Milford Chamber, local businesses team up on gift card program

Beach Party Balloons is one of the businesses that signed up to be part of the Milford Chamber of Commerce I Love Local program. Pictured from left is Jess Greifzu, store owner, Melissa Bertrand with her dog, Stella, and Chris Edwards.

Beach Party Balloons is one of the businesses that signed up to be part of the Milford Chamber of Commerce I Love Local program. Pictured from left is Jess Greifzu, store owner, Melissa Bertrand with her dog, Stella, and Chris Edwards.

Saul Flores / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — As people start making their way to the local shops to get started on their holiday shopping, the Milford Chamber of Commerce has started a program to create a clear path to support local businesses.

“I think overall people are itching to get out shopping again, and I think the online services people have gotten used to using during COVID are going to continue being used,” Simon McDonald, Milford Chamber of Commerce director of marketing, said.

“I think that there’s a lot of pent up demand to be in the holiday spirit as Delta variant has started to decline and we start seeing more and more regulations lifted as far as COVID protocols,” McDonald added. “I think that we are going to see a pretty robust shopping season, here at the mall where our office is, and within the other shopping districts in Milford.”

The program is called the I Love Local Gift Card Program, and, according to the chamber, its goals are to increase dollars spent in brick and mortar stores for the Milford region, encourage dining out in local restaurants, provide Milford residents and companies a clear path to support local businesses, create a device for employer recruitment/incentive rewards in addition to individual purchasers and promote the Milford region as a dining, shopping and entertainment destination.

“It is a gift card program, that people can come into the chamber purchase gift cards and they can be used at local merchants,” McDonald said. “It’s our way to defend the local merchants against the online giants.”

He added they are going to be offering the gift card program to all chamber members as well as regional businesses.

“This is a program that has worked in other similar type market places, so we expect it to be a good driver for small business to gain them customers and gift cards are a great things to give as a gift, and it’s even better when you can support the local businesses,” McDonald said.

According to the chamber, businesses sign up to participate, cards are purchased by individuals or companies, the card is presented and redeemed at local businesses and redemption reports run and paid out regularly.

“This gives consumes a way to buy into the local economy while still getting something for someone they don’t know as well,” McDonald said. “When you don’t know someone that well, you usually buy them an Amazon gift card or a Visa card, that’s how it’s always been. Now we have the I Love Local card which gives them just the same kind of gift but it just has to be used locally.”

So far, there are nine businesses who have signed up to participate in the I Love Local Program, but McDonald expects to quadruple the number of participating locations by the start date. So as of now, the participating businesses are Silver Sands Pizza, Convenience Junction, Clothesline Laundromat, Beach Party Balloons, SM Photography, Milford Performance Center, Valerio Tax Edge and Bohemian High.

“To me, it’s a great idea because it’s helping Milford money stay local, and I know the other business in the chamber are excellent so I know all the businesses that are participating, people can feel confident they are getting good quality products and services, just like mine, and I’m proud to be able to participate,” Melissa Bertrand, owner of Beach Party Balloons, said.

Bertrand said she decided to participate in the program because it is a flexible program, and the fees were reasonable.

“It’s very simple, and the fees were reasonable as far as accepting it. It’s going to cost me the same as a credit card would to process,” she said. “It is a program to benefit the local businesses who are participating, while also supporting the chamber.”

“When you purchase one of these it has to be used at specific businesses, it gives the purchaser flexibility but it still gears them to use it locally because it’s the only option,” Bertrand added. “I think it would be a great gift for someone who lives in Milford and would like to try some local business that they might not have otherwise.”

For Bertrand, the marketing aspect of the I Love Local program is another reason why she decided to get involved in the program and believes it will help local businesses grow.

“First of all, it gives people the opportunity to learn about business they didn’t know about, before that, and also try a business they had been thinking of using but haven’t had the opportunity to use it,” she said. “So as a gift, they could have the opportunity to try that out, and it might turn into their favorite place.”

“The chamber has been a great resource for my business, and it has really helped me grow, and connect with other business owners, and clientele in my community,” Bertrand added. “I love that they are taking a proactive approach, by creating these kinds of programs.”

Gloria Krouch, owner of Bohemian High, said it is beneficial for both the chamber and the businesses.

“As a member, I get the benefit of marketing with little to no cost to my business,” she said. “Although the processing fee is a little bit higher than my credit card fees, it broadens my reach to customers that may otherwise not be aware of my shop. As a community of business utilizing the I Love Local Gift Card Program, I am able to cost care the promotion of this program with other local businesses.”

Krouch said when the chamber approached her with the program, she thought it was a great idea because it helps support local business

“As a small mom & pop shop, especially through these trying times, we have been financially affected and have had to cut back on our advertising budget,” she said. “The opportunity allows us to continue with other means of advertising while benefiting from our chamber affiliation with this program.”

The chamber is just getting this program ready for this holiday season, McDonald said the tentative date for the I Love Local gift cards to be ready is during the Halloween weekend.

“Consumers will have to purchase it through the chamber either online or at the chamber office, and it can be used at any of the participating merchants” he said. “If they contact us and we don’t have the cards in yet, we will then take the conversation where it needs to go.”

McDonald said business have already started to get ready for the holiday season.

“It’s the second week of December is when it starts getting really really busy at the mall,” he said. “The rest of my smaller merchants have been bringing in supplies now, because everybody knows they have to get things now and can’t wait to the last minute, especially with all the problems people are having with the importing and transporting.”

“People are getting ready for the Holiday season as we speak and you’ll start seeing it in the next couple of weeks,” McDonald added.

The new gift card program is also the chambers way of reminding people that local businesses are the people who are helping the community.

“I know it’s a meme, but when you buy something from Amazon you are helping someone buy their vacation home or whatever it is, but if you buy from a local business, you are helping them their kid get dance lessons or someone whose going to sponsor your kids baseball team,” said McDonald. “Its our way to try and help the community through business, and business tends to help the community.”

For the Chamber, I Love Local is a long-term program, even though they are launching them for the Holidays, they hope people will buy them as birthday gift cards, worker appreciation cards and other special events.

“These are always going to be available, and in my opinion we should have them for the next 20-years, assuming everything goes well,” said McDonald.