Displaying items by tag: Economic Development
Sales tax revenues have increased, but small businesses continue to struggle to reach pre-pandemic cash flow and revenue margins. Municipalities are facing multiple challenges in their efforts to support their business communities and are seeking innovative ways to help them fully recover, maintain consistent revenue growth, and create a sustainable local economy.
HdL and Yiftee – the go-to community digital gift card service provider – help agencies promote Shop Local campaigns to foster small business recovery.
Federal relief funding (ARPA) can be used to help local businesses by generating consumer demand for goods and services through incentivized support. This allows you to create a custom digital gift card program for your community without affecting your General Fund.
A Shop Local campaign incentivizes in-person shopping, engages the community, and promotes local retailers, restaurants, and service providers, benefitting agencies of all sizes, demographics, and locations.
Watch this recorded webinar to learn...
- The ease and benefits of a digital gift card program
- How to use ARPA funds to cover the program in its entirety
- How to multiply funding with consumer participation to triple local businesses benefits
- The ROI from current case studies
- How to customize & implement a program in 3 easy steps
Download the presentation slides to follow along.
Welcome, everybody, to this webinar. Today, we will discuss how to help small businesses thrive with a shop local program. My name is Barry Foster, and I am a Principal and Managing Director with HdL Companies. Joining me is Donna Novitsky, the CEO of Yiftee. Donna and I have conducted several webinars over the past year, and we are excited to share our insights with you today.
To begin, we will provide a brief update on the American Rescue Plan Act. Then, Donna will give an overview of the community e-gift card program and explain how you can use ARPA funds to get a return on investment for this program. Following that, we will delve into case studies of cities and programs we have worked on together. Finally, we will conclude with a question-and-answer session.
Now, let's discuss HdL and our company. We recently celebrated our 40th anniversary and have served over 700 local government clients. We are a leader in sales tax in California and established the HdL ECON Solutions division in 2014 to support economic development programs and better serve local governments.
Over the past nine years, we have worked with 185 local governments, primarily cities, and have also provided support for American Rescue Plan Act initiatives. Additionally, about a year and a half ago, we began implementing shop local digital gift card programs. To date, we have successfully completed 15 of these programs.
Now, let's provide an overview and update on ARPA. It was a massive federal stimulus program, amounting to $1.9 trillion. Of that, $350 billion was allocated specifically for state and local governments to aid in pandemic recovery. Every city and town in the United States received a direct allocation, with large cities receiving funds directly from the federal government and smaller cities receiving funds from their respective states. The ARPA has been a crucial stimulus fund for cities and local governments to fund various initiatives for pandemic recovery.
I want to address a common concern regarding the federal government clawing back unspent ARPA dollars. While some unspent federal ARPA dollars were reclaimed, there is no need to worry about the state and local funds. Those funds remain safe, and if you still have unallocated or unspent ARPA dollars, you have until the end of 2024 to allocate them and until the end of 2026 to spend them. Many small cities have chosen to allocate their funds to the general fund, and if you have done the same, you can use some of those funds to support the shop local digital gift card program.
Small businesses, especially restaurants, are still struggling with cash flow and margins. Although sales tax revenue has recovered for the most part, it does not reflect the true health of the economy. It is crucial to focus on supporting independent small businesses through a shop local digital gift card program. This program serves as a local stimulus and helps businesses retain revenue within the community.
Again, we've managed 15 Shop Local programs in partnership with Yiftee, and all of them have been successful, with some being hugely successful in terms of what they've achieved. However, all of them have been important in their own way to help stimulate small businesses. As a company, we handle a lot of sales tax work, and we have observed that the vast majority have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of sales tax revenue. However, that's not the true indicator of the overall health of the economy. Small businesses especially are not back to pre-pandemic in terms of cash flow and margins and especially restaurants.
It's challenging to find labor. The cost of labor has increased for all their products and services in restaurants, resulting in higher prices for customers. However, despite the price increases, they are not receiving the expected returns in margins. Therefore, they continue to struggle amidst the uncertain economic conditions. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to consider supporting independent small businesses by implementing a shop local digital gift card program.
The program is a unique and crucial way to support local small businesses and keep the money within the community. We have worked with 15 communities, currently active in nine of them, and some have received multiple rounds of funding. The goal is to ensure that people continue to shop local and keep their money circulating within the community, which is especially important now and in the coming year given the economic situation.
We can assist in managing your program, from formulating and implementing it to providing administrative oversight. We can help determine the appropriate level of funding, whether it's from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) or reallocating revenue loss to the General Fund. Identifying the businesses that would benefit most from this program in your community is another aspect we can handle.
Working alongside your local Chamber of Commerce, we can develop a Business Contact list and collaborate with Yiftee to set up arrangements with merchants. We can customize the program's graphics to align with your community's identity and act as the primary contact for business owners, addressing any questions or concerns. We have successfully implemented this in various locations, learning from our experiences to refine the process and make it unique to your community. Additionally, we can monitor gift card sales and provide detailed reports on the program's progress.
Now, I will hand over the discussion to Donna, who will provide insights into Yiftee and how their program works.
First of all, I want to answer the question: Who is Yiftee? Some of you may not have heard of us yet. We are all about keeping local dollars local. The company has been in business for over 10 years and we've been focused on working with local shops and restaurants throughout the country. We have a product called the Community Card, which is a technology platform provided by our company. We handle all the financials and money transfers, and we have a dedicated customer support department for our communities.
