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Who’s afraid of Friday the 13th? Businesses can be

May 9, 2011

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It sounds like a muttered epithet but it’s the technical terms for fear of Friday the 13th, the oddity of the calendar which folklore declares unlucky.

The question: Is Friday the 13th bad news for businesses as well?

Citing the Asheville, N.C.-based Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute, the article declares that “between $700 million and $800 million are lost every Friday the 13th because of people’s refusal to travel, purchase major items or conduct business.”

Hmm.  I wasn’t able to nail down the methodology on this one and nearly a billion dollars lost to superstition in one day seems a bit farfetched.  But with hunches, superstition, emotions and other subjective motivation driving so many money decisions, from Wall Street to the checkout lanes at Kmart, looking into the effect of Friday the 13th on your area’s businesses might just turn into an interesting piece about how companies combat or capitalize on consumer sentiment.  (And coincidentally the University of Michigan’s monthly report on that subject is due out Friday.)

Talk to businesses that purvey to the public – hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, racetracks, hair salons, malls, investment brokers, etc. — if there really is any effect on bookings, spending or other activity on the spooky day.  What about last-minute cancellations and no-shows?  How is that planned for?

If not,  what does determine patron traffic? In other words, what are business owners in your area really afraid of?  Highlighting true corporate concerns could be an interesting and informative way to use the Friday the 13th peg to draw readers into a substantive story.

Do businesses that soothe – like spas, counselors, psychologists, psychics — see any sort of a bump?  Be sure to check with health care systems in your area and others that treat phobia disorders – and dentists that lure phobic patients with sedation and other therapy.  Human fears and emotions are powerful forces and it’s good to address once in a while the role they play in many facets of our economy.

As an amusing aside, apparently the bar examination results in Arizona and California are being released May 13 to would-be new attorneys.  “Is this some sort of sick joke?” was the wail on one message board.   And year after year, articles about superstitions note that absenteeism is high at all sorts of workplaces on these special days.  Is that true?  Why not substantiate or debunk the notion once and for all – especially since it’s still quite the buyer’s market in terms of employment.  Maybe workers who’d give themselves a long weekend in boom times are finding it easy to conquer their friggatriskaidekaphobia when paychecks are more scarce.  With summer looming, are employers cracking down on mental health days, the suspicious Monday/Friday sick days and other mood-driven impulse moves by workers?

And if you can’t get around to Friday the 13th this week, remember that the end of the world is coming on May 21, according to some folks (or not till 2012, others day) so you get a second shot at this superstition story.  Don’t laugh – doomsday is big business in some circles; as this recent Washington Post story notes,it’s spawned an economy that rivals the GDP of some small countries.” And CNBC produced an hourlong special “Apocalypse 2012” about the spending and profiting that is spawned by doomsday predictions.  There’s lots of interesting sidebar content on the CNBC website, too, which may inspire you to find local end-of-the-world entrepreneurs.


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