NI businesses are encouraging organisations to support and shop local with their rewards and incentives this feative season

Employers are being encouraged to support the Northern Irish economy with their employee rewards and incentives, choosing local gift card options and giving staff access to a range of small businesses in Northern Ireland.

There are five local gift card schemes in Northern Ireland; the Antrim Town Gift Card, the Belfast City Centre Gift Card, the Causeway Coast and Glens Gift Card, the Enniskillen Gift Card and the In Strabane Gift Card.

The Causeway Coast and Glens Gift Card can be spent in over 200 businesses across the borough in Ballymoney, Ballycastle, Coleraine, Glens, Limavady and Portstewart, including at Moores in Coleraine and The White House in Portrush.

Simon Colquhoun, manager of Moores and The White House, said: “The White House in Portrush was established in 1891. Moores in Coleraine dates back to 1925, and is now in its third generation of family ownership. Both stores offer menswear, womenswear, homeware, premium beauty and food. The stores offer a great mix of good, better and best brands, with well-known brands like White Stuff, Joules and Whistles in womenswear. Gant, Barbour International and Ted Baker in mens and premium beauty brands from Bare Minerals, Estee Lauder and Clarins alongside local products, food and artists.

Simon Colquhoun is the manager of Moores and The White House, part of the Causeway Coast & Glens Gift Card

“As two of the last Northern Irish Independent department stores in the area, we feel it is vital to give support back locally and that’s why we’re championing the Causeway Coast and Glens Gift Card. It locks money into the area, and ensures we can continue to employ local people. If someone receives a Causeway Coast and Glens Gift Card they can use it in a wide range of local businesses as easily as using a debit card, not only in shops but also on experiences. It gives people choice and flexibility.

“During the first lockdown we saw a massive shift towards online shopping and, sadly, many high street businesses closing as a result. Whilst our online businesses traded well our customers were missing that interaction with staff, a coffee as they shop and a chat. Retail therapy is called retail therapy for a reason, and you don’t get that same experience when you shop online. People will never get that lockdown time back and as soon as customers were allowed to shop again we saw them rediscovering the high street again. Many realised the important part the high street plays in the local economy on multiple levels.

“During the second lockdown, we took the opportunity to refresh Moores and The White House, investing in the future. There has been a massive trend towards regional stores, people are not rushing into the city as much as they once did. We have had a big influx of tourists to the local area over the summer months, with many discovering what the Causeway Coast Area offers for the first time.

“When employers in Northern Ireland give their staff a Causeway Coast and Glens Gift Card, it’s great for staff but more importantly it shows you’re playing your part in Northern Ireland’s recovery.”

Katie of Fermanagh Cottage Industries in Enniskillen

The Antrim Town Gift Card launched in 2021 and can be spent with over 40 businesses in Antrim.

Leigh Kirker manages family business Nanabelle’s in Antrim which has operated in Northern Ireland for over 26 years: “My mother started Nanabelle’s with the help of her very supportive mum, and now it’s me that has the reins of the Antrim Store.  The Antrim shop started as a handmade goods shop and turned into a destination gift store and we now have a branch in the Tower Centre, Ballymena. We stock Nomination Italy, POM jewellery and accessories, Goodeehoo vegan friendly handbags and accessories, Ashleigh & Burwood Fragrance Lamps, Lily Flame Candles, Jellycat and Steiff and many other products.  We love to gift wrap and help people to find the ideal gift.

“When the pandemic was announced I was panicking, as I felt the responsibility to look after our staff as well as the business. We offered a delivery and postal service for locals and rode the wave. It has been hard but we are still here, and are so thankful for the support we’ve had. Not all small businesses have been so lucky. When you make the effort to support local businesses, you are supporting families. It’s down to people making that effort that we’re still here.

“I hope organisations think about supporting local businesses this year by giving staff an Antrim Gift Card. Yes, we’re open again but we still need support. It’s easy to forget about local businesses and go for the online option but when people come into the shop they always say what lovely stock we have and are surprised about what’s available locally. I’d say, give your local businesses in Northern Ireland a chance.”