I am one of the co-founders of the company, and when we started it 10 years ago, our goal was to help local shops and restaurants in our communities. These businesses provide jobs to people in the community, especially teenagers who are starting their first jobs and gaining work experience. They contribute 2 1/2 times more to support community programs compared to larger companies. They fund activities such as soccer teams, Little League, grade schools, and Brownie troops. They also play a vital role in funding local infrastructure like schools, roads, and parks. It's a no-brainer for us to support them.
Initially, our focus was on competing with online businesses and national chains. However, the pandemic has hit smaller businesses even harder. They are not only struggling to recover from the pandemic but also facing challenges in finding employees. They have to compete with gig workers and deal with increased operating costs. Interestingly, during the 2008-2009 recession, it took over six years for businesses to recover. So, we understand that supporting them is a marathon, not a sprint.
Our program, the Community Card, is designed to provide long-term support to businesses. We offer customized cards for different communities, allowing each community to have its own branding and identity. Currently, we are operating in over 500 communities across the United States. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, we have helped keep over $50 million of revenue within local communities. Importantly, our program is free to set up, and there are no ongoing subscription fees for merchants or participants. The setup process is simple and can be done in three to four weeks with the help of HdL Companies. No special equipment or integration with point-of-sale systems is required.
Here's an example of one of the cities we worked with HdL, called Canyon Lake. The program is solely digital; people would visit this web page shown on the slide.
You will have your own customized version of the page, incorporating your background image, logo, and card design to your liking. You have full control over its appearance and even the name.
The main focus is on your preferences and needs, not ours. Visitors to the page would have the option to purchase gift cards by clicking on the "Choose Any Gift Card Amount" link and following the process to buy a card. They can then choose to email it or print it for themselves or someone else.
You may be wondering how Yiftee manages to sustain the program when it's free for you to set up and free for the merchants. The answer can be found in the fine print at the bottom of the slide—it mentions an e-delivery fee applied to each card purchase. Similar to a Fandango movie ticket or other similar transactions, a small fee is added to cover our program costs. Therefore, there is no charge for our services to you.
When you send the digital community card, it is delivered via email, and the recipient will receive a message instructing them to click on it. Upon opening the email, they will see the initial screen displaying the branded gift card, referred to, in this instance, as "Canyon Cash."
When they are ready to use the card, they can click on the bar at the bottom labeled "View Gift Voucher." This action will bring up a screen on the right side, showing a digital gift card that will be stored on their phone. If desired, they can also print it out for a physical copy. This program operates entirely digitally, allowing us to provide it at a minimal cost.
As mentioned earlier, this system is compatible with any point-of-sale (POS) system. Merchants only need to have the capability to process a manual entry MasterCard. There is no need for POS integration or purchasing special devices. When a merchant redeems a card, they simply enter the card number, expiration date, and CVV. The MasterCard network immediately authorizes the transaction, ensuring that they will receive payment. The transaction will be settled that same night, along with the rest of their credit card transactions.
Merchants are paid through this process without any waiting period or management of funds required on your end. The credit card networks and gift card provider handle all financial aspects for you.
The community card we provide is a specialized MasterCard that can only be used at the shops and restaurants in your designated area. It functions differently from a regular MasterCard, ensuring it is exclusively accepted by participating merchants.
Here's how it works: On the initial screen where individuals purchase your community card, there is a map displaying pins representing all the participating merchants in your program. Users can also obtain a printable list of these merchants and explore their websites. This feature promotes local businesses while inviting them to participate in the program, usually through email communication.
When you're ready to activate the merchants, you send them activation cards through yiftee. These cards resemble the MasterCard shown on the right side of the screen, but they come preloaded with $0.10. When a merchant processes this card on their point-of-sale (POS) system, they receive the $0.10, while Yiftee obtains the POS identifiers. This process enables us to identify and authorize the merchants who can redeem the community card.
We occasionally encounter recipients who assume it's a regular MasterCard and attempt to use it on platforms like Amazon or Walmart, or even at neighboring businesses. However, these attempts will be declined, much to our satisfaction. The card's restrictions ensure that the funds can only be spent at the local shops and restaurants in your community. There is no possibility of it being used outside of the merchants you have authorized.
Who purchases these community cards? In 2022, we observed that about 37% of all the purchases go to consumers and those are consumers who buy them for birthday gifts, holiday gifts, teacher gifts, all kinds, anything you would buy any kind of gift card for a community card is better because you're going to spend the same money as a gift card. Community cards are preferred over regular gift cards because they allow individuals to support their local community while spending the same amount of money.
Interestingly, we also witnessed 25% of our business coming from bulk purchases. Bulk purchases are a growing trend among different entities on Main Street. Companies, for instance, use community cards for employee reward programs and holiday initiatives. Schools buy them to appreciate teachers on occasions like Teacher Appreciation Day. Hospitals purchase thousands of cards to honor essential workers on essential worker day, and city governments obtain cards to express gratitude to their hardworking employees. Additionally, we've been involved in various government grant programs.
We run programs designed for low-income families, allowing them to spend funds exclusively at authorized local shops and restaurants. Our initiatives extend to farmers markets, after-school activity funding for low-income families, storm cleanup grants, and other creative uses of the program. By directing the dollars to a specific set of merchants, we introduce new money to Main Street.
Lastly, we offer sponsored programs. In the past year, we organized over 100 different bonus programs. These programs receive funding from local sponsors such as banks and realtors. Moreover, as Barry mentioned, we collaborated on numerous large-scale initiatives with American Rescue Plan Act funds.
This slide discusses how community cards can generate new revenue for small businesses.
