Getting 'Kooky' With Loyalty

D.C. c-store FoBoGro seeing success with new breed of rewards program

WASHINGTON -- Boring loyalty reward: 10% off coupon. Not-so-boring reward: 30 seconds to grab as many goodies as you can.

The latter is the reward for loyal customers offered by FoBoGro, a Washington, D.C.-area convenience store. When 22-year-old Brian Smith won the 30-second sweep, he managed to raid the store's craft beer cooler and chips aisle. There's one winner everyone talks about though, he says, and that's the guy who in 30 seconds "ended up fitting seven 24-packs of beer out the door."

This is the new world of loyalty marketing for small businesses, reported USA Today. It's all about concocting a creative way to get customers jazzed about coming back again and again. (See related story.)

With digital loyalty rewards services provided by third-party companies such as Belly, Perka and even Groupon, the "little guy," like c-store FoBoGro, can launch complex loyalty programs.

Before FoBoGro founder Devlin Keating got a Belly rewards system for his business, he had tried running a card-based loyalty program that awarded discounts. No one went for it, and cashiers got tired of promoting it, the report said.

Belly, on the other hand, provided a tablet that customers use in the store to check in for five points a visit and to see how close they are to being able to cash in their points for rewards. It's the first thing you notice when you're at the cash register, said the report.

The program also features "kooky" rewards, the report said--such as the 30-second sweep for 500 points, a fist bump for 15 points, a date with Keating's co-founder, Kris Hart, for 250 points and a chance to invent a sandwich and put it on the menu for a week, also for 500 points. While no one's cashed in on the date with Hart yet, the point, Keating said, is to give customers something to talk about by offering rewards that no other business could.

"If we're going to stand out, we've got to be better at this than CVS. We've got to make it more fun," he told the newspaper.

The digital rewards programs from Belly and others also track exact data about the rewards, showing businesses which of their rewards are most popular, and at what times. They also give businesses data that lets them track peak traffic times and predict big rushes. For example, Keating now knows that he's going to get a big rush of college kids cashing in all their points at the end of the school year.

It's not always pretty. Especially when it comes to the reward where you get to create a sandwich and put it on the menu, says Keating.

"I got to be honest. The last one this last guy made had ham, pulled pork and bacon on it. And Craisins. It was a terrible sandwich. It was just horrible, but we put it on the menu and to be honest, it sold. I think he was telling his friends to buy it."

Click here to view the full USA Today report.