nothing is free
February 1, 2006 3:02 AM   Subscribe

Why are matches free?
posted by furiousxgeorge to Shopping (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
That's the whole question? You mean, like a book of matches that you get in a bar?
posted by blueberry at 3:07 AM on February 1, 2006


Because cigarettes cost pennies to make and dollars to sell. With that kind of profit, who cares about a piece of paper dipped in fuel?
posted by effugas at 3:11 AM on February 1, 2006


Why not come to the UK where they're mostly wooden and you pay for them?
posted by biffa at 3:21 AM on February 1, 2006


They usually have advertising on the packet, right? I guess they'll assume you'll put the book of matches in your pocket, find them a week later at the bottom of the washing machine, and think "Gee, I must go visit that bar again!"
posted by Jimbob at 3:43 AM on February 1, 2006


The British Match situation is very odd. Basically it's a Swedish monopoly and that's why we pay.

In the US this doesn't apply, matches are used as an advertising medium and they're really cheap.
posted by grahamwell at 3:46 AM on February 1, 2006


[derail]

Between 1913 and 1932, Ivar Kreuger, known as the "Swedish Match King," built a small, family-owned match business into a $600 million global match empire. Despite the economic and political disruptions of the interwar period, Swedish Match owned manufacturing operations in 36 countries, had monopolies in 16 countries, and controlled 40% of the world's match production. Kreuger companies lent over $300 million dollars to governments in Europe, Latin America, and Asia in exchange for national match monopolies. Relying on international capital markets to finance acquisitions and monopoly deals, by 1929 the stocks and bonds of Kreuger companies were the most widely held securities in the United States and the world. After Kreuger's 1932 suicide, forensic auditors discovered that Kreuger had operated a giant pyramid scheme. His accounts were ridden with fictitious assets, the truth hidden in a maze of over 400 subsidiary companies. Swedish Match's deficits exceeded Sweden's national debt.


From Harvard Business Online. There's nothing straightforward about the match business it seems.
[/derail]
posted by grahamwell at 4:01 AM on February 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


Advertising. Like the pens handed out by the local paper, or the pencils and paint stirrers you can get at the hardware store/lumberyard.

You can buy book matches if you want (the local stores have them next to the box matches/toothpicks). 20+ years ago, matchbooks were a not-uncommon wedding favor
posted by jlkr at 4:07 AM on February 1, 2006


Considering you can walk into WalMart and buy a pack of like 100 matchbooks for a couple dollars, they can't cost that much to manufacture. And in bars/restaurants they contain advertising, just like the coasters and napkins. Plus happy customers that can successfully light their tobacco are much more apt to buy drinks, so it's certainly in the best interest of the establishment to provide them.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:09 AM on February 1, 2006


grahamwell: fascinating. I looked it up a bit more and there was an update in 1994 from the then Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
posted by biffa at 4:28 AM on February 1, 2006


Part of the reason they are so cheap is that matches are frequently made using child labor, especially in India.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:40 AM on February 1, 2006


Allen-- Corroborate that, please? The Modern Marvels I just watched showed nice, big Diamond match plants, with huge machines dipping, drying, packaging, sealing, palletizing and shipping.

So, please corroborate that. Perhaps Indian matches are made with Indian child labor?
posted by disillusioned at 5:04 AM on February 1, 2006


You can stick 'Indian Child labor Match Factory' into google and get a bunch of hits. I think I first read of this in an article a few years ago, something out of Stockholm called "Role of Child Labour in the Indian Match Industry"
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:18 AM on February 1, 2006


Here's some documentation of this happening in Tamil Nadu.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:20 AM on February 1, 2006


Of course, they're not free. When you go into a bar or convenience store that doesn't charge you, it's just coming out of the owners pocket.
posted by raedyn at 5:37 AM on February 1, 2006


I don't see free matches around as much as I used. When I was a kid I collected them. I even clipped off the heads and saved them in a can which made a cool pyrotechnic display when full.

As has been said they are cheap advertising. Banks here give out free pens, old-age homes give away those rubber jar openers, insurance agents give away pocket calendars, etc. These days with smoking seen as sin, free matches are becoming less ubiquitous.
posted by JJ86 at 5:46 AM on February 1, 2006


I used to work at a drug store, and we would charge customers 2 cents for matches if they didn't buy cigarettes at the same time. Also, I'd ask for ID sometimes, because it was the law, apparently, and they kept sending ghost shoppers through to catch us on the "free match/no ID" thing.

And then they wonder about turnover?

Anyway, let's put it this way: When the matches aren't free, the customers get pissed. It's that simple.
posted by jon_kill at 5:49 AM on February 1, 2006


Of course, they're not free. When you go into a bar or convenience store that doesn't charge you, it's just coming out of the owners pocket.

Or more accurately, they're coming out of your pocket - just like all the other overheads of running the business, which are added on to the cost of the drink or pack of cigarettes you buy, OR on to the cost of some other item the business sells.

Maybe it's more useful to think of them as a supply - like cleaning products or big bottles of ketchup, than as an item. Kind of a false distinction, but it makes sense to me.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:56 AM on February 1, 2006


Actually the store owners rarely pay for them. Cigarette distributors generally hand them out for free. (Or to take crabintheocean's tack, as a built-in cost).
posted by miniape at 6:20 AM on February 1, 2006


Like jon_kill says, customers expect they will be free, so the cost of them is spread between cigarette makers and the store (which, ultimately, you as a customer are paying for).