The gift card industry in the US is incredibly large, reaching $185 billion this year, excluding community cards. However, a significant portion of this market, about one-third, is dominated by corporate and bulk purchases, benefiting e-commerce companies and national brands. In these cases, corporations or city governments buying gift cards for their employees typically opt for community cards instead of specific individual store cards. The reason behind this preference is that community cards allow the recipients to choose where they want to spend the card, giving them the freedom to support their preferred local businesses. Recipients can use the community card at multiple establishments, such as their favorite coffee shop or a nearby boutique. The digital card displays the remaining balance, enabling users to track their available funds. They can continue using the card until the balance is depleted, promoting spending across various local businesses. This multi-use feature of community cards is a compelling way to distribute funds within a community, making it an appealing option for programs funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other initiatives.
We have partnered with the City of Lemon Grove, and they are currently running a promotional campaign that serves as an example. When you purchase a $100 card, you will receive an additional $50 card for free, funded by the ARPA dollars. It is important for the city to establish certain rules for the program, and we highly recommend doing so. In Lemon Grove's case, there is a maximum limit of two bonus cards per purchaser. This encourages most people to opt for the $100 card to maximize their free bonus. Additionally, Lemon Grove has set an expiration date for the bonus cards. The $100 card purchased with the customer's own money does not expire as long as it is used at least once within a 12-month period, and there are no fees unless the card remains inactive. However, the expiration period for the bonus cards, which are funded by sponsors like ARPA or the city, can be set anywhere from 1 to 12 months. Lemon Grove has chosen a 12-month expiration period for the bonus cards. Recipients of both purchased cards and free bonus cards will receive monthly reminders to redeem their cards and be informed of the remaining balance. This proactive approach ensures that the funds are spent within the community. Setting a deadline motivates recipients to circulate the money sooner rather than later, knowing that the funds will expire at the end of a specified period.
We recommend starting off with a bonus card promotion of "buy one, get one free" in the initial phase. This approach aims to establish brand awareness and provide maximum incentives for people to participate in the program. It is suggested to begin with this matching offer and then consider implementing multiple phases. As seen in Lemon Grove's example, you can gradually adjust the promotion, such as offering "buy 25, get 15 free" or "buy 25, get 10 free." You have the flexibility to mix and match these offers. However, it is crucial to create strong brand awareness and launch the program successfully. We highly encourage implementing a "buy one, get one" promotion in the first phase to kickstart the program and build brand recognition. Over time, you can gradually adjust the promotion to align with your goals.
Here's an example illustrating this approach. Lemon Grove implemented phase one of their program from November to April, allocating $200,000 in bonus dollars with a 100% match. This phase was successful and sold out by April. Consequently, they decided to proceed with phase two, adding an additional $70,000. The current program you see today reflects phase two, and the full $200,000 of ARPA funds has been distributed. Consumers have purchased slightly more than the allocated bonus dollars to receive their 100% match. This doubling effect provides merchants in town with a 2.1 times multiplier on the ARPA dollars. Despite participants having a year to redeem their bonus bucks, a significant portion has already been spent and is in the hands of the merchants. Additionally, we observe that cardholders tend to spend more than the value of their cards, with an average overspend of around 30%. These numbers do not account for this overspending, resulting in a higher return on investment (ROI) than what is reflected. Another noteworthy aspect of this program is that approximately 51% of cardholders use their bonus bucks or purchased cards to try new merchants. This dynamic ensures that the funds are spread across the community and encourages individuals to explore different local businesses. Therefore, the program effectively stimulates local spending and promotes community engagement.
This program is adaptable to different city sizes, including smaller ones like the City of Angels Camp, accommodating a range of merchant participation from 20 to nearly 1000. Typically, programs consist of around 50 to 100 merchants, but it can vary. In the case of Angels Camp, a small city with a population of 4000, they allocated $25,000 for their first round in November, offering a 100% match, which sold out within three days. This successful promotion led them to follow up with another $25,000, featuring a 50% match. Currently, $32,000 of the total $50,000 has been distributed, with $45,000 purchased, resulting in a total value of $77,000 for the merchants. Approximately 83% of this value has already been redeemed in the merchant stores within Angels Camp. Currently, the program includes about 30 merchants.
Cities like Angels Camp initially questioned their suitability for the program due to their smaller size. However, we assured them that the program can be customized to fit any community, regardless of its size. In fact, small to medium-sized cities have experienced significant success with the program. Examples of such cities include Lake Forest and Upland, which have achieved remarkable outcomes.
Upland approached us before Thanksgiving with a keen interest in implementing this program. We obtained approval from their City Council during the first Council meeting in December, and within two weeks, we had everything prepared and launched the program just in time for Christmas. Despite the challenges of the tight timeline, the program has been immensely successful and well-received. The first program had a match of $100,000 and sold out within nine days, demonstrating its rapid success. Encouraged by this response, Upland decided to launch a second program immediately, allocating another $100,000. For this second program, they opted for a 50% match. Currently, $155,000 of the total $200,000 has been distributed, with over $200,000 in consumer matching. Due to the 50% match, the program is generating a total of $300,000 in business for local stores. As of now, $300,708, or 87%, of this value has already been redeemed.
Currently, there are 51 participating merchants, and it continues to make a significant impact on Upland's community and local businesses. An impressive aspect of this program is that it has attracted over 1,000 unique shoppers to local shops and restaurants. This influx of new customers has allowed them to explore and support their local businesses.
