Creative Use of CARES Funding For COVID-19 Economic Recovery
ShopLocalVGA.com, the online marketplace for Virginia's Growth Alliance economic development region, has provided the platform for five Matching Gift Card Program sales that have gotten $2,706,000 to date into the hands of 266 small business owners and 7,620 shoppers in two rural Virginia counties over the past several months.
Halifax, Virginia, based web and marketing strategy firm Glerin Business Resources originally developed the site in 2014 and expanded it pro bono during COVID to include gift card capability after Tina Morgan, Tourism Director for Mecklenburg County, inquired about running a matching program through the site.
Businesses received the full face value of each $40 gift card sold while matching funds allowed shoppers to pay only $20 for a $40 card. Local shoppers were able to get a 50% discount on a wide range of products and services ranging from child care, car repairs, dentistry, and fuel oil, to shopping and restaurants.
Matching funds, some of which came from the CARES Act, were provided by the Virginia counties of Mecklenburg and Isle of Wight, and their local Chambers of Commerce: Clarksville Lake Country, Town of South Hill, Town of Chase City, and Isle of Wight.
Mecklenburg County had $22,000 in matching funds for their first sale in May, which sold out in less than 2 hours. Seeing a winner on their hands, the County decided to do two more ambitious sales: $100,000 matching in September and $380,000 matching in November.
Isle of Wight had $100,000 in matching funds in a November sale that sold out in less than 1.5 hours. They ran another sale in December with $300,000 matching, seeing sales of $75,020 in just the first 15 minutes.
Working with VGA’s Executive Directory, Jeff Reed, Glerin had initially developed the marketplace in a project that was funded by a grant from Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Glerin provided the Gift Card system development pro bono.
The marketplace already had the capability for shoppers to buy from multiple vendors in a single transaction, with payments automatically split between vendors. The new Gift Card capability includes generation of a unique serial number for each gift card sold. Each serial number is embedded in a digital gift certificate that is delivered via email.
The Matching Gift Card Program had such a broad impact on Mecklenburg County's economy, Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce recently named Morgan their 2020 Citizen of the Year.
Lisa Kipps-Brown, founder of Glerin, remarked “In an interesting twist, Tina was a Glerin employee during initial development of the marketplace, giving her knowledge of the system and insight into its potential applications. The Matching Gift Card Program illustrates how small businesses, local communities, and state agencies can successfully work together to reimagine supporting local businesses in unique ways that amplify that support.”