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Case study: The Lakes Gift Card

Hear about the success of the Lakes Gift Card in this case study interview with Pat Donnellan, Chairperson of Ballinrobe Community Development Council (CDC).

Background to The Lakes Gift Card

The Lakes Gift Card launched in November 2020 for the towns and villages of Ballinrobe, Cong, Kilmaine and Clonbur in County Mayo. In two months this gift card programme secured €230,000 in sales. Ballinrobe Community Development Council (CDC) and Ballinrobe Enterprise Organisation (BEO) worked with Miconex to deliver the gift card programme.

Pat Donnellan is the chairperson of Ballinrobe CDC and answered some questions about the introduction of The Lakes Gift Card.

What research did you conduct to find a gift card solution and what were the key elements you were looking for?

“It was business owner Martin Murphy who came up with the idea of having a gift card for the town. Initially we looked at paper and low tech versions, but we’d heard about the popular and successful Enniskillen Gift Card, which has been operating since 2017 in the north. We had a chat to Enniskillen and they put us in touch with Miconex. We liked the ease of use of the card for customers and businesses compared to other suppliers.

“For us, it was vital that a gift card worked as part of the community. Even before we signed up for the gift card programme with Miconex, we talked to our big employers. At the CDC and BEO, we’re volunteers, for example I’m a full time software engineer, so we were upfront with businesses that a gift card would be an investment both in terms of time and money. We said we would only go ahead with the idea if they were willing to back us, initially, just with a verbal indication of their support.

“Going to employers first meant we got lots of ideas on how we could refine the scheme to fit in with what they needed. They told us how they usually rewarded staff, and we got staff feedback too. From here we widened the net and it turned into a regional gift card instead of a town card.”

How was the idea of The Lakes Gift Card received by merchants? How did you onboard them?

“In terms of onboarding businesses, it was a bit of a chicken and egg situation. We needed merchants to see the wide use of the Lakes Gift Card to encourage them to be a part of it, and customers needed to see a wide variety of businesses to buy a card.

“We were fortunate in that the CDC and BEO have really good connections with the business community, with some business owners being part of one organisation or the other, so we were able to communicate how important the gift card scheme was for businesses and encourage a wide variety of merchants to come on board. For merchants, we offered a commission free model, so there was no cost to businesses for getting involved.

“At launch, we had around 70 businesses on board but that kept on climbing and we now have around 100 businesses that accept The Lakes Gift Card, everything from cafés and grocers to hairdressers and hardware stores. No matter who you’re buying for, they can find something they’ll like with The Lakes Gift Card.”

Can you please tell us about your launch, marketing and PR activity?

“The Lakes Gift Card has always been about the community. The Lakes Gift Card is us, as a collection of towns, helping ourselves. Residents, employees, employers, we are all stakeholders who are invested in the prosperity of our towns.

“We had a top down approach to creating demand with managers and owners and a bottom up approach to creating demand with employees. One local employer put out a vote to their staff, asking for their preference for a Christmas reward, The Lakes Gift Card or more traditional vouchers. It was a nervous moment for us as we waited to see what choice employees would make. We were delighted that The Lakes Gift Card got 80-90% of the vote. The only people that the Lakes Gift Card didn’t suit lived further away.

“The message we tried to get across to consumers was that shop local has to be more than a hashtag, and that The Lakes Gift Card is a practical way to support our businesses. We also got young people in their transition year involved with the gift card, creating posters and videos which in turn educated them and their families about the necessity for local shopping to make our towns and villages thrive.

Can you please tell us about your sales success and any feedback from businesses?

“75% of our sales in the first two months were from corporate sales. The orders just came flooding in before Christmas. The consumer side was harder, but vital for the long term success of the gift card. The Lakes Gift Card was the number 1 Christmas gift in the town.

“Demand for gift cards in the Christmas week was crazy. We sold the cards at Murphy’s Newsagents and were selling 100 cards a day. Martin Murphy, the owner, who came up with the idea of a gift card, had people coming into the shop constantly for cards. We had to start a waiting list for cards, with people calling in each day. I had people calling me for cards, the phone never stopped!

“Launching and receiving the cards so close to Christmas really spiked the urgency and demand for the card. We couldn’t have bought that hype. In an ideal world though, we’d have had the cards a little earlier, even a week or two, to focus on educating businesses. It’s so easy for businesses to swipe the gift card but we found that businesses often had part time Christmas staff, and some didn’t know how to use the card. Once we realised that, we printed off a 1 page list of instructions to sit by the till point.

What are your future plans with The Lakes Gift Card?

“Our campaign now is focused on redemption, and we’re pushing it back to the retailers a little. We’re saying, if you accept The Lakes Gift Card, then what discounts and offers can you give people when they use their card. Maybe 10% off if you come in and redeem your card with us. By doing this, we can make The Lakes Gift Card even better than cash.

“The spread of redemption businesses has been really wide, from grocers to gift shops which we’re really pleased about, we were worried that redemptions could be focused on just a few businesses and really tried to encourage diversity. 80% of our 100 businesses have had at least a couple of redemptions already. Some of our pubs and restaurants closed due to the lockdown before Christmas, so we imagine redemptions there will increase too.

“In 2021, we need to keep up the momentum.  We’ll have a big shop local reopening event and keep the shop local message prominent through the year, showing that the Lakes Gift Card is the gift for all types of occasion through the year.”

And finally, any advice for other places thinking about launching their own gift card?

“For places thinking of starting their own gift card programme, I’d say get your local champions on board from the start. Get your local councillor involved, your retailers and regular people who will buy the card. Talk to your employers early. Don’t discount the smaller employers either. I was really surprised by the amount of cards and the value that tradespeople would buy for their small teams, maybe 8-9 cards at €300.”


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