CARD DOES THE TRICK The current Queen of the Lakes, Kelli Murphy from The Neale, is pictured with the ‘Lakes Card’ in Cong over the weekend. The local gift card has amassed €250,000 in pre-paid sales in the Lake District area of South Mayo. Pic: Ray Ryan
THE desire to shop local has been the driving force behind the phenomenal success of the innovative ‘Lakes Card’ in the South Mayo region.
In a little over six months, the novel gift card has amassed an incredible €250,000 in pre-paid sales around Ballinrobe, Cong, Clonbur and surrounding areas.
It has proven a timely boost to businesses struggling during Covid-19 and has also created a solidarity amongst businesses and communities in the region.
“It has been beyond all our expectations, we didn’t think we would make €250,000 in a few years, never mind this quickly,” Pat Donnellan, a member of the ‘Believe in Ballinrobe’ committee and one of the driving forces behind the card, told The Mayo News.
They had sold €100,000 worth of gift cards in the week before Christmas and another €70,000 in the week that followed. Since then, the card has shown its year-round potential as it’s being purchased for occasions like Mother’s Day, Valentines, birthdays and anniversaries.
In fact, it was Mother’s Day sales that pushed the card over the €250,000 mark.
“It’s a nice gift to give someone and you are giving people the gift to support local as well so it’s a double whammy,” explained Donnellan. “You can use it ten times a day. You can use it in the butchers, the pub, the restaurant and the hairdressers. You could have your full night out with it. We really tapped into the shopping local angle and that has been more prevalent during Covid.”
The ‘Lakes Card’ can be used in total of 110 businesses in Ballinrobe, Cong, Clonbur and surrounding villages and its success has surpassed all expectations of the organisers.
Pat Donnellan says that purchasers have been a mix of local people buying the card as gifts, the diaspora, unable to come home during Covid, sending a gift to their loved ones and also to local businesses, and, most crucially, local businesses looking to reward employees.
“When we heard from the big employers we knew we were onto something big.
“The likes of McHales in Ballinrobe and ECC in Corr na Mona … They said they had been waiting for something like this for years as a way of giving a Christmas bonus and also giving back to the local businesses and showing their support in that way.
“Employers have been responsible for about 60-70 percent of the sales from everyone from the large employers to the tradesman looking to give something to the two or three guys he has working with him.”
What started off as a card organisers were aiming at the retail sector has mushroomed and now all manner of businesses in the region are on board.
And the love has been shared around too.
“We were also worried that the spend might be too concentrated on a few businesses and that not all businesses would benefit,” said Pat Donnellan. “It wasn’t something we could control but even though a lot of the pubs are not open yet, we can see the card has been used in 90 out of the 110 businesses so far. That has given us great confidence.”
THE benefits of the ‘Lakes Card’ in the Ballinrobe, Cong and Clonbur region could go way beyond the €250,000 in pre-paid sales amassed so far, adds Pat Donnellan.
The project has seen a spirit of co-operation and team-work flourish between the towns and villages in the Lake District area, and organisers see it as an ideal template for regions around the country.
“It shows the benefit of working together,” he said. “We initially were going to call this a ‘Ballinrobe card’ but then we saw the benefit of widening out to the region.
“Once the penny dropped about those connections, it took off. There’s a tangible co-operation now across the region. There’s a great relationship growing now among businesses and the potential benefits there are huge if we work as a collective rather than just within our own immediate towns and villages. We’ve a much louder voice as a region, harnessing south Mayo and north Galway.”
Right now, the target is to try to get the gift cards used. Thus far €140,000 has been redeemed, so €110,000 is out there in the ether. It is not like a typical voucher where the money is sitting with the business, it can only arrive to the business when it is spent.
“It’s like a prepaid Mastercard so it’s very simple to use and there’s no commission so businesses find it very easy to work with.
“We know it gave a lot of local businesses a boost when they were closed during Covid that this pot was growing all the time for when they reopened. Now that places are reopening, our message to people is to try to spend it.”