Tuesday, July 22, 2014

‘Go Local’ still going strong

The “Go Local” program here is celebrating its first birthday this month.
In the past 12 months, the customer loyalty program seen a good deal of growth and success—and even caught the attention of communities that want to start up a similar one.

Consultant Tannis Drysdale said that when the program was launched last March, many people signed up to get their “Go Local” cards.
As of this month, organizers have distributed more than 3,300 loyalty rewards cards and have reinvested $22,00 worth of gift cards back into the local economy. Local businesses have issued almost 540,000 reward points.
“Go Local” also held a third-party review of the program’s success here late last year, Drysdale noted.
The consultant hired surveyed all “Go Local” members and talked to the community in general.
“The results of that were 82 percent of the people in Fort Frances knew about the ‘Go Local’ program, and nearly three-quarters of the citizens were in agreement that this is a valuable program for the Town of Fort Frances,” said Drysdale.
“So that’s pretty good.
“More excitingly, there was a 20 percent net increase in local shopping by reward members,” she added.
“We realized that in the first year alone that people who had ‘Go Local’ cards were now 20 percent more likely to shop local and to shop at ‘Go Local’ members.
“We are getting the kind of results we hoped to achieve, and it was good to have that feedback from an independent survey,” Drysdale said.
Of course, a “Go Local” program takes both customers and businesses to make it work.
Last March, it launched with 33 businesses signed up.
Now, a total of 36 business are participating, although this total does not include all of the original 33.
Drysdale noted that some businesses, such as Nirvana, unfortunately have closed and thus are no longer “Go Local” members.
“And then we had a couple members who decided the program doesn’t work for them, which is what we anticipated,” she added.
“It’s a good program but it’s not a perfect program, and some businesses are able to use it better to their advantage than others.”
Still, Drysdale said the response from businesses has been “largely positive.”
“We need to work with the businesses to improve the program on an ongoing basis, make it more and more effective for them,” she admitted.
“But we’ve had businesses that operate more than one location—locations here in Fort Frances and locations in other places—who have actually solicited their other communities to start a program like this,” added Drysdale.
One such business owner is Nick Beyak of Sunset Country Ford here.
“It’s one of the most creative yet simple programs I have ever been exposed to,” he remarked.
“By rewarding people for shopping locally by giving them points [money] they can only spend in town, it strengthens all the businesses involved and strengthens the consumers’ buying power,” he reasoned.
“It has benefited Sunset Country Ford firstly by keeping more dollars in town, which means those dollars have a better chance of making their way back to Sunset Country Ford,” said Beyak.
“Secondly, consumers appreciate the program and they will patronize a business that actively promotes the program and asks for cards.”
Beyak said he is such a fan of the program that he’s suggested Dryden get involved with it, and a presentation was made to the Dryden Chamber of Commerce a short time ago.
“Obviously, the customers and local businesses have been important to the success of the program,” Beyak said.
“But I think a great deal of credit needs to be given to Tannis Drysdale for getting the program off the ground and keeping it going as she has,” he added.
“It will have a huge positive impact on the community for years to come.”
Another business owner supportive of the program is Jennifer Horton of Curvy Chick/Chicks with a Camera.
“I think that customers are still excited about ‘Go Local,’ and it does add value because the customer feels rewarded for shopping local,” Horton said.
“It has given me more exposure and been a positive experience.”
And it seems the impact of “Go Local” even has been noticed outside of Northwestern Ontario.
“[‘Go Local’] has been so successful that I’ve been asked from communities as far away as the City of Toronto to come and create mimic programs there for them,” said Drysdale.
“This is the first of this type of program in terms of merchant communities working together across different fields and the first use of technology like this,” she added.
“We’re really happy that it’s working out.”
Drysdale conceded there are some areas for improvement. For example, the program is going to work with store clerks in the year ahead to consistently ask customers for their “Go Local” cards.
“We’re going to have to continue to make this an exciting and interesting program,” she stressed.
“Right now, people in Fort Frances are using their ‘Go Local’ cards more often than folks, on average, use Air Miles cards,” she added, noting usage is measured weekly.
“We’ve also been able to leverage the program to help support community events like the [Canada Day] parade last year,” said Drysdale.
Drysdale also said the “Go Local” program is very grateful for Town of Fort Frances’ support, which, along with funding from FedNor and the North Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., makes it possible.
As well, she thanked the Rainy River Future Development Corp. staff for their work on the program, ranging from accounting to helping fill out grant applications.
Intern Shannon Darby actively is engaged in working with merchants in the program.
Meanwhile, “Go Local” will have a first anniversary celebration March 20-22, where “Go Local” card carriers can earn double the points at participating merchants.
When they earn points through a purchase, they automatically will be entered to win 1,000 “Go Local” points.
Find out which businesses are taking part in the celebration at golocalfortfrances.com/events-specials

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