Sunday 22 July 2018

Buy gift vouchers for local businesses - from anywhere on earth

My Big Idea

Maria Carolan, owner of Local Gift Cards, is planning to take her business nationwide.
Maria Carolan, owner of Local Gift Cards, is planning to take her business nationwide.

Maria Carolan's start-up Local Gift Cards gives shoppers from anywhere in the world access to gift cards from Cork businesses. The Clonakilty-based mother of three (38) is now planning to expand nationwide.

"My business gives local retailers an online platform to sell gift cards 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

We have almost 30 retailers signed up with more coming, having only launched the site in June.

I am from Dublin but have been living in Clonakilty for about 12 years. I have sisters in the US and UK and come Christmas-time or birthdays, they would always say they found it difficult to buy me something I would use.

It would be ideal, I realised, if they could somehow buy gift cards or vouchers for the local shops I visit all the time. The idea was born from there.

Everything is delivered online, through my website www.givealocalgiftcard.ie. Each retailer has a profile. Customers can purchase gift cards instantly, which arrive beautifully wrapped. It is perfect for the diaspora who are buying presents for family back home and who prefer to shop locally.

I went to West Cork Enterprise Board with my business plan and they approved a grant, which was hugely helpful. I also got a bank loan from Bank of Ireland, which was great.

Business is really picking up. Retailers are keen to be registered on the system before the Christmas rush. We started out with Cork companies but will have expanded to the rest of Munster by then. Examples already live on the site include a Clonakilty butcher, a hairdresser, a hotel, toy shops and a cinema.

We look likely to break even next year. Revenue comes from an annual subscription charged to the businesses listed with us, rather than a commission system. We charge €120 a year plus VAT, roughly the same as taking out an ad with a local newspaper or radio station. Lots of other gift card schemes, like One4All, are free to sign up for - but charge a commission per sale, in some cases up to 20pc. My research found retailers don't like this. They feel they are already selling at a discount in the current environment.

The biggest challenge has been convincing companies that have no experience online selling. They know they need an internet presence but are still apprehensive, worried we will not represent them correctly. I also underestimated how long things would take. You need to allow extra time. The website, for example, took longer than I expected."

smccabe@independent.ie

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