By Becca Boehringer and Waringa Kamau
When Washington and Lee University parents pick up their registration bags for Parents’ Weekend this year, they will find inside a new promotional giveaway from the Main Street Lexington Group: LexBucks.
LexBucks, whose design is inspired by a Civil War Treasury bond, allow customers to receive $2 off a purchase of $10 or more in participating stores. The goal of the discounts is to attract new customers to shop downtown.
Main Street Lexington Group is a new organization of downtown storeowners who focus on the “vitality of our central business district,” said Chuck Smith, owner of Washington Street Purveyors and a member of Lexington City Council. The group’s current leader is Stephanie Wilkinson, one of the owners of the Red Hen restaurant on Washington Street.
More than a dozen stores and eateries are expected to participate in the LexBucks program this weekend and Main Street Lexington members hope participation will grow.
Lucia Owens, owner of Sunday’s Child, also on Washington Street, said there are people who have lived in the area for 20 years but have never been in her store. She believes that LexBucks will encourage such people to explore shopping options downtown.
The Main Street Lexington Group is trying “to captivate an audience to shop downtown that may not normally do so,” said Joe Hagy, a staff member of the Virginia Horse Center. “Anything we can do to try and increase that impact and encourage people to shop locally…. well, we will do anything in our power to try and make that happen.”
“The VHC has 500,000 visitors to our grounds annually and we are trying to cross-promote sales between our exhibitors and the downtown merchants,” said Katherine Truitt, executive director of the horse center.
About 1,300 LexBucks are expected to be distributed for Parents’ Weekend, which begins Friday. The next distribution will take place Oct. 19, to visitors who attend a big Halloween event at the horse center.
Participating storeowners, such as Owens and Smith, will not be reimbursed for their $2 loss when customers use LexBucks in their stores. But they do not see this as a problem.
“I don’t think taking $2 off every $10 purchase is going to affect my bottom line,” Owens said. “I look at it as a marketing tool to get people who may not normally come into our stores and restaurants.”
Participating storeowners also hope new customers will continue to shop at downtown stores in the future.
However, some downtown storeowners, like Tracey Lackey, owner of Intimate U, do not see LexBucks as the best marketing strategy. Intimate U will not be participating in the LexBucks program.
“I don’t feel like the best way to encourage people to shop locally is by only offering them a discount. People need to understand that when you shop locally it helps your local community and that’s a big thing,” said Lackey.
Lackey uses a different promotion called Belly, a national mobile app through which store visitors earn points that can be claimed anywhere Belly is used. This strategy helps her to market Intimate U to a broad audience online.
Lackey also organizes events at her store for people to come by and see what’s there; no purchase is required. She believes that letting people know what’s available without requiring them to make a purchase right then is the best way to market.
“That way people will have your store in mind instead of thinking that they need to travel elsewhere or shop online,” she said.
Lackey also questions whether LexBucks will be a big enough incentive for horse center visitors.
“My thought process is probably if you’re at the horse center and you have horses, a $2 discount is not a big deal to you,” Lackey said.
The only way to obtain LexBucks is by being given one at events like Parents’ Weekend or the Halloween festivities at the horse center. Storeowners will not distribute them to regular customers because the focus of the promotion is on luring new ones.
Owens said that by keeping track of how many “bucks” the stores receive, the Main Street Lexington group will be able to evaluate the program’s success over the course of the year.