Now, let's move on to my grand finale slide. This particular program has been a significant undertaking that we've been actively involved in since December, collaborating with HdL in Lake Forest. Lake Forest is a medium-sized city with a population of 86,000. On the left side of the slide, you can observe what their page looks like, where individuals can purchase the card. Initially, they allocated $1,000,000 for a 100% match program, which sold out by March. Just last month, they launched another program, this time with $500,000 program. Currently, about half of the second batch has been distributed, and we have a matching set of consumer purchases. As a result, we have successfully driven nearly $1.5 million into the local community.
These cards typically have an expiration date of approximately six months. The first batch will be expiring soon, followed by the second batch towards the end of this year. What's truly remarkable is the participation of 76 merchants and the over 4,000 unique shoppers who have taken advantage of the program by visiting these establishments.
The impact of this program on Lake Forest has been immense, surpassing our initial expectations. We knew it would be a good fit, but the results have exceeded even our highest projections. The City Council is thrilled with the level of merchant participation and the community's wholehearted embrace of the program. Its success continues to grow and make a substantial impact on the city of Lake Forest.
To summarize what you've seen, this program offers multiple benefits. It serves as a gift to both the residents of the community and the merchants themselves. It effectively multiplies the value of the ARPA dollars or sponsor funds. Depending on the chosen terms, the ROI metrics demonstrate significant results. With a 100% match, you can expect to see an immediate doubling of the investment. If a 50% match is implemented, over time we've observed a 3X return in these programs. Even a year after the bonus period ends, the purchases made using the cards can yield up to 8 times the initial investment. This is because people develop habits of shopping locally and continue to do so. In fact, our data shows that approximately 30% of cardholders tend to overspend on their cards, further increasing the ROI. Additionally, 51% of cardholders take the opportunity to explore new local businesses, resulting in increased foot traffic and revenue for those establishments.
Through a survey, we found that 92% of cardholders prefer shop local cards over national brand cards. Therefore, it makes sense to provide them with what they want. In conclusion, this program is free for merchants and can be customized to your community's branding. We can swiftly put together a program in less than a month, whether you're utilizing ARPA dollars or reallocating revenue loss. Investing in this program is a wise decision for cities as it keeps money within the local economy and aligns with the current emphasis on supporting small, independent businesses. It serves as a high-tech solution for promoting the shop local movement, which is crucial in the present and future. By taking action to support your community's small businesses and attracting customers from outside the area, you contribute to the economic well-being of your city.
Q: Do merchants pay a fee?
A: The merchants do not pay any fees to us for the community card program. When the card is redeemed at their store, they receive the full value of the card. However, they do need to pay their regular MasterCard card-not-present processing fee, which is the same fee they would incur for phone orders or online purchases. We do not take a cut of the cards. Apart from the credit card fee, the merchants receive the full value of the card, just as if someone made a purchase over the phone or online. The process and fees are the same in those cases.
Q: Could a card like this work for a national retailer?
A: The participation of franchisees in the program depends on whether they have been invited to join. In some communities, local franchisees have been included as they are considered part of the community. These franchisees typically have no issues processing the activation card that was demonstrated, which is the 10 Cent prepaid MasterCard. However, it should be noted that larger franchises such as McDonald's or Walmart are often restricted by their headquarters and may not be allowed to participate. If corporate approval is granted, it will take months. Again, the focus is on the small, independent businesses that are struggling because of the pandemic.
Q: Can you isolate specific merchants for specific programs? Meaning if used by one constituency (e.g. after school programs) - can only use with a specific set of merchants within the existing Yiftee group of merchants?
A: Absolutely! We have the capability to create customized programs within the framework of community cards. For example, we have successfully implemented Restaurant Week programs where a subset of merchants is featured on a special Restaurant Week card, accompanied by unique bonus programs. So, if you have specific ideas or promotions in mind, we can accommodate them.
Additionally, individual merchants can also run their own promotions using the community card. They can offer special incentives or discounts to customers who use the card in their store. This allows for a high level of customization and creativity within the program.
Many merchants have taken advantage of this flexibility and have tailored their programs to offer unique and enticing deals. It adds a personal touch and enhances the overall experience for participants. There are numerous creative possibilities to explore in designing promotions that align with the merchants' goals and the community's interests.
Q: If a small business has locations in neighboring cities, can you limit it to only the location in your one city?
A: Yes, the community card will only be functional at the specific locations that you authorize. Even if there are businesses with the same brand or name in different cities, the card will not work at those locations.
It's important to note that this program is not designed for large retailers like Walmart or Costco. It is specifically intended for independent small businesses. Corporate approval for big retailers would not be attainable, as the focus is on supporting local, independently owned establishments. However, it is possible for franchisees with multiple locations to participate in the program. The card will be valid at the specific location within your community and possibly at two or three other restaurants owned by the same franchisee.
Q: Doesn't CA law state that gift cards purchased with cash/real money not ever expire?
A: Cards purchased by individuals using their own money do not expire, as long as they are used at least once within a 12-month period. However, cards purchased by the city using ARPA dollars or sponsor funds can have an expiration date since they are considered promotional. Having an expiration date on the bonus cards encourages the funds to be circulated sooner. Therefore, we always recommend including an expiration date on the bonus cards. Please refer to the next page for further details.
Q: Is there a way to incorporate local online only retailers? Businesses that are owned locally but currently do not have a brick & mortar store?
A: It is possible to authorize your merchants to enable their ecommerce sites to accept your community card, allowing the program to be utilized both in-store and online. The decision to drive foot traffic or focus on online transactions is up to you as the program organizer. Most cities, particularly City Council members, prefer to prioritize brick-and-mortar businesses and encourage local shopping. However, you have the flexibility to customize the program according to your preferences. Based on our experience working with various cities, Council members often emphasize the importance of creating foot traffic and boosting local business activity.
