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The Talk

FREE-dom rings for Fourth of July

- Last modified: July 2, 2013 at 2:26 PM

This Fourth of July, the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission has a free day of fishing.

In an attempt to encourage more Pennsylvanians to take up the hobby of fishing, the commission waived the fishing license requirements for one day.

The move got me excited.

After not fishing since I was a young teen – around the age when I needed to get a license and correspondingly when fish and worms started to seem icky – I recently joined my niece and nephews at a private lake where license-free fishing was allowed.

The lake was stocked mostly with little sunnies and other small, easy-to-catch fish.

While I'm a big "be kind to all creatures" person, we caught and quickly released the fish, so all we were really doing was annoying them.

I had a blast, and the experience left me eager to try it again to see if it might be something I would want to do more often – or at least for as long as I could persuade my dad to put the worms on the hook for me.

(I guess I'm not a big worm-rights activist.)

It got me thinking about free samples and how they work for businesses.

There seems to be no shortage of them, from cheese samples at the local deli counter to the one month free-trial subscription you can get for video streaming from Netflix.

Heck, even Lehigh Valley Business offers a free eight-week trial subscription for our print edition.

With so many examples of samples out there, there must be something to them.

To me, however, free samples can conjure up images of freeloaders.

I like to go to my local wholesale club and sample the new flavor of granola bar as much as the next gal, but some people get downright greedy in trying every snack they can get their hands on with no intention of purchasing any of it.

Then there are the extreme couponers who take advantage of loopholes in a store's sales promotions to get products for free or close to free.

Stores and manufacturers put out coupons to encourage consumers to try their new products, not so they can stock up on a year's supply of bacon bits.

Again, I love a bargain, too, but it can go too far. A store has a right to a reasonable profit. It's how it pays its bills and its employees' salaries. If people are just loading up on freebies, it's bad for business.

Pam Varkony, a freelance writer and speaker in Allentown said sometimes freebies are just freebies.

"As a speaker, and even sometimes as a freelance writer, I and many of my colleagues, are asked to present for free based on the premise that it's a "showcase of our talents" for those in the audience who might want to hire a speaker," she said. "I fell for that for a few years early in my career until I figured out it was a scam to get a free speaker."

Public relations professional Joe McDermott of McDermott Communications in Allentown, however, comes down on the side of "pro free samples."

He was just at a national homebrewers conference with a client, Trexlertown's LOGIC Inc., a manufacturer of sanitizers and cleansers used in the beer and winemaking industry.

The company gave out more than 2,000 free samples of its products.

"If they try it and like it – and let's face it, who won't try a free sample – odds are very good that they will continue to use the products," McDermott said. "We both strongly believe that getting these samples into the hands of potential customers is a great way to introduce them to the products."

Anyway, that's his free advice.

Where does a store or business draw the line in putting out free samples? Is there a happy medium between hooking a new customer and "giving the milk away for free?"

Tell me what you think.

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