The Better Business Bureau's crackdown on use of the word "free" in advertising has spurred the resignation of a huge, longtime member.

Officials of R.C. Willey, the Salt Lake City-based retailer of furniture, appliances and home electronics, decided to leave the BBB of Utah rather than stop touting "free delivery" in some store ads, company chief executive Bill Child said Tuesday.The move came after the BBB announced in May that it was trying to stop use of "free" in any way that goes against the national Code of Advertising.

One part of the code says any free offer must be temporary, so a business that always offers free delivery or free labor is using the word improperly.

BBB President Russ Behrmann said R.C. Willey's delivery promise is a "continuous combination offer," so the company should use a phrase like "price includes delivery" in its ads.

"It's always been one of our standards of membership to adhere to the Code of Advertising . . . ," Behrmann said Thursday. "R.C. Willey has had a long, excellent history with the Better Business Bureau. It's unfortunate that, because of one standard, we have to - temporarily, we hope - sever our membership agreement."

Child said he wanted to support the bureau's efforts to eliminate misuse of the word.

"When I checked, I found that all of our major competitors are not members of the Better Business Bureau, and they were not going to quit doing it," Child said. "We felt like there was no way we could give them that competitive advantage."

He said R.C. Willey has never had a customer complain about its free delivery offer.

"We really answer to the customer, because that's the one we want to please. We're not excited about pleasing the Better Business Bureau on a technicality," Child said.

"We just feel like maybe there's an honest disagreement on this issue. We feel that there are other things they could be doing that would be more productive."

Behrmann said the bureau's efforts have drastically cut misuse of the word in the windshield repair and other industries. He said several businesses were told that their BBB memberships would be in jeopardy if they did not change their advertising, but R.C. Willey is the only company that resigned from the bureau as a result.

"I'm not throwing stones at them," Behrmann said. "They're simply having a hard time meeting our particular standard at this time, and we continue to hope we can work it out. A simple wording change is all we're suggesting."

He said R.C. Willey does have a good record of working with its customers.

"We try to be the nice guys. We don't try to be the heavies," Behrmann said.

Child said he supports the BBB's goals of protecting the public against unscrupulous businesses. But he cannot agree with the bureau's stand on the free issue.