A Connecticut startup that aims to make gift giving easier and help small businesses thrive has expanded to Maryland, allowing residents and visitors of almost 100 different Maryland towns to take advantage of the company’s unique, hyperlocal gift cards.
Giverrang, a relatively young startup based out of Connecticut, recently rolled out community gift cards in 98 cities and towns across the state. They range from destinations like Baltimore, Annapolis and Ocean City to lesser-known hamlets like Rock Hall, a town of 1,310 on the Chesapeake Bay, and Thurmont, a Frederick County town just south of the Pennsylvania border.
The gift cards function similarly to a prepaid Mastercard or Visa card, but with two important caveats: They only work within a certain area, and they can only be used at local, independent businesses. The idea is to provide a gift that will allow the recipient to keep their money within the community, while also giving them the flexibility to visit different shops and try out small businesses they may not have visited.
“It really removes the stress from the gift giver because if they’re interested in keeping the money local, they just buy this one card,” said Mark Walerysiak Jr., the company’s head of programs and co-founder, alongside Giverrang Head of Product Roy Paterson.
That philosophy is where the name Giverrang, a mash-up of the words “give” and “boomerang” comes from: When someone gives a community gift card as a present, the money they spend rockets back into their community like a boomerang.
Giverrang’s gift cards use technology to ensure that a card is being used in the correct location, and then runs the business at which the card was used against a comprehensive database of national chains: places like Walmart, Starbucks or Olive Garden. If the business is not on that list, the transaction will go through like normal, but if it is, the card will be declined.
“Basically, anybody else who is in (a given city) and isn’t a chain can accept the charge,” Walerysiak said. “Hundreds of businesses would be able to accept.”
The products are physical Mastercard gift cards adorned with the Giverrang logo, as well as text indicating which city the card is valid in, that are delivered within around seven days of purchase. The founders chose to use physical rather than digital gift cards because most, if not all, local businesses accept them as a form of payment, whereas some may not be as familiar with digital payments.
Walerysiak’s career prior to launching Giverrang was in the economic and community development space, and in those roles, he saw or ran “every ‘shop local’ program you can think of,” from social media hashtag campaigns to Small Business Saturday, which is usually celebrated after Black Friday to convince consumers to spend money at independent businesses instead of just big-box stores.
But he found that those short-term programs and initiatives rarely made a significant impact on small businesses in the area.
“The thing that bothered me was, how do we activate the other 364 days of the year and make it so that shopping local can be evergreen?” he said. “These independent businesses are really the lifeblood of the communities.”
The cards were Walerysiak and Paterson’s answer to that question, designed to incentivize people to shop locally year-round.
The founders have rolled out their gift cards in most US states and are now beginning to partner with communities to find ways to expand the reach of their product even further. In one community, Walerysiak said, Giverrang is working to develop cards that will work specifically at Black-owned local businesses, for instance.
As for its offerings in Maryland, Walerysiak is aware that not every Maryland city is included; he and Paterson choose the cities in which to roll out the cards based on size and whether the town is incorporated, leaving out several of the state’s thriving communities, like Columbia and Towson. But the founders say they are eager to add more sites.
“We would really love to hear from people who are local — if they’re looking for their card and it’s not there, let us know so we can create a card for the community,” Walerysiak said.