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CardCash co-founders created secondary market for unwanted gift cards

By - Last modified: December 24, 2013 at 9:55 PM

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CardCash co-founders, from left, Elliot Bohm and Marc Ackerman, have  solved the riddle of what to do with an unwanted gift card.
CardCash co-founders, from left, Elliot Bohm and Marc Ackerman, have solved the riddle of what to do with an unwanted gift card. - (AARON HOUSTON)

By Beth Fitzgerald for NJBIZ | Facebook | Twitter

It's the holiday season so you know what that means: A blizzard of well-meaning gift cards from a variety of stores will be sent to family and friends everywhere. It's an American tradition.

Here's another one: When the cards come from stores where the recipients don't shop, they are in danger of becoming part of the millions of dollars in potential consumer spending gathering dust in sock drawers all over America.

CardCash.com has a solution: The Brick-based company has created a secondary market for gift cards issued by more than 300 retailers. Simply put, they buy unused gift cards at a discount, giving recipients cash to spend when — and, more importantly, where — they want.

The company has been a success almost since the day it launched in 2008 as its sales have grown from $1 million that first year to a projected $50 million this year.

It's more than enough to land CardCash at No. 17 on the NJBIZ 2013 list of the 50 fastest growing companies in New Jersey.

And to think, the company grew out of the frustration of co-founders Elliot Bohm, 33, and Marc Ackerman, 31, who couldn't figure out what to do with gift cards they got from stores where they never shop.

"We came up with the idea by living through what our customers are living through," Bohm said.

Here's how it works.

Prices can vary depending on the supply and demand for a particular store, but essentially it goes like this: CardCash will buy a $100 gift card for about $85, then resell it for $90, making $5 on the sale. The seller of the card is turning an unused card into cash — and the buyer is getting a $100 gift card for $90.

"We have two kinds of customers," Ackerman explained. One is the typical American consumer with an unwanted gift card burning a hole in their wallet. The others are businesses that use the service to save money on their business purchases.

Construction contractors, for instance, are big fans of discounted gift cards to Home Depot and Lowe's.

"They are looking for creative ways to renovate your house for that much cheaper," Bohm said. "If they can save on their costs at Home Depot, they can give their customer a cheaper quote, and undersell many of their competitors."

Sometimes it's individuals.

Ackerman said when one customer was renovating their kitchen they bought every Lowe's gift card they could.

"They were buying and buying until they were able to get $20,000 worth of Lowe's gift cards," he said.

If they were buying those cards for 90 cents on the dollar, they saved $2,000 dollars on the deal.

The founders said their biggest obstacle is a lack of awareness of CardCash among the general public. But that could soon change.

Earlier this month the company received a $6 million equity investment from Guggenheim Partners. Bohm said the investment will help the company grow substantially.

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"We can expand our brand and services to consumers across America," he said.

Learning to adjust to the market has been a key part of the company's success.

Someone with a gift card can now either sell CardCash the actual card, which they mail to the company, or do the entire transaction online by selling the digital code on the card.

The company will pay more for the actual plastic card, which has more value because it can be used on-line or in the store (a digital gift card can only be used online).

Of course, the plastic vs. digital issue will reced in importance as retailers embrace mobile digital gift cards, where the gift card pops onto the screen of your smart phone and is scanned at the point of sale when you buy something.

More than two years ago, CardCash launched a partnership with Amazon.com where you can sell your gift card to CardCash for cash or for an Amazon.com online gift certificate — for slightly more money.

Last month, for instance, a $100 Macy's card was worth $83 dollars cash or $87.15 in an Amazon gift card.

In the later case, it's a win for both the customer and CardCash as Amazon picks up the additional cost — a cost the giant online retailer is willing to pay to acquire an additional customer.

"Amazon is always the first to start something — they realize it's great to partner with a gift card exchange, so they jumped right in," Ackerman said.

Bohm hopes to copy the model.

"We're looking to do this type of partnership with other retailers as well," he said. "It's just a matter of time before we do more deals."

So if you give someone a gift card this year, realize the recipient may just turn that card into cash and send the card on a journey to the wallet of someone who actually wants to shop at the store you've chosen.

But don't be offended. After all, it's the thought that counts.

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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