By Bob Uphues
As communities across Illinois look forward to the day when a host of businesses can begin to open their doors in limited capacities, Brookfield officials are wondering what village government might be able to do to help kick start local commerce and when the best time to do that might be.
Community Development Director Ross Klicker suggested to village trustees at their May 11 meeting that an initiative this summer might make sense to give shoppers confidence that they'll be safe when shops reopen and to boost businesses that have been suffering from what is already a two-month shutdown.
"What we've started thinking about is how do we encourage residents and visitors to our community to once again patronize our great local businesses, but also promote what businesses are doing to make their customers feel safe while they are in their establishments," Klicker told trustees.
Klicker said the village could choose initiatives ranging from discount programs to a rewards program, where shoppers could earn gift cards for spending a certain amount of money at village businesses.
He also suggested engaging the Chicago-based boutique marketing/branding firm A5 to handle the program's messaging, develop the program and create the marketing communications that would generate awareness and highlight the village's businesses.
John Harris, co-founder and principal of A5, said that for $4,500 his company could develop a rewards program and help Brookfield settle on how long it wanted such a program to last and how much it wanted to invest in the program.
According to a proposal pitched to trustees on May 11, the firm would work with the village to develop a "marketing and communications plan with goals, offer, tactics, creative approach [and] messaging."
The way the program would work, said Harris, is that the village would choose the amount it wants to invest – it could be $5,000 over a month-long period or $10,000 over a longer period of time – and then choose an amount when shopper rewards kick in.
The village, for example, could say that for every $200 spent locally, you earn a $20 gift certificate hat you can redeem online or at a location of the village's choosing.
When those gift cards are used, the businesses return them to the village for reimbursement. You can also put qualifiers on the program, such as requiring shopping at more than one business.
When the dollars invested by the village in the program run out, the program ends. As a result, Harris said that the amount of economic impact such a program can make would depend on how much the village was willing to commit to it. An investment of $10,000 under the scenario described above would translate to $100,000 in total economic activity.
Klicker said the village's funding source for such a program would be its hotel/motel tax fund, which by state law must be used for economic development purposes. That fund as of Jan. 1, 2020 had a cash balance of roughly $70,000.
The village could also choose to partner with another organization on such a program, like the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce or Brookfield Zoo.
"It is the idea of [combatting] the uncertainty and providing some comfort and some certainty and excitement, and differentiating you, so that when people do go out, they say, '"Look, we need to keep our dollars here. We need to spend in Brookfield,'" Harris said.
Trustee Michael Garvey said he didn't think a rewards program made sense when businesses begin to reopen their doors, saying shoppers will be flocking to local shops.
"I don't know it's needed to bring people back out," Garvey said, adding that a rewards program might make more sense during the holiday shopping season.
But other trustees supported a closer look at a program sooner rather than later.
"I like the idea of a short-term boost," said Trustee Nicole Gilhooley, acknowledging the timing could be tricky based on state guidelines for social distancing. "But I like this idea of a boost to our local economy to support our local businesses – not just the chamber but all of the businesses. I think it's a show of good faith and our belief in our business community."
Klicker told trustees that he would talk further with Harris and Chamber of Commerce leaders and return to the board at a future meeting with possible options.