Q: How would it work for those businesses whose home base is at home - like a photography business?
A: No problem. As long as they can accept a MasterCard, they can participate in the program.
Q: This all sounds great and would complement our efforts during the pandemic (Shop Local Rohnert Park (RP). What are the drawbacks to this program (i.e Why wouldn't a City/County want to incorporate something like this?)
A: Implementing the program requires effort and a partnership between our organization and yours. The branding of the program will be centered around your city or community. While we will provide you with various promotional materials, it is crucial for you to actively promote the program within the community. Our goal is to make you heroes, and we rely on your assistance in spreading the word.
We can offer you a turnkey program, leveraging our experience from previous implementations. We understand what works and what doesn't, and we can guide you through the process. However, for this to be successful, we would appreciate support from the city, typically through collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce. They can assist in recruiting merchants and providing the necessary local touch. We will handle much of the setup and formulation, but having representatives from the city staff and Chamber of Commerce involved is important.
Q: Are there training materials for the business staff? We've found (with another program) that lack of understanding can result in the card not being accepted.
A: We understand that you have various responsibilities and programs to manage throughout the year, and we are here to support you in implementing the community card program. This is our primary focus, and we have a wide range of materials available to assist you. We provide training materials, marketing materials, social media content, draft press releases, and templates for different needs. If there's something specific you require that we don't already have, please let us know, and we'll create it for you, as it may be beneficial for others as well. Additionally, we offer videos to help merchants train their staff, along with one-pagers that can be displayed in their break rooms. We can also design window clings, table tents, and bag stuffers to further promote the program for them.
Q: Will there be a surcharge involved in the acceptance of Yiftee cards?
A: To clarify, merchants do not incur any additional fees when it comes to purchasing or redeeming the community cards. They will only pay their regular MasterCard processing fee, which is the same fee they would pay for phone orders or online purchases. There is no surcharge when someone buys the card, but there is an e-delivery fee of $1 and 5% on the card purchase. However, many cities choose to cover these e-delivery fees as part of the program. This means that consumers only pay the face value of the card without any additional charges. The decision to cover the e-delivery fees is optional for you as the program organizer, but we recommend considering it as an option, especially for the initial launch of the program.
Q: How sustainable is this program? (i.e. how long do cities keep these programs going?)
A: The program is not limited to a specific timeframe and can be sustained throughout the year. While the initial launch and bonus cards help generate excitement and familiarity with the program, it is designed to be ongoing. Various occasions such as holidays, corporate events, and recognition programs provide opportunities for continued engagement. For example, the program can be promoted during holidays when gift cards are in high demand, and it can also be utilized for employee rewards or appreciation initiatives. Additionally, the program can be extended to specific events like Essential Worker Day or Teachers Day to further encourage local support.
Other cities, such as Hercules, have implemented similar ongoing programs to drive employee engagement and encourage local business patronage. The key is to establish the program's brand and raise awareness initially, but it can continue to thrive even without the inclusion of bonus cards. The sustained success of the program relies on ongoing promotion, community engagement, and integration with existing shop local initiatives.
Another city we worked with was Hercules. We completed two rounds of funding with Yiftee, and then they approached us again because many of their major businesses were trying to bring their employees back to the offices and facilities after working remotely in hybrid schedules. They wanted to incentivize their employees to return by implementing a shop local program with local restaurants. We collaborated with Yiftee on this program, and I'm pleased to share that it was approved by Hercules City Council on Tuesday. We are now preparing to launch it. This example highlights how these programs can continue even after the bonus cards phase is completed. It's crucial to establish the brand, generate awareness, and ensure that people become accustomed to and continue participating in the program. The sustainability of these initiatives is evident as they can persist and thrive over time.
Q: How do you determine the unique shopper?
A: We have the names of all purchasers, so it's unique names who have bought cards. If they bought more than one, they're only going to count as one person.
Q: Will you restate the cost to the card purchaser on $100?
A: It's $1.00 + 5% of the face value of the card. So if they bought $100 card, it would be $6. So, the $6 goes to Yiftee. Out of that, we are going to pay the processing cost, the credit card fees, because that person is going to buy it with a credit card. So, we pay that cost up front. You don't. The merchants don't. The merchants have their own fee on redemption, but in the remaining part of that is what keeps the lights on here at Yiftee.
HdL Helps the Cities of Lemon Grove and Upland Use ARPA Funds to Grow Their Business Communities and Keep Local Dollars Local
Municipalities face multiple challenges in their efforts to increase economic development and support their business communities. HdL helped the Cities of Lemon Grove and Upland utilize federal relief funding to promote Shop Local campaigns and foster small business recovery. To date, each City has generated more than $350,000 in local tax dollars through custom, digital gift card programs.
The Challenge: Keep Local Dollars Local
Sales tax revenue and consumer behavior go hand in hand, and while total sales tax revenues have increased beyond pre-pandemic levels, small businesses continue to struggle to reach pre-pandemic cash flow and revenue margins. In addition, e-commerce continues to overtake brick-and-mortar spending and economic factors continue to pinch wallets. Cities are seeking innovative ways to help their local businesses and economies fully recover and maintain consistent revenue growth. HdL assisted the Cities of Lemon Grove and Upland to support their small businesses and keep local dollars local.