Leigh Kirker manages family business Nanabelle’s in Antrim

Belfast first launched its gift card in November 2019. In September 2020, collaboration of the three Belfast BIDS enhanced the Belfast City Centre Gift Card offering. The Belfast City Centre Gift Card can be spent with over 160 city centre businesses. Orders of £1000 and above purchased by the December 17 2021 will receive entry into a prize draw to be in with a chance of winning one of three prizes, £1000, £300 and £200 in gift cards. To order the Belfast City Centre Gift card contact Karen: [email protected]

Mike Gatt, general manager Maldron Hotel Belfast City, explained: “Maldron Hotel Belfast City is delighted to be working with Belfast One, Linen Quarter and Destination CQ Bids on the Belfast City Centre Gift Card scheme. It is the perfect Christmas gift solution for businesses seeking to give their clients or staff a unique experience. The Belfast City Centre Gift card can be used across our suite of services with a very special Maldron welcome awaiting those who choose to spend their gift card with us.”

The Enniskillen Gift Card can be spent with over 110 businesses in Enniskillen. Fermanagh Cottage Industries is a gift, craft and wool shop in Enniskillen with seasonal ranges including Christmas.

Katie Kennedy runs the third generation family business with her mum Karen: “People love the Enniskillen Gift Card and spend it in all of our local shops. It gives them choice. Our shop is like an Aladdin’s cave, there is so much to see. Stock changes regularly but some customer favourites include the East of India range, Irish Get Up & Go inspirational diaries, and our massive range of wool. For Christmas we have Christmas tree decorations and ornaments, and we also carry work from Fermanagh Potter Yvonne Fleming, who makes beautiful handmade pictures out of pottery houses. The tradition of stocking local products was started by my grandfather 63 years ago with the Irish linen we still sell today.

Stephanie of Good Vibes Wellness

“We’ve seen a big rise in the use of crystals, from teenagers right up to retired people, they feel it’s helping them deal with the increased anxiety they’re feeling following the pandemic.

“During lockdown, locals were so good at supporting us. Local businesses are run by local people and protect income and jobs but more than that it’s the experience you get when you use a small business, the chat is as important as the sale. With unique goods like ours, you really need to see them in person and we’ve been fortunate that the rise in staycations over the summer meant more people found Enniskillen and loved it. As we head into the winter months, we’d be thrilled to see employees coming into the store to spend their Enniskillen Gift Card.”

The In Strabane Gift Card can be spent with over 80 businesses in Strabane.

Stephanie Rice is the co-founder of Good Vibes Wellness in Strabane and says the In Strabane Gift Card can be used to help employees prioritise self-care: “Our wellness centre offers massage, yoga, pilates, reiki and we also have a holistic shop. We joined the Strabane Gift Card because it brings the community together, encouraging people to shop in town instead of heading to the city. We’ve had a lot of Strabane Gift Cards redeemed with us and people tend to spend them on the treatments and on our products.

“As a services business offering hands-on treatments, we’ve been closed for so long and are only really just getting up and running again. The big businesses are always going to be there but the small businesses still need help.

“Since we reopened we’ve noticed that there is a greater interest in wellbeing and self-care, and I think it’s good for employers to give their staff a reward or incentive that they can use on self-care. It could be the first step to them getting into mindful meditation or various types of yoga, using exercises and meditations to release trauma from the body. Or they could buy a candle that they light at the end of the working day to reset and rejuvenate. Going back into the world again has been stressful for many people and there is a lot of anxiety, employees need support and encouragement to spend time on their self-care. We’ll be giving the Strabane Gift Card to our own staff this year too.”

Mike Gatt and Natalia O'Hanlon from Maldron Hotel Belfast

The five Northern Irish gift card programmes are part of the award winning Town and City Gift Cards scheme from fintech Miconex.

Managing director of Miconex Colin Munro said local gift cards are an easy way for employers to reward staff: “Interest in supporting local businesses has rocketed since the pandemic. A Mastercard survey from late 2020 found that 74% of people are more likely to shop in their local communities, and 72% trust recommendations made by local business owners.

“Lifestyles have changed and people are making more effort to shop, dine and experience where they live because they realise the importance of local shops, restaurants and services on the overall vibrancy and attractiveness of an area. August 2021 Gift Card & Voucher Association data showed that 42.3% of Generation X shoppers (aged 35-54) purchased a local gift card for someone else to support local businesses or their local high street.

“This translates to employee rewards and incentives too. Employees want rewards that benefit local communities, and that give them choice. Instead of a gift card for a single online retailer, they can have a local gift card and a huge variety of businesses to spend it at, including retail, leisure, hospitality and services.

“Almost £600,000 has been retained in Northern Ireland through the 5 local Town & City Gift Card programmes to date, money that is supporting local jobs and local livelihoods. The UK trivial benefits scheme enables organisations to give staff a tax-free non cash reward of up to £50. Gift cards make sense but local gift cards that support local businesses make even more sense.”

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