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Chamber, businesses start push to get Havre Canada Certified

Local business leaders heard some ideas Friday on how to bring more money to Havre from Canadians, including a program to make businesses Canada Certified™.

Deborah Coulson of Nxgen, a Whitefish company that offers a one-of-a-kind service to make it easier for Canadians to shop, said just-released data about communities in which Nxgen works shows how much businesses might be losing by not taking Canadian PIN debit cards and not showing the cost in Canadian dollars.

Data shows that businesses not using Nxgen's Canada Certified™ model grew a respectable 7.8 percent in transactions, Coulson said.

Businesses that are Canada Certified grew 26.7 percent.

"That's how much money you're leaving on the table, " Coulson said. "So, I get excited about partnering with businesses, because this wins for everybody. "

Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, has been researching how to make it easy for Havre-area businesses to start accepting Canadian debit cards. While researching that, she found Nxgen's program, which was unveiled in December as a joint economic development project of Nxgen and the Kalispell and Whitefish chambers of commerce, Montana West Economic Development and the Daily Inter Lake.

"I would like to see Havre become the first Canada Certified™ town, " Vandeberg said.

The presentation, sponsored by the Havre Chamber and Independence, US and Stockman's banks and Bear Paw Credit Union, started with a presentation by University of Lethbridge economics instructor Donna Townley.

Townley said Havre can tap into a market of some 100,000 Canadians, in a region from Medicine Hat, Alberta, to Swift Current, Saskatchewan, a market of shoppers who love to come to Montana for a variety of reasons.

That includes Montana's lack of a sales tax — Canadians will gladly drive 200 miles to avoid a sales taxes, Townley said — the opportunity to go out of town for a family trip, and the relatively lower cost of living and prices here.

"It's really the prices, " she said about why Canadian families often pick a destination.

And, she said, the key to making more sales, and to getting the families to come back and shop is being friendly. She said the tradition becomes generational, with her children now planning trips to Montana with their own children.

Simple items like flying a Canadian flag next to the American flag, and saying, "Thank you" can make an enormous difference, Townley said. Showing it is Canadian-friendly can get a business return trips and bigger sales.

"And they will come back and back and back, " she added.

Part of being friendly is finding ways to handle Canadian currency and debit cards. Townley said that many Canadians, especially younger shoppers, don't realize that there is an issue with American businesses taking Canadian money — they are surprised if a business in Montana says it can't accept the currency.

Another issue is Canadian debit cards — Canada is second in the world, behind Sweden, for the number of debit card transactions made by its citizens. Townley said 65 percent of Canadians say they want to use their debit card in the United States, and many Canadians try to avoid using their credit cards to avoid going into debt.

But many U. S. businesses are not able to take Canadian PIN debit cards, which are on a different system separate from the Visa- or Mastercard-sponsored debit cards in the United States. While some cards may go through a standard U. S. debit card processing system, many will not.

Coulson told the audience that finding a way to take Canadian debit cards will significantly increase business and reduce expense, including that debit card merchant fees tend to be significantly less than credit card fees. That, coupled with increased sales, will help make up the cost of adding the service quickly.

The other part of Nxgen's registered-trademark Canada Certified program is "Dynamic Currency Conversion. " In that system, the Canadian customer can see the cost in Canadian currency, rather than having to wait until the credit or debit card statement arrives in the mail to see the cost.

That system also refunds the merchant a portion of the processing fee, she said.

And the program itself provides marketing.

Coulson said part of joining the program, which includes a Nxgen team coming to each business to work out exactly what needs to be done in the upgrade for each business' unique situation is each business receiving stickers to put in to show they are Canada Certified™, a webpage on the Canada Certified™ Facebook site, and discounted across-the-border advertising, and tips on how to incorporate the certification into the business to attract shoppers.

Coulson said an unsolicited email testimonial shows the benefits. The business owner wrote that, along with reduced fees, the "small cost increase" is offset by the increase in sales.

"This program pays for itself, " she quoted.

Online: Donna Townley, Ph. D., across-the-border economic presentations:


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