The City of Lemon Grove & Small Business Assistance Programs
The City of Lemon Grove, a suburb of San Diego and home to 26,000 residents, is known for having the “Best Climate on Earth.” The City is committed to providing its community with smoke and alcohol-free parks and hosts quarterly community clean-up events. Their small-town charm and community pride exemplify the devotion of the City.
The City awarded small grants (up to $10,000) to assist local businesses that struggled during and after the pandemic. “The challenge was ensuring the mom-and-pops survived. They were the ones that were closing. Our initial business grants focused on small women- or minority-owned businesses that were not franchised, and we still lost about 15%. We're just trying to keep Lemon Grove small business focused,” said Lydia Romero, City Manager for the City of Lemon Grove.
The City wanted to go a step further and implement a small business assistance program to help their business community fully recover and create a sustainable local economy.
The City of Upland & ARPA Fund Restrictions
The City of Upland is another city known for its commitment to community growth. Adjacent to Los Angeles County, its central location and population size of nearly 80,000 make it a prime retail and business hub for all sectors of the economy. The City partners with the Inland Empire’s Small Business Development Center to offer one-on-one consulting, marketing webinars, and grant programs to aid in the success of its local businesses. The numerous resources are a testament to the City’s dedication to being “The City of Gracious Living,” the City’s motto.
While the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief funds helped agencies nationwide recover from the negative economic effects of COVID-19, uses for the funds were restricted and not each use was a good fit for every agency. After calculating actual revenue loss (according to the U.S. Treasury’s formula outlined in the Final Rule) and identifying the portion of ARPA funds that could be used for any governmental purpose, the City of Upland weighed their options. Establishing a citywide broadband infrastructure network couldn’t be achieved with ARPA dollars alone. A water infrastructure project was appealing, but the City believed the money could be better utilized elsewhere. “We were able to be selective and determine how best to use the restricted funds,” said Stephen Parker, Assistant City Manager for the City of Upland.
As HdL assisted local government agencies with ARPA legislation and regulated usage of funds, it was evident that a sustainable business community was a top priority. Grants and loans helped pay back taxes, rent, and bills, but they didn’t help bring in new and consistent revenue. To remedy this, HdL partnered with Yiftee, a digital gift card service provider, to engage communities in Shop Local campaigns.
Shop Local campaigns increase resident visibility and create a sense of community pride, benefiting both the business community and the General Fund. HdL identified the Cities of Lemon Grove and Upland as candidates for such a campaign. Both Cities wanted to revive their local economies, had untouched ARPA funding, and a downtown with a variety of small and diverse local restaurants and retail businesses - the ideal participants for a community gift card program.
In addition to using ARPA funds for small business recovery through loans or grants, municipalities can help local businesses by generating consumer demand for goods and services through incentivized support. A Shop Local Gift Card program accomplishes this by encouraging residents to shop at participating merchants with city-matched funds.
Shop Local, Shop Lemon Grove
On November 1, 2022, the City of Lemon Grove’s City Council voted to allocate $150,000 in ARPA funds to match residents’ purchases of “Shop Local Lemon Grove” gift cards, essentially a Buy One, Get One bonus offer. “The pitch to the Council was that grants don’t help if a business doesn’t have market viability. The gift cards will get people in the doors and show them what these businesses have to offer, and then it is the responsibility of the businesses to create repeat customers,” said Romero.
The program is only open to small, independently owned, local storefronts. Corporate chains and multi-franchised businesses can not apply. This keeps the focus on the unique, local vendors that make each city different. “Early adopters of the program, like Lemon Grove Yoga and Massage and Onyx Moto, were really pleased with the results, and those folks helped spread the word along with the East County Chamber of Commerce. We have 33 active vendors and participation continues to grow,” Romero reported.
HdL advises rolling out the program in phases 1) to monitor initial success and 2) to create demand before funds run out. The City has successfully launched and completed two phases. The first phase ($150,000) sold out in two months over the holiday season. The City allocated an additional $125,000 in ARPA funds in January and sold out in April. To date, a total of $407,860 in “Shop Local, Shop Lemon Grove” gift cards have been purchased and $323,570 have been redeemed for a redemption rate of 79%. The City’s net revenues from October through December were 6.1% higher YOY and higher than pre-pandemic Q4 figures. Returns were positive across most sales tax categories, even as economic pressures influenced buying decisions.
After reading how the City of “Lemon Grove Used Federal Relief Funds to Offer Residents Double Gift Card Values at Local Businesses,” the City of Upland proposed its own program and received City Council approval in time to campaign before the 2022 holiday season. “This was the ‘better use of funds’ we were looking for - where you're able to benefit your local, small businesses and put extra money in the pockets of residents right before the holiday season. It was a no-brainer,” said Parker.
Despite only having two weeks to go live, recruit local businesses, and advertise the program in time to help holiday shoppers, the City and HdL launched the program in December with $100,000 available for bonus gift cards. Every dollar was utilized within two weeks. The City’s net revenues from October through December were 12.1% higher YOY. After the first of the year, the City started a second phase with an additional $120,000 available for bonus gift cards.
To date, a total of $365,480 in “Discover Upland” gift cards have been purchased and $316,960 have been redeemed for a redemption rate of 87%.
Agencies can establish their own criteria for a Shop Local digital gift card program and make it unique to their community. HdL provides overall administration and works with city staff in structuring and designing the program including spending limits, design parameters, targeting business participants, marketing, and monitoring sales and usages. The program can be achieved in three simple steps…
Step 1: Establish a method to incentivize the purchase of Shop Local Digital Gift Cards.
- Fund a matching bonus gift card for each gift card purchased.
- Offset the eDelivery fees normally paid for by customers.
