Sheri Skalesky, Executive Director of the Selkirk Biz, says that their BizBucks gift card program has been an incredible success, helping to champion local business, and keeping important spending happening in the region.
“The Selkirk Biz launched a paper $$$Chamber Dollar gift certificate program in 2001, and, although it worked it was very high maintenance,” says Skalesky. “We had to manually produce the paper cheques, and then reconcile all the spending after they were redeemed. It was so important to us to be able to offer a program like this to deliver value to our members, but we needed to find something that wasn’t so heavy in administrative responsibilities and easy for consumers & retailers to use.”
It took almost three years of research and discovery to identify our needs and find EML Payments gift card program, but Skalesky says it was well worth the efforts.
“We quietly launched in December 2018, in the middle of the holiday season, and sold $13,000 in gift cards. In 2019, we sold $158,000 and the redemption rate has been great, which means people like them and are using them. The best part is that we don’t have to administer much at all with this program. We sell the cards at our office, along with our agents Noventis Credit Union and the Selkirk Home Hardware. EML Payments holds the card value in trust and transfers it to the participating retailer/merchant once the card is redeemed.”
According to Skalesky, the gift card program wouldn’t have come to fruition if it hadn’t been for the tireless efforts of volunteer Christa Denoon, a resident of the RM of St. Clements who stepped forward to offer her time to give back to the community (pictured right with Biz Bucks team Brett Mitchell (director), Jim Pelletier (new lead), Parker Pelletier (video star), and Max (video star).
“Christa made this happen, because she chose to donate her valuable time to us. She has ties to Selkirk, and she wanted to be able to invest in her community. We were lucky to have her, and we were so proud to publicly recognize her at our Business Awards. She literally revolutionized our organization.”
Today, the program offers cards with a value of $5 to $500, which can be redeemed at any participating retailer, of which there are more than 40 and growing.
“We knew we had arrived when our two Tim Hortons locations signed on, in addition to Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Safeway, and the Manitoba Liquor Mart. Some of these are national chains and they all administer their own gift card programs, so these relationships were really big wins for us. Plus, in order to participate in the program, retailers have to be Selkirk Biz members – so that’s great for membership development.”
Skalesky says that other exciting elements of the program are that the Biz controls the geographic footprint which means the cards must be used locally; local employers often purchase banks of cards; and the Biz can create cards through their program with other corporate branding.
“We have many local employers who buy them for their employees as rewards or gifts, as customer give-aways, for contests, etc. But what’s even cooler is that we can brand cards with a retailer’s logo, but they operate under our program. This aspect was very helpful at the time we launched the program as the extra cards in circulation helped raise awareness. Most importantly, it has just been great to see the community get behind this program and support our local merchants.”
Consumers can check their card balance by toll-free phone number or online, they can see a record of transactions, and businesses have 24/7 support.
“I can literally count on three fingers the number of issues that have been brought to our attention – this program runs so smoothly, and although we don’t make any income off the card sales, there are other aspects of the program that do. It is absolutely worth it because of the membership attraction and retention.”
Since their initial discussions with EML Payments, the company has gone through a merger, and now have a minimum threshold of $500K in annual sales for new sign ups.
“It’s really too bad, because this program would be so great for chambers in Manitoba and across Canada. I had always envisioned this as a future affinity program that we could endorse. I am sure there are other card programs out there but finding the right fit can be a challenge. We got in at the right time and our community is now richer for it.”