When the Service Nation Alliance attended a trade show in Frankfurt, Germany during March 2011, we made note of the hospitality present in every trade show booth. It seemed that every exhibitor served food and refreshments. This led to more extensive conversations between the exhibitors and prospects, resulting in more sales. We brought this idea back and offered free beer and Cappuccino in our booth at HVAC Comfortech.

What a marketing concept: free beer for contractors! Did it make a difference? Something did. Whether it was the beer, Cappuccino, surrounding vendors, or other marketing, traffic in our part of the Comfortech Show was solid and steady. Our show enrollments in the Service Roundtable were 50% higher than we experienced during the past several years.

Over lunch with one of our vendor partners, I discussed the free beer. Everyone could relate a similar story. Dave talked about shopping for a pair of boots in Fort Worth and being offered a complementary beer. While he didn’t buy anything that day, he returned to the store and patronized them later.

Tom mentioned free beer, water, and refreshments offered by a tourist store in the Caribbean. He said it tended to keep people in the store, rather than shopping elsewhere. Tom also mentioned how the Parking Spot, an airport parking location, provides free water when customers pick up their cars. It’s a small touch, but resulted in loyalty.

If there’s any group who knows the psychology of separating people from money, it’s the casino industry. As long as you gamble, drinks are on the house in casinos. Gamble enough and rooms are complementary.

Free works. It’s not just food. Gillette gives away thousands of razors, which results in the sale of millions of blades. Wireless providers give away free phones. Cable companies provide DVRs. A growing number of coffee shops provide customers with free WiFi. Jackson Systems will imprint contractor logos free on thermostats.

The Service Roundtable offers members the Roundtable Rewards buying group, free of charge and provides a variety of free content on its website. Attend the company’s “Best Darn Hospitality Party at Comfortech” and you’ll get a free t-shirt.

As a contractor, what can you provide free to your customers and prospects? What can you do to encourage engagement, to build loyalty, to reinforce value? At your next home show, consider offering your own Cappuccino. Offer customers free refrigerant charging port tags to reduce the odds a technician will add R-410a to an R-22 system or vice versa. Offer free, logoed sideline chairs to new system purchasers. Offer free filters with tune-ups. What can you offer that your customers will value?

Think outside of the box. See what you can offer for free.

For a FREE copy of the audio CD, “Staying Positive in a Negative World,” call toll FREE to 877.262.3341. While you’re on the line, ask for a FREE copy of 87 Ways to Get More Out of Your Next Home Show.” Ask about Roundtable Rewards, which paid an average of $698.93 to each contractor for the Second Quarter.