August 4th, 2020 12:51 PM
Brookfield hopes a promotion to rebate any purchase of $15 at Brookfield Zoo after a purchase of $75 or more at a local business will draw new customers into the village's business districts. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)
By Bob Uphues
For decades, public officials and residents alike in Brookfield have bemoaned the fact that the village's business community has been unable to tap into the economic engine that is the area's largest tourist attraction – Brookfield Zoo.
The zoological park draws as many as two million people to its gates every year, but the vast majority of visitors seem oblivious to what Brookfield has to offer.
"When I got here, I didn't know Brookfield had a downtown," said Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, hired in 2018 after a 15-year run as village manager of Lincolnwood. "Brookfield never did anything to try to capture that built-in market, to capture millions of people."
Within the next couple of weeks, however, Brookfield residents and visitors will begin seeing an attempt to do that.
The concept is a simple one: If you make a purchase of $15 at Brookfield Zoo –whether that's for parking or buying souvenirs – you can get that $15 back by spending at least $75 at any Brookfield business. According to an email sent out by the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon, the promotion will run from Aug. 15 to Jan. 1, 2021.
Wiberg said the logistical details are still being worked out, but the initiative comes through a partnership between the village and the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce. The two entities are splitting the startup costs, which include a $5,000 contract with the digital marketing firm A5 Inc., based in Chicago.
The firm will be tasked with creating the campaign and determining how it's administered. The village and chamber may also split up to $5,000 more in marketing costs related to the program.
Outreach will be both digital ads – such as using geo-fencing to send messages about businesses in the vicinity of the zoo – and banners that will be placed near the zoo to catch the attention of visitors coming to the zoological park.
Village and chamber officials had hoped Brookfield Zoo might be able to give the program a little boost by handing out brochures at the gates as visitors arrive. However, with Brookfield Zoo outsourcing its foodservice and retail sales operations to a third party vendor earlier this year, that wasn't possible due to a non-compete clause in that contract, Wiberg said.
Initially, officials arrived at the $15 figure since it was the amount non-members pay for parking when the visit. But since many visitors are zoo members who don't pay for parking or pay a deep discount (at the South Gate), they decided to make any $15 expenditure at the zoo eligible for reimbursement in order to capture as many potential customers as possible.
Essentially, anyone spending $75 or more at a Brookfield business can present the business with a receipt providing proof of a $15 purchase at the zoo to get the rebate process rolling. The business, the village and the Chamber of Commerce will split the cost of that rebate equally.
Brookfield hasn't set a limit on how much it intends to spend to administer the program or an end date for the promotion.
"We're going to play it by ear," said Wiberg, who admitted he had no idea how such an effort might be received by zoo visitors or how successful the program might be at driving business into the heart of the village.
"It's another logical step," he said. "We need to do more to try to help our business districts. We haven't done enough to capitalize on [the zoo]."
This story has been changed to include the dates the promotion is scheduled to run.