PORTLAND — Just in time for the holiday shopping season, two local entrepreneurs are launching a gift-buying card that can be redeemed at 30 area merchants.
Kai Smith and Sean Sullivan are marketing Buoy Local as a “community-based gift card” valid for shopping at Portland-area retailers including Rosemont Markets, Coffee By Design, Springer’s Jewelers and Longfellow Books, among others.
The card works like a prepaid debit card. Consumers purchase the card in any denomination from $5 to $500, and the plastic then can be used for shopping at any of the participating stores.
Smith and Sullivan see Buoy Local as a way to do business and do good.
“Kai and I both share a passion for community development,” said Sullivan, 29, of South Portland, who also works as executive director of the Maine Brewers Guild. “The goal of Buoy Local is to support this community, and to give people the experience of greater Portland.”
Portland native and University of Southern Maine student Smith, 28, said, “Most people associate gift cards with big box stores and national chains, and we aim to change that. Buoy Local was created to support the small businesses in Maine and offer an opportunity for locals to gift their love of Portland.”
Smith and Sullivan hope to have 300 stores accepting the card by the end of 2014, and to have it used in about $100,000 of local spending.
To obtain the necessary technology and begin marketing the card, Smith and Sullivan have turned to a crowd-funding source, Indiegogo. So far, they’ve reached $3,000 of their $15,000 goal. Merchants also pay a registration fee to participate in the program.
The pair also have had to establish some demanding rules. For example, participating merchants must be owned by Mainers, located primarily in the Portland area, and be making an “honest effort” to buy local products, according to Sullivan.
So don’t plan to use the card at Staples or Best Buy.
“We don’t want to go too far afield,” Sullivan said. “If we started doing that, the card would lose its some of its authenticity.”
Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of Coffee By Design, has signed up all of her four stores to accept the card.
“The Buoy Local card allows us to support local business while giving customers the opportunity to choose where they want to spend their money in the local economy,” she said.
Buoy Local cards are being sold at Longfellow Books on Monument Square and Casco Bay Frame & Gallery, 295 Forest Ave., and will be available online beginning Saturday, Nov. 30, from the Buoy Local website.