In 2020, we wanted to support small businesses across Michigan that were being greatly impacted by COVID-19. So, we launched the Our Town dollar-for-dollar gift card match.

Based on feedback from Chambers of Commerce, Downtown Associations, and small retail businesses around the state, we brought Our Town back for another year. The problems they face might be different this year, but there are still big hurdles for small retailers.

This year, we provided $750,000 in matching gift cards. More than 60 Chambers of Commerce and downtown associations across the Lower Peninsula received $5,000 to $40,000 for their communities. Shoppers contacted their local Chamber of Commerce or downtown association to buy the gift cards, while supplies lasted. And from most of the reports we received, the gift cards sold out within minutes. In fact, the Jonesville gift cards sold out in 20 minutes!

“Small businesses are the backbone of the communities we serve, and every community has seen those businesses feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lauren Youngdahl Snyder, our vice president of customer experience. “With Our Town, we want to end the year by spreading cheer. We are putting dollars directly into shoppers’ hands to help them stretch their budgets and give a boost to shops and restaurants in their hometowns.”

Supporting Small Businesses

As a result of the promotion, we have heard many stories of how the program helped struggling small businesses across the state during a time when they needed it the most.

Denise Behm, Executive Director of Wayland Area Chamber of Commerce said, “We have many small mom and pop shops in our community that have suffered drastically since the health crisis began. Anything they could do to remain open, they did. In a small community, many of the business owners know each other personally. They are friends and some are even family. The Consumers Energy Our Town campaign could not have arrived at a better time. Because of this generous campaign, residents were able to make their money stretch and buy even more than they normally would have. In addition, some have mentioned that rather than purchasing gifts through an online superstore, they chose to purchase gift cards to LOCAL businesses! That means more money stayed in our community because of the Consumers Energy Our Town campaign. I cannot stress how much this helped our community and businesses out. Our Town has blessed so many people and businesses.”

And while many of the gift cards were used to purchase gifts for the holidays, some were given as gifts and helped boost the local economy all year long. That was the case for Schupbach’s Sporting Goods in Jackson.

“We have always been able to count on our neighbor, Consumers Energy, to provide support of all the downtown businesses! The generosity of the Consumers Energy gift certificate matching program is yet another example of how fortunate we are to have such a giving partner working so closely with downtown Jackson businesses. Over the last two years Schupbach’s Sporting Goods has received direct benefit of this fantastic program. We have seen an increase in business both in terms of increased sales and increased foot traffic during the redemption period of the gift certificate matching program. What’s more, we had customers bringing in gift certificates well into 2021 which helped benefit our store and employees during the slower summer months. Schupbach’s Sporting Goods is sincerely grateful of the continued support we receive from Consumers Energy. Thank you for showing our community your willingness to go the extra mile to ensure that Jackson continues to grow and thrive!”

A small business in Newaygo credits the gift cards for helping them stay in business. “Consumers Energy’s donation to the River Country Chamber of Commerce helped our small businesses stay afloat,” said Tina Merryman of Market 41 in Newaygo. “Market 41 has 45 small business owners represented in our Market. This donation helped many of our residents and businesses with their shopping needs and keeps that money in our local area,” she said.

And during a time when social distancing was the norm, sometimes it wasn’t about purchasing anything, but the face-to-face contact it allowed.

“We saw a tremendous influx of business due to the Downtown Ludington Gift Certificate BOGO sales. During our most difficult days, feeling the love and support from those customers meant the most,” said Chelsea, Tap Room Manager at Ludington Bay Brewing Co. “Our beloved community members helped boost not only our revenue, but our spirits as well. Cheers from Ludington Bay!”

Supporting Each Other

It wasn’t just the businesses who benefit from the program. We continue to hear about how shoppers passed on the gift certificates to family members, friends and in some cases, even strangers!

Thom O. said, “I get certificates for my sister every year at Christmas. With the pandemic rearing its ugly head, it was difficult to know which restaurants were open and which were closed. By buying the Ludington certificates, my sister is able to choose from a huge list of restaurants (or other businesses) and go to the one she wanted.”

Trish said, “I was able to bring home a taste of the All You Can Eat Fish dinners from House of Flavors for my parents to enjoy when dining in wasn’t an option. They brightened our weekends together by making us feel like we could enjoy dinner out while eating at home safely.”

It wasn’t always family and friends who were gifted. Jackie S. donated hers to the health care workers at Spectrum.

Sharilyn R said, “I used some in restaurants and a couple I gave to my neighbor for always watching out for me, mowing and snow removal. I was able to buy Christmas presents for this year at the sport shop downtown. I am 84 and these helped me do things I would not be able to do otherwise. THANK YOU SO MUCH!”

Gift Card Promotion a “life saver” to small businesses

Ryan Tarrant, President and CEO of Bay Area Chamber of Commerce said this year their gift cards sold out in 10 minutes. But gift card promotions aren’t new to this area. In 2020, before the launch of the Our Town gift card program, The Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and Bay Future Inc. teamed up to offer an incentive for gift card purchases. Shoppers could purchase a $25 gift card for $20, with the Chamber and Bay Future covering the top up and associated gift card fees.

Between the existing program and the Our Town promotion, $300,000 has gone back to businesses in sales. According to Tarrant, to say the gift card promotion was a “life saver” isn’t an exaggeration.

When Tarrant and the CEO of Bay Future delivered the first round of checks last year, he saw the impact firsthand. “A restaurant in the area was just reopening their business and their beer cooler stopped working. They finally opened on a Monday and on Wednesday their propane tank was destroyed by a falling tree. Tarrant was able to hand deliver a $1,500 check from the gift card sales helping the owner when they needed it the most. “When they tell you it’s a life saver, it is a great reminder why we put so much effort into business assistance in our community,” he said.

And while the program has definitely helped everyone to stretch their dollars a little bit further, Tarrant believes it’s important to remember the original purpose, “We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the program is doing so much to help small businesses as they continue to recover from the pandemic. Companies like Consumers Energy who are supporting small businesses are making a big difference in the Bay Area and around the state,” he said.

Over the last two years, we have provided $1.25 million dollars to local communities across the state with the Our Town gift card program. We appreciate the Chambers of Commerce, Downtown Associations, and small retail businesses that helped make this promotion a success.