Supportive communities are often the driving force behind successful, local businesses. So when Barbara Davis and Carolyn Williams saw their friends shopping out of town, they developed an initiative that would give shoppers an incentive to keep their business in New Canaan.
Davis and Williams introduced an economic incentive program called Ib.l.a.s.t. (I Buy Local And Shop in Town) four years ago and have since donated the program to the Chamber of Commerce.
"We came up with the Ib.l.a.s.t. thinking it would be giving people a deal if they shopped in the store," said Davis, "It's good for merchants and residents.
"Since the beginning, though, we thought it belonged at the Chamber. It was a big undertaking, so after we got it up and running and kept pestering the Chamber, they agreed and they did a bang up job. They've added a new level of enthusiasm and they've gotten some new merchants. I think they’re doing a great job. Their initiative is connecting community to commerce, which is what they're doing," said Davis.
"We’re shoppers, but we’re also small business owners," said Davis, who co-owns with Williams the , which also offers the Ib.l.a.s.t. incentive.
Ib.l.a.s.t. is reminiscent of Small Business Saturday, the American Express initiative to drive some of the intense Black Friday foot traffic away from the lines snaking around corporate giants and into local shops for holiday shopping.
Customers can purchase an Ib.l.a.s.t. card at any of the 23 participating stores in town that have volunteered to sell the card for a fee of $20. The fee is divided so that each business receives $5 for selling the card, $5 is donated to the New Canaan Community Foundation, and $10 is utilized by the Chamber of Commerce to cover program expenses.
Sales Associates Reidun Rafoss and Victoria Larkin at said that they have already seen around 60 Ib.l.a.s.t. purchases in the short span of time the card has been available at their location.
"You get your 10 percent off immediately," said Larkin, "so it pretty much pays for itself right away. It really brings back the customers here."
Elizabeth Correa, owner of , said that she has participated in the Ib.l.a.s.t. initiative since day one.
"It's a great incentive for people to stay in town. As a business owner, I have no problem giving a discount to loyal customers," said Correa. "I see anywhere between 30 and 40 cards per week. There has been a great response."
Behind the counter at , Wanda Gulley and Sally Muehring helped put the benefits of the card into perspective.
"We give 10 percent off purchases of $100 or more to cardholders," said Gulley, "and people will use it on furniture. The amount is big when you're looking at 10 percent off a $2,000 piece of furniture."
"I love it," said Muehring, "It's a local thing and it's something that makes us different."
Chamber of Commerce described the initiative as a terrific experience.
"It's not meant to be a discount program, rather, there are rewards and merchants can track their sales," said Murphy. "Shoppers give us their email address and twice a month we alert them about a special deal in town."
Davis highlighted the importance the Ib.l.a.s.t. newsletter, which acts as a more direct line of communication between business owners and customers.
"The newsletter has become the cornerstone of the Ib.l.a.s.t. because it connects merchants to shoppers. They can speak directly to the consumers, it has filled that void. It’s more than just specials. It talks about community events and what’s going on in town," said Davis.
For the full list of participating merchants or to purchase an Ib.l.a.s.t. card, visit the official Ib.l.a.s.t. website.