New customer loyalty program hits Austin

Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

BYLINE: Gary Dinges



Get ready to toss your collection of buy-10-get-one-free punch cards and 15-percent-off key tags.

Customer loyalty programs are about to go high-tech.

Belly, a new service launching in Austin, offers perks to repeat visitors at more than 100 shops, restaurants and other area businesses – all available with a single card.

Offers include everything from the routine, such as free food, to the unique: naming your own drink, frozen yogurt flavor, pizza pie or sandwich and getting your photo featured on the TVs at the Co-op Market .

A companion mobile app helps guide Central Texans to participating businesses, which are equipped with iPads that help track check-ins and points accrued by customers.

Austin is Belly’s second city. The company came online here after starting in Chicago, where it is based. More than 800 businesses and 85,000 consumers have signed up so far in Chicago, said founder and CEO Logan LaHive .

LaHive is hoping to duplicate that success in Austin, before full-scale rollouts in other U.S. cities, including Boston, Dallas, Detroit and Miami.

The company has hired six Austin employees, LaHive said, and has 45 more at its corporate headquarters.

“We’re focusing entirely on Austin right now, trying to create a quality experience,” LaHive said. “Our customer numbers are doubling or even tripling week after week.”

Belly cards are already in the hands of about 5,000 Austinites, LaHive said.

Current offers include a free taco at the Lucky J’s Chicken & Waffles food trailer, 30 percent off clothes at Estilo Boutique , a complimentary consultation at home design store Finch and a free brow wax with the purchase of a facial at Heather Gordon Skin Care and Waxing .

“Loyalty for small businesses is all about building a relationship between the business and its customers,” LaHive said. “Each business has a completely unique loyalty program.”

Wahoo’s Fish Taco , which has locations on Rio Grande Street and South Congress Avenue, is among the merchants that have committed to Belly. Perks include a free baja roll with the purchase of an entree between 4 and 7 p.m.

Rack up enough points, and you could even get your picture on the wall.

“I like the whole interactiveness of the product,” said Jeff Bernes, the restaurant’s brand manager. “It gives people a reason to come in and see us.”



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