Gilbertie's Garden and Retail Center in Westport, which began as a small flower shop in 1922, is now one of the largest herb and plant centers nationwide. But even a thriving business such as this looks for innovative ways to expand its client base by attracting new customers, especially in this economy.

When owner Carrie Gilbertie last month decided to join Groupon, an online discount coupon marketing program which recently launched its Fairfield County-based deals, she was hoping to boost the store's off-season sales and introduce new customers to the family-owned business.

By offering those who sign up on Groupon.com a 50 percent reduction on $30 worth of merchandise, 28 new customers walked through the garden center's doors and sales markedly increased.

"It was a great experience for us," Gilbertie said. "Most of the customers who came in with the Groupon spent double or even triple of what they had to. They went above and beyond what they were required to spend."

Using collective buying power, consumers sign up for the "daily deals" offered each day at Groupon.com, the company's website. The discounts are only available if a certain number of people agree to participate. Groupon's Public Relations and Marketing Manager Julie Mossler said credit cards are not charged until there are enough participants for the deal to go through.

All revenue is split "about 50 percent," Mossler said, between the retailer and Groupon.

"There is no cost upfront for businesses that we feature," she said.

Even so, Gilbertie admitted that she hesitated about signing on when she was approached by a Groupon sales representative.

"I just hadn't heard of it," Gilbertie said. "After thinking about it, though, I realized that I had nothing to lose."

Founded in 2008 by Andrew Mason, the idea for Groupon originated when he had family come to visit his Chicago home. In taking them to visit tourist spots around the city that he had never before been to, Mason realized that it was easy to "get into a rut" and not explore one's surroundings.

"One of the goals is for people to use Groupon as a city guide," Mossler said. "We want to expose people to fun and interesting local activities that are affordable."

Along with restaurants, entertainment venues, cultural and historical sites and various classes, Groupon features unusual activities, such as pilot lessons and simulated skydiving adventures.

Groupon is now available in cities throughout the United States and in 31 countries.

Moffler said that in Fairfield County, there are "hundreds of local businesses" ready to be featured in the upcoming three to four months.

For example, for $6, the purchaser of a Groupon from DiMare's Bakery could receive $12 of gourmet baked goods. Last week, people were invited to eat $20 worth of pizza at Two Boots of Bridgeport by paying only $10. This week, Bikram Yoga in Shelton sliced its monthly fee by 70 percent, and invited new students to take unlimited classes for one month for $30 and existing clients for $65. Liquid Lunch of Shelton is also offering $15 soups, sandwiches and salads for $7.

There are currently 25 million subscribers who have daily deals sent to their email address, Facebook or Twitter accounts, Mossler said.

Local business that would like to be featured on Groupon should go to Grouponworks.com for more information. To subscribe, go to groupon.com.