This isn't the only item like that. North Americans, consider all the free condiment packets you get with your restaurant food. Those cost the owner of the restaurant a definite cost, and it is included with the cost of the food, but it looks free to you. As a KFC manager I asked about this once said, "If I don't give these away free, the customers will go where they get them for free." If I recall correctly, most condiment packages are about 5 cents in bulk, except nugget sauces, which are around 10 - 25 cents (and you wonder why McDs doesn't hand you lots of these unless you ask).

Now, other countries don't do this (or at least didn't when I was there). In the UK I paid up to 25 cents for a single packet of condiment (ketchup, mustard, mayo). Considering I would normally use up to 8 packets with a meal, I looked for restaurants that didn't charge the most ridiculous price (few to no restaurants that weren't sit down were giving them away, hell, I knew of a fish and chips stand that charged for UTENSILS). Eventually, I just brought a tiny bottle of ketchup with me, but that's just because I'm odd.

I mentioned about this odd fact to friends in Canada that had never been abroad and they didn't believe it. On my next trip I snapped a pic of the most expensive condiment price to prove to them it's true...

I'm certain if multiple companies in Europe were to offer similar products (burgers, fried chicken, fish and chips, whatever) and one shop gave away the condiments, you'd see them all doing it eventually because it becomes something the consumer expects.

There's plenty of other similar items: Napkins, bags for your groceries, air for your tires, etc. They're just expected to be free and when people don't find them free they feel offended. I'm sure an economics specialist has a special word for products like this...

Never, ever forget the value of "simplifying" the customer's bill as a way to keep a customer. The more math the customer is exposed to, the more they know what costs too much/too little, the less you can hide it from them. >:-D
posted by shepd at 7:35 AM on February 1, 2006


The Toronto Star had an article in May 2004 that touched on this (it's no longer available online, here's a an abstract).

The upshot of the article was (as far as I can remember): the then-new bylaw that banned smoking in bars caused many bar owners to stop having custom matchbooks made. The article mentioned that they were looking for other "freebie" mementoes to give out, and that some customers really missed the matchbooks - I guess they got used to not having to pay for matches.
posted by flipper at 7:35 AM on February 1, 2006


I'm certain if multiple companies in Europe were to offer similar products (burgers, fried chicken, fish and chips, whatever) and one shop gave away the condiments, you'd see them all doing it eventually because it becomes something the consumer expects.

Well it would raise their costs so they would end up having to raise their prices thus deterring some customers - specifically the ones who don't use condiments, (in a perfect market) driving them to the providers who keel their base prices lower by charging separately for condiments. I see no reason why those who want condiments should pay for them and not have them subsidised by non-users.
posted by biffa at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2006


Actually the store owners rarely pay for them. Cigarette distributors generally hand them out for free. (Or to take crabintheocean's tack, as a built-in cost). - miniape

Maybe this is a regional thing. When I ran a gas station / convience store, the store paid for them, the cigarette companies did not provide them.
posted by raedyn at 8:16 AM on February 1, 2006


In restaurants, I always take the matchbox instead of the card. It helps your remember the address, and I love the wooden matches the nice places give out. Great for lighting candles.

I heard on Hollywood Squares that "close cover before striking" was the English sentence that has been printed most. Googling seems to say it's the most printed "warning"...duh. I'm pretty sure on Squares they said "sentence."
posted by lampoil at 9:32 AM on February 1, 2006


You've got to figure that seeing the sponsors brand on a book of matches just before you get the first spike of nicotine from a new cigarette has to create a very strong positive association with that brand.

With smoking waning, I doubt other freebees will have the same return as a 2 cent matchbook in the hand of a smoker.
posted by Good Brain at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2006


At my convienence store the bums are accustomed to paying a nickel but I usually just give one out for free. I'm not sure why, but the manager just said you can give one out for free or more cost a nickel mostly to discourage freeloading. It's like bags, or napkins (though napkins are gross to me now that I realized what they are usually for), straws, condiment packets, water, sometimes the bathroom, they are just there for convienence and to encourage you to hang out and maybe spend some money though it ends up being quite abused. I know several homeless people who will come in every day just to ask for a pack of matches.
posted by psychobum at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2006


They're just expected to be free and when people don't find them free they feel offended. I'm sure an economics specialist has a special word for products like this...

Lagniappe? Not perfect, but pretty close.

posted by booksandlibretti at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2006


psychobum: Wait, what are napkins usually for? I have to assume it has to do with cleaning up semen.
posted by Netzapper at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2006


As far as I know, they're not free in British Columbia. I was told by a manager of an RV park (they have a convenience store) that they have to charge something for them (IIRC, she said it had to do with a law). She also said they cannot sell them to minors.
posted by deborah at 6:28 PM on February 1, 2006


Wait, what are napkins usually for? I have to assume it has to do with cleaning up semen.

Toilet paper perhaps?
posted by hooves at 9:13 PM on February 1, 2006


Netzapper - girl: do you have a bathroom.. no? can I get a napkin?
posted by psychobum at 9:24 PM on February 1, 2006


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