Be a local hero and buy a coupon. This is the simple message of Lean On Me. A group of Limerick volunteers have come together to support their favourite local businesses which are currently closed due to Covid-19 government restrictions.
The platform developed by the team uses smart technology, allowing people to buy a coupon online from their favourite local business and use it to redeem a voucher from the business in the future. Through Stripe, the business receives the much needed cash within approximately seven working days. As a result, this allows retailers to pay their overheads and bills while their doors are closed to customers.
I spoke with Seán Golden, a member of the volunteer team, to learn more about Lean On Me and how anyone can be a local hero.
As with most great ideas, it stemmed from something simple. Two Limerick locals, John Moran and Joe Brooks, both of whom are actively involved in the Limerick community, set up Lean On Me with the hope of supporting the businesses that they care about.
“They thought if the cafes and bars which they usually frequent weren’t closed right now, they would be supporting them anyway.”
From there came the idea. Why not just support their local businesses now by purchasing a coupon which allows them to redeem a voucher in the coming weeks or months when restrictions are lifted?
Seán highlighted the problem that many of our local businesses face in this regard.
“A lot of these small retailers don’t have the IT infrastructure or the money to set up a platform that allowed them to remain connected to their customer base.”
This is where Lean On Me’s unique platform comes into play.
Limerick leads the way
John and Joe reached out to the local network in Limerick in April to get people involved in the initiative.
The collective group of volunteers were integral in getting Lean On Me off the ground and each shared a common passion to help their favourite local businesses during this difficult time.
“We all wanted to continue to support these businesses and try to ensure that they reopen.”
The volunteers’ experience spans across organisations such as Grid Finance, Sellors Solicitors, Elive.ie, RHH International, Tola and The Limerick Post. The volunteer team worked late into the evenings and weekends to get Lean On Me up and running in just under three weeks.
The platform they developed uses smart technology, which allows local businesses to remain connected to their customers. These small retailers don’t have the existing IT infrastructure or capability to be able to this. The platform enables customers to purchase a coupon which allows them to redeem a voucher when the business reopens.
When a customer visits the Lean On Me website to purchase a coupon for their favourite local business, Stripe (which was also created by two Limerick entrepreneurs) will send the customer’s money to the business. It takes around seven working days to arrive in the business account.
“Our aim was that the coupons would plug that cash flow gap that small businesses are experiencing, as they still have bills to pay and there will be reopening costs ahead. Hopefully this can plug some of the discrepancy.”
Getting businesses on board
Thankfully, the process for signing up as a business is a straightforward and efficient one. The retailer simply needs to set up a Stripe account by submitting some verification documents. Then they need to register on the Lean On Me platform.
Initially, the criteria a business needed to fulfill to be listed on the platform was simply that they are a small or medium enterprise that either started in Limerick or were based in Limerick.
“Large nationwide or global retailers weren’t really the focus. It was the small businesses that you call down to on a Saturday morning. Indigenous businesses that are small and ingrained in the local community. Businesses that provide many of us with our first jobs.”
As Lean On Me begins expanding outside of the Limerick county bounds, the criteria remains the same, except tailored to local businesses in other counties instead.
Customers can be local heroes
Similarly, it only takes a few clicks for customers to play their part in supporting their favourite local establishments. Firstly, you simply log on to the website, scroll down through the list of businesses, and find your favourite business. Input your card details and select the amount you want to spend to make the purchase. It really is as easy as that!
The customer and the retailer will get a confirmation text message and email. Lean On Me essentially helps both parties to connect.
It is then up to the retailer how they would like their customers to redeem their vouchers.
Lean On Me strongly urges customers to only spend an amount of cash that they are comfortable with, in the unfortunate event of the business not surviving the temporary closure.
“Our message is not that everyone should contribute. We only ask people to support the businesses if (a) they can afford to and; (b) they are comfortable with the risk that the business may not reopen.”
However, the team does not want people to overexpose themselves financially. They are keenly aware of the difficult economic situation the pandemic has brought to many people’s doorsteps,
“The thought behind this idea initially was that you weren’t buying a coupon for a random business that you never go to. It was more about having an existing relationship with the business, whom you know and trust. It’s about wanting to support them by taking on the risk that they might not reopen.”
