Plans for Main Street gift card getting finalized
May 12, 2009
Main Street is within months of having its own gift card.
The idea has been bouncing around for months as part of a larger effort to market Main Street as a business district. Now Sandy Geldhof, executive director of the Historic Main Street Business Alliance is in the middle of collecting final pledges of support. If all goes as planned, the card could be available for purchase as early as July.
The process has taken awhile, she said, because it was important to find the right program for the district. Many gift-card administrators require large up-front fees to participate. Others require participants to purchase their equipment to swipe the card. Others seem good but are riddled with hidden fees.
The business alliance went with StoreFinancial based in Kansas. The Downtown Boise Association began using them several years ago and increased sales in the district by 40 percent, Geldhof said.
Participation is free to merchants and the card works on any machine connected to MasterCard-payment networks with no fees besides those regular to MasterCard.
But set-up will occur only once in July, so if merchants procrastinate signing up, they’ll have to wait an entire year to participate, she said.
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Contracting with the company will cost about $8,000. The business alliance will shoulder that cost and is supported by a grant from the Park City Chamber/Bureau. Before that money is spent, Geldhof said she needs 100 commitments from the 150 or so retailers, restaurants and galleries. So far she’s heard from around 30.
The board of directors for the alliance meet May 19, and if she hasn’t gathered 100 responses by May 17, they may have to reconsider, she said.
Geldhof said she’s fielded requests for such a card from visiting groups. Conference and meeting organizers like to give local gift cards in packets passed out to participants and as prizes.
She’s also heard interest expressed from locals wanting such a card to give as gifts to friends and family.
"We’ve spent a lot of time researching this, it’s been kind of a labor of love," she said.
Geldhof hopes to start in July so that everyone gets experience using it and any potential problems are worked out before the holiday season when the alliance will begin marketing the card full force.
In addition to selling the card on-line, it will be available for purchase from certain merchants, and potentially offices like the Park City Museum and Park City Chamber/Bureau.
It is not a discount card, a coupon, or a sponsored credit card. It works like any gift card offered by major retailers, she said. Purchasers will put a certain amount on the card and users can spend that money at any participating merchant.
Geldhof is encouraging merchants to try it this year even if they’re dubious. It costs them nothing and she predicts any problems experienced this year could be corrected by the following ski season.
The alliance will be able to market them to tourists through hotels and lodges, to employers as employee incentives and bonuses and to locals to give as gifts, she said.
"There are a bunch of different audiences that can benefit from this card," Geldhof added.
Another exciting feature is a database of card users that could be established. Her office could send out reminders to holders of remaining balances approaching the end of the 12-month free-of-fees period. They could also send messages and promotions to the holders about the street and build a relationship with the customers.
Card holders can check their card balances online, and StoreFinancial makes everything easy for the alliance and users.
"We feel very comfortable and safe using this," she said.
Mary Black, owner of Hilda, said she already sells many gift certificates for her men’s and women’s apparel store and has often received them for local restaurants. She was one of the first merchants to commit to the program.
"This will give customers an opportunity to experience the atmosphere of the town and maybe have lunch or dinner, grab a piece of chocolate and visit all the types of stores we have," she said.
Judy Grenney, owner of the Phoenix Gallery, also pledged early to participate and said she thinks the card is just the thing to draw more locals to Main Street.
"When they made it paid-parking on the street, some locals got disenchanted. Hopefully this will make them come back and take a second look," she said.