An entrepreneur is expanding his portfolio with a new venture focused on connecting small businesses and customers for interactive experiences.
Veteran software developer Brad Benton last month launched Locally Noted LLC, which through its web portal organizes themed quests that involve multiple businesses, such as breweries and restaurants. The participating businesses provide exclusive offerings to ticket holders at each of the quest’s waypoints. He said the crux of the idea is creating business-to-consumer experiences at a time when many locally owned shops are financially stressed.
“What we wanted to do was create an experience where you go and visit that business and you’re actually building a relationship between the business owner and the customer and not just offering a quick discount,” Benton said.
Ticket sales for the first experience, dubbed Brew-to-Brew, began Dec. 1. He said over 410 tickets were sold as of early January for the quest, which started Christmas Day. That’s over halfway to the 800-ticket goal – equating to $20,000 – he has for each of Locally Noted’s initial quests.
Tickets are $25 and sold through LocallyNoted.com, but Benton said a mobile app is under development and should be available later this month. Ten businesses are on board for the SWMO Brew-to-Brew experience, he said, including 4 by 4 Brewing Co., Great Escape Beer Works, Prehistoric Brewing Co. and Tie and Timber Beer Co.
Ticket holders receive challenges that vary in degree of difficulty, he said, such as riddles, trivia and scavenger hunts. For example, Benton said 4 by 4 Brewing seeks to promote its packaged to-go products and has customers in the brewery using short-range wireless technology, called near-field communication, to unlock a 25% discount code.
“It’s about using an interactive, fun experience to guide that customer to what the business owner is trying to promote,” he said.
Businesses spend between $450 and $2,000 to join Locally Noted’s quests, depending on what each offers at the waypoints, Benton said. Locally Noted handles all ticket sales, redemption codes and promotions. Participating businesses receive 20% of revenue for each ticket sale the business generates, he said.
Zachary Campbell, co-owner of 417 Taphouse, said taking part in Brew-to-Brew is a way to introduce the bar to new customers and interact with them in a unique way. The downtown business at 431 S. Jefferson Ave., Ste. 160, has ticket holders participate in a scavenger hunt to find clues throughout the bar. They also get a complimentary appetizer and discount on their first beer.
“We’re always trying to find fun and interesting things for people to do,” he said, declining to disclose the bar’s investment with Locally Noted. “It gets them to move around and see all we have to offer inside Taphouse other than just a bunch of beer.”
Campbell said Locally Noted’s quests should generate new customer traffic for businesses. It’s coming at the right time for 417 Taphouse, as 2020 revenue for the 5-year-old venture was down around 30% from 2019, he said, declining to disclose figures.
The coronavirus pandemic dealt a blow to the bar that it’s struggled to recover from, he said. The self-serve beer tap wall is temporarily closed amid COVID-19 precautions, dropping its draft beer count by 16. It still has 21 beers on tap and roughly 100 varieties for sale.
“We were lucky enough to get involved in this quest because of the variety of beer that we offer, even though we aren’t a brewery,” Campbell said. “It’s a good way to just get people out of their shell and try something new.”
Declining to disclose his investment in the startup, Benton said it took around eight months to develop the technology.
“I wanted to do something a little different – especially in a new COVID environment – to give back to local businesses,” said Benton, whose main business is hospitality software developer Hospitify Marketing LLC. “This was an opportunity to build something out that was a little more entertaining than our normal endeavors.”
Benton said he has around 20 years of software development experience, including the past 13 years with Hospitify. The company’s website indicates it has developed sales and event management and learning management systems for the hospitality industry.
Benton said ticket holders have several months to complete the experiences, as they are meant as a marathon, not a sprint. For SWMO Brew-to-Brew, tickets can be bought through March 20. After that date, participants have another 90 days to complete the quest. Future experiences include Date Night and Iconic Eats, he said.
“The whole quest runs six months, but we only sell tickets for the first 90 days and give them an additional 90 days to complete the quest,” he said, noting people can visit the participating businesses in any order.
Locally Noted also has intentions of helping nonprofits through an affiliate program, Benton said. Local dog rescue 4 the Love of K9s is the first on board.
Spokesperson MacKenzie Karlson said it was free for the nonprofit to become an affiliate. Locally Noted is donating 20% of proceeds from each ticket sold through the landing page it created for the 501(c)(3) organization. Karlson said 4 the Love of K9s is sharing the link through social media and has earned roughly $120 through ticket sales since mid-December. Locally Noted will film a commercial for any affiliate that sells 100 tickets in a year through its link.
“As a nonprofit, commercials can be so expensive,” she said, noting the organization’s annual budget is generally around $50,000. “The fact that we have that opportunity is a big plus for us.”
The all-volunteer, donation-based organization formed in 2014. Karlson said monetary donations were around $10,000 last year, less than half of the 2019 total. Like many nonprofits, 4 the Love of K9s had to cancel numerous events, she said, which cut into fundraising results. However, she said the agency still managed to facilitate 300 adoptions in 2020, generating roughly $45,000.
Karlson said connecting through Locally Noted can only help get the nonprofit’s name out in the community.
“We’re going to get to reach so many other people that maybe we wouldn’t get to reach in another way,” she said.
Even as Locally Noted is ramping up, Benton has his eyes for the concept beyond Springfield. The goal is to branch out to Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, by July. Arkansas and Nebraska also are on the expansion radar.
He’s still determining how best to utilize what he calls local “quest ambassadors” who would help design the quests and recruit business participation for the other markets. The ambassadors could be hired on as employees to allow Locally Noted to expand to the cities, or else the company will host the quests through a licensing agreement.
“They are all larger but similar markets to Springfield, demographically,” he said. “The goal is to grow this into other markets, but Springfield makes a great proving ground.”
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