderful experience, but if they have the money, they’d rather get a massage. I think if she had been in the massage therapy business instead of the esthetician biz, she would have had 10 more regular clients!

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