College towns are ideal places for small, locally owned business to thrive. Between students, alumni, entrenched residents and curious travelers, there’s no shortage of consumers who want to preserve their community’s character.
Still, it can be tough for even the most vibrant college towns to uphold their local economies. Big-box stores and large metropolitan areas are often a stone’s throw away, and many residents leave town during the retail-heavy holidays.
To address their many challenges, EML client Downtown Lawrence Incorporated (DLI) in Lawrence, Kan., replaced its old gift certificate program with custom-loop gift cards. DLI’s impetus for change was an outdated, paper-based gift certificate program that did little to keep funds within the community.
“The old certificates were basically cashier’s checks, and they were so low-tech that it was actually high-tech to track it all,” says Sally Zogry, DLI Executive Director. “They were treated as cash, too, so if you had a $50 gift certificate and a $5 total, the merchant had to give you $45 in change.”
That refunded cash could be — and often was — spent at non-participating businesses. To protect DLI and entice more merchants, Zogry partnered with EML to create a custom-loop gift card program.
“EML was the only company that offered closed loop that did not require additional equipment or a charge to participating merchants,” she said. “Now we can offer a great gift that lets people go to restaurants, movies, live music, bookstores, clothing stores and more, all while keeping the money in our community."
Merchants are just as pleased with the cards as their customers. Many members have enjoyed the cards’ tracking capabilities, in particular, which allow them to see exactly when and where funds are spent.
“People in DLI have everything from the most up-to-date POS system to just a cash box and credit card terminal, and finding something that works for everyone has been critical to our success,” says Zogry. As long as a business can accept Mastercard®, they can accept a Downtown Lawrence gift card.
The results so far? Over 125 merchants have hopped on board, and Downtown Lawrence shoppers have purchased nearly 5,000 cards and loaded almost a quarter million dollars since the program’s adoption in November 2015. What’s more, DLI has seen a 21 percent increase in holiday season gift card sales from 2015 to 2016.