I had an interesting discussion with my home teacher about business and church members. Now, before I continue, I want to point out that no single event has triggered this. I am not singling out any individual or person. Instead, I am speaking in general terms.
The conversation started something like this… “It is funny how many members of the church think that because they are members of the church, other members of the church who are in business for themselves should give them a discount.” (Or, in some cases, provide free services.)
I was guilty of this years ago when I asked a fellow ward member if members got a discount. I had a twinge of guilt overcome me and I repented of that practice. Now, being a business owner and reliant upon my business sales, I wouldn’t dream of asking another business owner for a discount. I’ll take one if they offer a discount, but I won’t ask. And, bartering is not the same. But, even if I’m doing a barter, I would rather it be on a cash-for-cash basis so I can track the transaction, thus making it a quid quo pro transaction.
At the Beckwith Mansion we rent rooms to travelers. We do not provide any services. We simply provide a clean room and linens when you arrive. This allows us to greatly reduce the cost. We rely on income from room rentals to pay the taxes, mortgage, utilities, and upkeep of the property. If we lived in a smaller house, we wouldn’t be offering these services, but because we live in a large mansion, we can do this. Our rates are about 50% lower than any local hotel, but then, you sacrifice having your own private bathroom, room made up daily, and things like that. Yet, we often have church members ask to stay for free.
Elizabethe largely runs the house. I mow the lawn and do some of the maintainance around the house and yard. I, on the other hand, have my business too. It is necessary to pay some of the other bills. I use a little spreadsheet that calculates my breakeven-point. I take my breakeven-point, and I add to that how much I have to contribute to our living expenses, and that is the what I charge my clients. Now, if you’re a business person, you’re thinking that Brent doesn’t charge enough to set aside anything extra to grow his business. That’s right. Yet, I still have church members who ask, “Do I get a discount?”
I don’t want to get in to charity and service. That’s an entirely different matter. It would be one thing for someone to say, “This family has no place to stay because their house burnt down”, than it would be, “This family has flown out here from Utah on vacation and needs a place to stay (free).” One is a matter of misfortune, and the other … well, bad taste.
I provide discounts for customer loyalty. If I believe a customer is going to keep coming back again and again, I’ll take that in to consideration. But, it doesn’t make business sense to give someone a discount just because I know them through church or any other organization. After all, if I did that, I would not have the money to pay my bills and I would become a burden on the community eventually.
A friend from many years ago had a successful business. Another member took advantage of him, and using the church as a common bond, convinced him to do business with him. Things turned bad, and my friend lost a lot of money. Fortunately, my friend was a strong member of the church and didn’t use this other man’s actions as an excuse to leave the church. (See the story of Thomas B. Marsh, his wife, and Mrs. Harris.)
We are asked in worthiness interviews if we are honest in our business transactions. What does that mean?
Do we expect a fellow saint to lose money on a transaction? Is that honest?
Do we expect a fellow saint to buy from us just because we go to the same church? Is that honest?
Something else to think about… Another friend of mine had a landscaping business. He refused an ad in an LDS oriented business directory saying, “If all church member owned businesses only did business with other church members, what type of message would we be sending?”
This same friend, who while serving as bishop, was very community minded. I recall when the youth wanted to do a car wash as a service project. The bishop did not approve it stating that the car wash across the street would suffer, and by doing a “free” car wash, we would be doing a disservice to the business across the street. He further added it would hinder the missionary efforts of the church. I watched him turn down other proposals over the years for similar reasons. I learned a lot. Yes, the youth had their hearts in the right place wanting to do their free car wash, but the bishop was pushing them to come up with other ideas for service that wouldn’t have negative effects on local businesses.
So, here are some things to consider (the first part being the wrong reason, and the second part, being the right reason)…
- Am I doing business with a fellow saint because they are a member of the church, or because they offer the quality product and service I need?
- Do I expect to be given preferential treatment because I am a church member, or because I’m a loyal customer?
- Do I expect free services, or am I willing to pay what others pay?
- If business transactions go wrong between me and a church member, will I blame the church, or will I keep things between me and the other member?
- Do I enter business arrangements because a church member introduced me to the business, or do I prayerfully study it out on my own?
I guess the bottom line is this… It is okay to patronize church member owned businesses, but treat them just like any other business. It is their livelihood — their form of income. Just as you wouldn’t want your boss to say to you, “John, because this next customer is a member of your church, we’re going to cut your hourly wage by 50% while you work with them”, you shouldn’t expect a church member to reduce their earnings.