Gift Card Monkey Turns Unwanted Cards Into Cash

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sellers get a portion of the card's worth to buy what they'd really like.

After carrying around a restaurant gift card for a West Des Moines restaurant for a couple of years, Chuck Irlmeier of Norwalk found a way to convert it to cash. He sold it to Gift Card Monkey, a new franchise with an outlet in Jordan Creek mall.

Irlmeier got $37.50 for the card, which had a face value of $50.

"That card just sat there in my wallet unused," said Irlmeier. "My wife and I weren't interested in eating at the restaurant, and I feel good about the chance to be able to spend the slightly reduced amount on something I really want to do." Gift Card Monkey can now sell it at less than face value to a consumer who may be more eager to dine in that restaurant, said Butch Smith, 39, who owns the Iowa franchise for Gift Card Monkey.

Gift Card Monkey buys gift cards for all national retailers and restaurants, and the Iowa shop buys cards for local merchants as well. Consumers can sell their unwanted retail card, trade it for a different one or donate the card to charity, which will receive about 70 percent of the card's value. Buyers can pick up discounted cards and even have them personalized with photos and messages, Smith said.

"You can give a Father's Day gift of a card to, say, Bass Pro Shops, with a picture of the kids on it," Smith said.

Gift Card Monkey hopes to tap into a large market: Consumer Reports reported in March that one-fourth of Americans who received gift cards as holiday gifts still had them 10 months later.

TowerGroup, a financial services firm, estimated that $2.5 billion worth of gift-card value was left on the table in 2010.

Gift Card Monkey buys the cards for 65 to 90 percent of their value and sells them for up to 30 percent off the face value, Smith said.

Smith said he buys new cards and those that have been used. He prefers they have at least $20 left on the card.

"As long as there's a decent balance on it, I will purchase it.," he said.

The number of vendors represented fluctuates daily. Smith opened the cart in Jordan Creek with about 100 vendors, and within 24 hours he was down to 75. He has cards for merchants such as Younkers, Gordmans and Maurices that are selling at 20 percent off.

Smith's franchise is the third in the country for Gift Card Monkey � the first outside of Florida � and more are on the way, said founder Hossein Kasmai, of Miami, Fla.

Kasmai also created another business, Guard-a-Kid, a child identification and protective service, which grew to 170 locations in 11 countries within two years and was ranked one of the 100 fastest-growing franchises.

Kasmai sold that business before starting Gift Card Monkey.

What sets Gift Card Monkey apart from others is that cards are entered in a database accessible to all other Gift Card Monkey franchises, Kasmai said.

"You can sell a card in Des Moines and quickly transfer it to Manhattan in real time," he said. "It can be sold one minute and bought the next." Smith has the franchise rights to the Midwest, and if the Iowa business is successful, he plans to expand to other states. The more outlets there are to buy and sell the cards, the better the business works.

To boost outlets for buying and selling, Smith is recruiting stores and gas stations to buy and sell cards, but also offer their own cards with higher discounts.

Kasmai recently signed on 40 gold-buying stores as affiliates, which will bring the number of outlets for Gift Card Monkey to 43.

Smith is also working on signing on local business affiliates, as well as creating other concepts, such as a preferred partner program � an arrangement to sell cards from certain merchants at all times.

Another is the featured business program that will feature a retailer or restaurant for a day or a weekend at his cart.

"It's just like Groupon or Living Social, where the sale is 50 percent off the value of the deal," Smith said. "But I can offer the business a higher percentage than they would receive from Groupon or Living Social." Gift Card Monkey is a win-win opportunity for everyone involved, Smith said. Card bearers who likely won't use them can convert them to cash they can use, as Irlmeier did.

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