Lakeshore and Small Business & Startups

Muskegon Chamber aims to keep cash in community

October 17, 2014
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Repurposing a local tradition, a lakeshore chamber of commerce is bringing its gift certificate program to an online platform to keep cash in the community.

The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce announced last week it is partnering with approximately 45 local businesses to launch a gift certificate program known as Lakeshore Community Cash.

Lakeshore Community Cash allows residents and customers to purchase a gift certificate that is redeemable at local participating merchants to retain spending and finances within the community. Using the online platform, an individual can purchase a certificate in allotments of $5, $10, $20, or $25 to a local business, which can either be emailed to a recipient or printed out. Each gift certificate incorporates a QR code for the participating business to validate the authenticity of the gift.

Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, said the new program leverages technology to streamline the traditional process that was cumbersome to both customers and businesses.

“There has been a traditional community gift certificate program around for many years, but now technology enables us to be able to provide a platform for people to do gift buying online,” said Larsen. “It is really just taking an old idea and giving it a technology platform. Before, people would have to literally walk down to the chamber office and write a check to buy gift certificates, and then they would have to take that check to the retailer, who would then have to deposit it into their account.”

The Lakeshore Community Cash program was launched before the upcoming holiday season to provide a platform for residents and corporations to give local gifts.

“This time of year we are heading into the holiday season, and these gift certificate programs are great because not only do they save people a lot of time — shopping time — but also there are certain segments of our population where you really don’t know what to buy them,” said Larsen. “This has also been a popular tool with companies to be able to offer recognition or gifts to employees but struggle with how to do it locally.”

Since the launching of the program in early October, roughly $1,000 has been purchased through the initiative to local merchants. With approximately 178,000 residents in the Muskegon County area, the value of each person spending an average of $100 at locally owned businesses would contribute to a total of $10.5 million circulated into the local economy, according to the press release.

One of the added benefits of creating a technology-based platform for the community gifting program is being able to measure where and how much money is being spent. Through analyzing the amount spent in certain industries, the chamber will be able to develop a better product based on customer interest, according to Larsen.

“The advantage to us is we will be able to measure very easily and quickly where the money is being spent and how much is being spent,” she said.

“That is going to be great. It was possible before — you could analyze it after the end of the year, but now we will be able to instantaneously understand how the money is being used and where the money is being used.”

Local merchants partnering with the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce are business members of the organization with an existing communication system in place. Although interested companies are invited to participate in the program, they are required to join the chamber for management purposes, according to Larsen.

“We want to work with members because we already have a communication system in place. We have direct communication with our members; they are in our database,” she said. “Businesses are excited because it is easy to redeem these gift certificates and customers are excited because it is easy to buy.”

Ranging from food and beverage to retail and entertainment, participating businesses include: 3rd Street Grille, Art Cats Gallery, Brew House, City Hub Cyclery, Curry Kitchen, Dockers, Hank’s Tavern, Mango’s, Lake House Waterfront Grille, Smash Wine Bar & Bistro, Sparrow, The Cheese Lady, Unruly Brewing, Verdoni’s and West Michigan Symphony.

As the Lakeshore Community Cash program grows, Larsen said the hope is to encourage more retailers and businesses to participate.

The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, at 380 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon, represents more than 1,150 businesses and organizations in the area. For roughly 120 years, the organization has provided resources and assistance to develop a sustainable business environment in West Michigan.

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