Step 2: Recruit small, independently owned, local businesses to be recipients of digital gift cards.
“It’s been an easy lift for the City. HdL ensured the businesses were dialed in and understood the technology is as easy as it gets,” Romero reported. At the time of purchase, the resident provides their digital gift card via confirmed email (or print out). The vendor manually enters the unique card number into the business’ POS or terminal system as a credit card. As this is a 100% digital, eco-friendly option, there is no physical card to swipe. “I like that our small shops can participate without the hassle or expense of creating and managing their own unique card,” added Romero.
"We love the gift card program," said Tanya Valadez, CEO & Founder of Elevated Coffee & Confections, a Lemon Grove coffee shop known for their vegan desserts. “We see about five to ten customers a day that use the card and are very satisfied with it. Even my regulars come in more frequently because they have extra money to spend. I have found that many customers are passionate about growth in Lemon Grove and it warms my heart to see the City coming up with ways to support us. I bought a $150 card for myself and used it at Lemon Grove Yoga and Massage. I used the additional card to treat my employees to massages! As a small business owner, it was wonderful to reward my employees and do so at a cost that was within my budget while also supporting another local business.”
The City of Upland, with 59 participants, also found the recruitment process to be easy. “It takes no effort whatsoever to get businesses on board, but I know we wouldn't have seen the same success if we didn't have the Chamber and HdL promoting the program,” said Parker. HdL has successfully implemented numerous Shop Local campaigns and knows what types of businesses work best in the program. Service providers like hair salons and auto repair shops make ideal participants. They were among those hit the hardest during the pandemic, so they are eager and grateful for the support.
Step 3: Advertise the program to residents.
To start, explain the program and its benefits along with a list of participating businesses on the City website and social media channels. HdL also assists agencies with the creation of a landing page through Yiftee (the digital gift card service provider). “We advertised on an electronic billboard, and that's driving a lot of interest from the greater region,” said Romero. “We printed business cards and left them near the cashiers of participating merchants. The businesses proudly advertising a window cling and actively spreading the word to customers are the ones seeing the biggest return,” added Parker.
Jerry Fraize, the owner of Pedego, an electric bike shop in Upland, emailed everyone on his distribution list as soon as the Chamber announced the program. The store had instant results. “Full families - dad, mom, daughter, and son - each had their own card, and it made it easier for people to purchase higher-end products. When the City launched the second installment, we sent another email suggesting clients use it for service tune-ups. We were surprised at how many people listened and are still showing up daily. We hope the City continues the program!” commented Fraize.
“One of our top three businesses is an auto repair shop. I would not have thought that an auto repair shop would beat out our restaurants, but it goes to prove that the program works. Folks check the list to see where else they can use their funds and learn about merchants they weren’t aware of before. With just a single click, we’ve generated brand awareness and repeat customers,” added Parker.
After the program is launched, custom reports are used to monitor the quantity and value of cards purchased, as well as redemption reports which showcase the value and distribution of gift cards redeemed at each participating merchant. The redemption reports also help identify businesses that may need assistance in marketing the digital gift card program.
The City of Lemon Grove is in phase three and allocated another $69,500 in ARPA funds for a 50% BOGO. “I like the viability of the program and, I think it's one we can continue to promote and our businesses can buy into even if there isn't a BOGO offered. It really supports the mom and pops that are without business representation in the community. It’s a win for the City, a win for the shops, and a win for folks using the gift cards,” stated Romero.
“A gift card program is an excellent tool that, under the right circumstances, can be a linchpin for developing and unifying your small business community. It’s added a lot of value,” said Parker. After the first phase sold out faster than expected, the City of Upland reduced the amount of cards that could be purchased per person in the second phase. “We’ll continue to do so through 2023 so that we’ll host two holiday seasons in a row with extra shopping funds. People are familiar with the Discover Upland gift card now. They continue to discover and patronize new favorites. We’re beyond happy that what we initially viewed as restrictions resulted in unlimited opportunities that benefited the whole City,” Parker concluded.
HdL has helped numerous agencies, big and small, successfully implement Shop Local campaigns. Regardless of population, demographics, or location, a digital gift card program can encourage the growth and sustainability of local economies nationwide. HdL can help your agency utilize ARPA dollars (before the December 31, 2024 deadline) to fund a Shop Local program and help your business community recover.
Downloaded this case study in PDF format above.
- Upcoming webinar: Help Small Businesses Thrive with a Shop Local Campaign REGISTER NOW!
- Webinar recording: Budget Season: How Local Governments Can Build and Maintain Fiscal Health
- Webinar recording: Unleash Your Grant Portfolio and Save Your General Fund
Hosted by Institute for Local Government
Is your local government agency engaging in your annual budgeting process? ILG and HdL Companies know this process is often heavily based on sales tax projections, a vital revenue source that continues to be impacted by economic uncertainty. We are here to help you weigh opportunities and balance the needs of your communities. This webinar presented current sales tax trends and two solutions to maximize tax revenues and achieve long-term fiscal health: 1) business license administration and 2) increasing opportunities for economic development. The City of Pacific Grove shared how these solutions helped their business community endure the pandemic and thrive in the aftermath of ever-changing guidelines and protocols. Watch the recording below and download the presentation deck to follow along.
- Ben Harvey, City Manager, City of Pacific Grove
Moderated by Melissa Kuehne, Senior Program Manager, Institute for Local Government
Tax & Fee Administration
The Federal Government released the second tranche of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, $33 billion in direct aid to every county, city, town and borough in America. Agencies have until year-end 2024 to allocate the funds and year-end 2026 to spend it. In this webinar, HdL and Yiftee discuss how communities are using ARPA funding and eGift Card programs to boost their local economies and strengthen small businesses for the future. Watch the recording and download the presentation deck to follow along.
