NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- A Vermont company is hoping to boost local businesses with a line of mobile apps directing tourist and residents alike to businesses, amenities and activities in various parts of the state.
Route 802 launched in April. So far, apps promoting Manchester, Stowe and Middlebury are available on Apple’s iTunes store. Founder and CEO Al Levy, who grew up in the Middlebury area, said he launched the venture "with the idea that we wanted to create some mobile marketing vehicles for Vermont that would really help small businesses take advantage of the mobile platform."
Levy said mobile Internet activity is growing eight times faster than conventional Internet use. The apps are designed to deliver information to people about businesses, restaurants and activities in areas where they live or may be visiting, he said.
Levy said the app featuring Manchester was created last December, followed the Stowe app in March. Those served as pilots for the concept, he said. "Based on the success of those two locations we began to move forward with this bigger group," he said.
Now, there are 12 to 14 separate apps in the works. They focus around "economic engines," according to Levy, such as ski areas. Areas without a large economic driver and where populations are less dense will be countywide apps, he said.
"We really want to cover every nook and cranny of the state," Levy said.
The company works with business leaders in each community to help attract businesses to take part in the apps. "I realized as we got into this process that what was really going to make it successful was community collaboration. In order to take a product like this and it useful and effective you have to have many people rowing in the same direction," Levy said.
A productive meeting took place last week with Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joann Erenhouse, Levy said. An app featuring Bennington area businesses and attractions is probably not far off, he said.
"It’s in the works already in the sense that we’re building out the business database underneath it. I’m currently collaborating with Joann to try and create Š a name for the app and a look and feel that is fitting to Bennington," he said. "Because I’m not from the area I don’t want to pretend that I know it the way that she does, or the way people from down there do."
"We really want to create something that conveys what Bennington means to people there and is a good representation of your backyard," Levy added.
The app feature information about farmers markets and other attractions important to Vermont. A Bennington app could also include information about covered bridges and historic landmarks, Levy said.
"We’re trying to really represent Vermont as best we can. The core of the product is highlighting Vermont’s small businesses, but really what we want to do as an extension of that is let people know what is so unique about our state," he said.
Businesses can choose their level of participation. A basic listing will include the business name and other vital information. A "rich listing" will allow mobile users to call directly from the app, or access additional information.
"What we’re doing is trying to keep this a very cost effective mobile marketing tool. What we’ve effectively done is allowed businesses to get in on this for less than a dollar a day," Levy said. "We’ve had great success in the markets where we’ve initiated this."
Erenhouse said she has forwarded the information about Route 802 to members. The app could help them market themselves in a cost-effective way, she said.