Some entrepreneurs shy away from selling gift certificates because of potential fraud. However, if you take some precautions, you can start selling gift certificates without assuming too much risk.
Don't buy generic gift certificates at a stationery store. What's to stop someone from buying a pad of the same certificates and redeeming them at your store? Instead, invest in custom-designed certificates that bear your logo.
Avoid cash refunds. Include a line stating that any unused portion over $5 will be issued as a new certificate.
Make the certificates difficult to duplicate. Use security features such as an embossed logo or artificial watermark to prevent photocopying.
Keep a log and review it daily. Record the certificate number, date of sale and dollar amount of certificate at the time of sale.
Gift certificates are particularly helpful for small-business owners for two key reasons, says marketing consultant Wendy Tanenbaum of Creative Edge in Los Angeles: They're a cost-effective form of advertising, and they also help cash flow. "Small businesses I've worked with that have offered gift certificates actually prefer that people buy certificates [over merchandise]," says Tanenbaum. Why? In addition to the fact they bring new customers into the store, not all gift certificates are redeemed. And even for the ones that are, between the time of purchase and use, they're like an interest-free loan to your business.
When it comes to incentives, two things work especially well. One is travel; the other is sports. Now you can reward your sales team or top customers with a brilliant combination of both passions. How? Send them on a customized baseball road trip.
Guests attend baseball games and--if they so desire--tour the city on these three- to seven-day stints. Coordinated by Hatfield, Massachusetts-based Sports Travel Inc., which books flights, transportation and accommodations and secures game tickets, the getaways also offer guests a chance to chat with major-league umpires before the games. The umps spin yarns about heralded players and memorable highlights for curious fans.
Prices range from $275 to $395 per person (double occupancy) for a three-day trip to $550 to $895 per person for a seven-day trip. What makes Sports Travel's baseball road trips really exciting is participants have the option of staying at the same hotel as the team they're supporting, so they just may get to ride in the elevator with a favorite player. For more information, call (800) 662-4424.
Try, Try Again
All too often, entrepreneurs trying to push a new product are so enamored of what they're selling, they don't listen to others' opinions about it. But keeping your eyes and ears open to constructive criticism--and adjusting your product accordingly--can make all the difference in closing a sale.
Just ask Jonathan Milchman. The owner of Miami-based Owner Outfitters Inc. was excited about his do-it-yourself house-selling kit, Broker in a Box--but retailers weren't. "A lot of them were leery of a one-line company," says Milchman, who targeted major retailers and tried marketing his product on the Internet but got few results.
Then a buyer for Sears suggested Milchman develop a garage sale kit. The entrepreneur had already planned to do that once the original Broker product took off, but after hearing the buyer's suggestion, he decided to do it then and there.
The result? The Garage Sale Kit is a hit--even among buyers who had turned down Broker in a Box. The Garage Sale Kit is sold at Sears, Home Depot and Ace Hardware, as well as at smaller retailers.
Tweaking his product idea proved so successful for Owner Outfitters, Milchman has since hired independent sales representatives to promote both products. See what a little flexibility can do? Says Milchman, "The response so far has been phenomenal."
Creative Edge, 6210 Wilshire Blvd., #300, Los Angeles, CA 90048, (310) 277-2200;
Owner Outfitters Inc., 10590 N.W. 27th St., #102, Miami, FL 33172, (800) 511-3726, (305) 994-2111;
Sports Travel Inc., fax: (413) 247-5700, firstname.lastname@example.org.