- Get access to ROI case studies of simple, free community gift card programs.
- Learn how to run a 'shop local' campaign in your community, benefitting residents and merchants alike.
Recent successes with cities driving community growth...
- City of Lemon Grove Uses ARPA Funds to Offer Double Gift Card Values at Local Businesses
- Upland Launches New Gift Card Program to Support Local Businesses
- City of Lake Forest Unanimously Passed Community Gift Card Program
- Support City of Angels Camp Businesses with Frog Bucks
- Queen Bee Bucks Boost City of Orland's Local Economy
- Hercules Approves $300,000 in Business Assistance Programs Utilizing ARPA Funds
Q: Did the participants you referenced in this webinar use ARPA funds?
A. All the cities we discussed in this webinar did use ARPA funds. Oakley, for instance, is in a couple of rounds of this. Oakley is a small city, so when the Feds changed the ARPA rules, the City didn't have to show all that revenue loss. They didn't have any revenue loss originally, so they were able to move that to their general funds and that will fund future rounds of their Yiftee program. And again, there's no rush to allocate or even spend all of your money in the first couple of years. You can allocate it until the end of 2024 and spend it through 2026. We are able to stretch this out and do more with it and doing digital gift cards is something that you can continue to do beyond this year and in the future.
Q. Can nonprofit organizations apply for ARPA funds?
A. They don't get a direct allocation for it, but they can apply to the city that they're in.
Q. Aside from covering the promotional money for a Buy One, Get One program, can ARPA funds cover administrative cost for a gift card program, for example hdl’s cost for assistance and administering the gift card?
A. Absolutely. That’s certainly an eligible expense. Within the 20 communities that we're assisting, any cost for HdL is able to be covered out of your ARPA funds.
Q. Can you start at one level and then scale up?
A. Absolutely. We recommend a modest start. Once you see how successful the program is, you can go back and add more or tweak the program in whatever way needed. Building enthusiasm, especially for council members, that you've had some initial success, like in Oakley and Murietta, is really important.
Q. If we are paying for the gift card balance, what does ARPA cover?
A. ARPA can pay for the cost of the program, the Buy One, Get One free option, etc. They are all eligible expenses that can be structured however you feel is appropriate. Typically, we'll also help with determining who you want to target in terms of businesses. Restaurants, boutique retailers and service providers like nail salons, barbershops, etc. are common audiences. It’s helpful to look at what businesses were negatively impacted the most.
Typically the ARPA funds pay for the bonus cards. So, if a consumer pays their own money to buy a $100 gift card and there's a $100 match, that match/bonus card is paid for out of ARPA funds. So that's what makes this program pretty unique. We do have other sponsors for programs like this. We've seen banks and some corporations sponsor the bonus cards, but right now the big opportunity is the availability of these ARPA funds.
Q. Is there a digital connection with Apple or Google Pay platforms?
A. It's not available yet. We expect to be able to do so sometime next year.
Q. How do you determine what businesses can participate?
A. You can structure that to really fit the needs of your community. Typically the participants for businesses are going to be your small independent owned businesses, not the giant corporate companies like Walmart and McDonald's. A lot of communities have allowed franchisees, but they need to be local franchisees. Really focusing on the small, independently owned businesses can help provide direction.
Also, any merchant that can process a manual entry MasterCard can participate. Bowling alleys and car washes for example. The card does work online, so if your merchants have ecommerce sites, the card can be used online as long as the value of the shopping cart is less than or equal to the amount of money on the card. (It's a prepaid card, so there's only so many dollars on it.)
Q. What are the fees for HdL and Yiftee?
A. HdL charges a modest fee with a not-to-exceed on an hourly basis to set up and structure your program. It will really depend on your community. As for Yiftee's fees, when someone buys a card, there's an e-delivery fee that's applied, just like a convenience fee if you bought a Fandango movie ticket. That fee is $1.00 and 5% of the face value of the card. Out of that fee, we're paying the credit card processing costs on that transaction. So about half of that margin goes to us to keep the lights on here at Yiftee. Also, when the bonus cards expire, there's a restocking fee of 10% of the initial card value. Whatever's left on the card after that is returned to you, to your ARPA pool, so that of helps fund the company long-term. The third component of the revenue model is that purchased cards do not expire as long as it is used once every 12 months. And Yiftee sends reminders every month to use the card. If it goes untouched for twelve consecutive months, then we can take an inactivity fee of up to $3.00 a month off the card balance, and that funds the company long-term going forward so that we don't have to charge you or the merchants anything for the program.
Q. Can ARPA dollars be used in the marketing for the program?
A. Absolutely. Marketing, design, structure, any administrative cost… all of that is eligible to be funded out of ARPA funds.
Q. Can the page that a person goes to purchase the card be in a second language?
A. Absolutely. HdL has the capability to provide translation for all your flyers, surveys, etc. - whatever your program requires, and all of that is eligible to be compensated with ARPA funds.
As presented at the League of California Cities 2022 City Manager Conference
California has one of the largest and most diverse economies in the world and has been an epicenter of innovation, entertainment, agriculture, and tourism in America for over a century. A combination of things, mostly stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to cause economic disruption and uncertainty. Municipal revenues are uniquely affected in turn. HdL provides an analysis and outlook of economic and financial trends for the year ahead in California.