Local communities have certainly sent the message to their favourite retailers that they can lean on them. At the time of publishing, 212 businesses have been supported by 1,142 backers. As a result, an astonishing €81,900 has been funded to date!
What has been proving popular with customers so far?
“It is hard to say. It feels like we are just embarking on the beginning of the journey with Lean on Me. Restaurants, cafes and pubs that serve food, hairdressers, barbers have all really reached out to their customer base. However there is a decent spread across all of the businesses listed with Lean On Me – which is great to see.”
However it’s not just foodies and those in need of a trim that are being catered to! The range of businesses to choose from is incredibly broad. For instance there are even businesses selling coupons for their art works on the portal.
County Clare comes on board
The success of the Limerick initiative has not gone unnoticed by neighbouring counties.
Lean On Me recently expanded to Co. Clare. Local Green Party Councillor Roisín Garvey worked with the team and has since spearheaded Clare’s Lean On Me campaign.
“Joe and Roisín and her team did a lot of the work in getting local businesses involved, so as to bring Clare on board.”
With just over a week under their belt, the community in Clare have certainly been embracing the Lean On Me initiative.
“So far the expansion has been a success and new businesses are signing up every day. In just the first week there has been an incredible uptake, with around 36 businesses signing up. There has been great local support.”
The important role of social media
Seán pointed to social media activity as a contributor to the success of businesses on the platform when describing the expansion to Clare. The hashtag #forlifeafterlockdown is also key in promoting the mission of Lean On Me.
Local business people in Clare collaborated to create a video for the platform. The clip showcases the local retailers that are listed on Lean On Me, further demonstrating the community spirit in the region.
Furthermore, the Lean On Me team relies on and encourages, the community and the businesses themselves, to proactively promote their presence on the platform to customers. The drive on social media, especially Instagram, seems to be paying off for local businesses.
“We’ve noticed that there appears to be a correlation between how actively businesses promote to customers their presence on Lean On Me’s platform, with their revenue generation.”
Galway is getting involved
Another West coast county is getting in on the action. Galway has now been announced as a new addition to the Lean On Me initiative. International and domestic tourism play a huge part in the local economies of counties, like Galway in the west of Ireland. Tourism is a sector which undoubtedly is, and will continue to be, severely affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Staycations will probably be the closest anyone is going to get to a holiday this year. Hopefully people will support local when the time allows.”
Seán explained that if this concept is to be adapted to other counties, or even on a nationwide basis, it will require local leaders (with the local contacts to make it a success) to continue stepping forward. He believes that Lean On Me could work well for any county or region, as overall it is a community effort.
“Our original idea was for Limerick but then we got so much interest from Clare and now Galway, which is why we have expanded.”
A sense of hope
The feedback the Lean On Me team has received to date has been overwhelmingly positive. Hope is the common theme.
“We keep hearing that this is giving the local retailers hope. Even beyond the financial aspect of the initiative, it has given them hope. The businesses are able to see that people care about them and want them to reopen. They have reported back to us, that hope is the most important thing.”
In addition, the sense of community spirit that Lean On Me has fostered is palpable. Hopefully this will remain a permanent feature of Irish society long after the pandemic has passed. Above all, local support will help businesses to reopen as soon as possible.
“It’s been hugely positive from the businesses, volunteers, customers and those getting it set up in their community. It’s great to see. Here’s hoping Lean On Me plays a role in getting the country back on track.”
Not all heroes wear capes. Some simply say: ‘Lean On Me’
A phrase has circulated online in recent months. It describes the heroic efforts of the silenced Dr. Li Wenliang; the first person to warn of the new Coronavirus in Wuhan.
“Heroes don’t fall from the sky. They’re just ordinary people who stepped forward.”
A group of volunteers stepped forward in Limerick.
You can also step forward.
If you are a small or medium business in Limerick, Clare or Galway, you can still sign up to Lean On Me to be listed on their website.
If you know of community leaders and businesses in another region of Ireland who would like to get on board, reach out to email@example.com.
Use the Lean On Me portal to reach out to your favourite business. Be a local hero and buy a coupon.