Katarina Hybenova was happy with the progress of her four-year-old Bushwick Daily, which was making good on its mission to be what she calls “the daily bread” of one of Brooklyn’s liveliest and most diverse communities. The site was producing enough revenue to “pay the bills,” but Hybenova was hearing a constant refrain from local merchants: “How many customers did you bring to my store?”
She couldn’t answer that question. So she began what became a year of information gathering, including getting lots of suggestions from merchants — advertisers and non-advertisers — to find the answer. It will come in the form of a soon-to-be launched section in Bushwick Daily — called Village — that will seek to build more and deeper connections between residents and merchants of Bushwick, which is coming back from decades of decline that reached its nadir with looting and arson following the citywide power blackout of 1977. The historically Dutch neighborhood (pop. 72,000) has a thriving art scene that includes 50 galleries and which has attracted national attention.
To finance start-up costs of her site’s new Village section, Hybenova earlier this month launched a 30-day-long crowd-funding drive to raise $25,000. She is using Beacon, which specializes in crowd-funding journalism projects, to raise the money. Contributors of $5 get “gratitude from the entire Bushwick Daily team!,” but $75 earns a donor a “Mini Pub Crawl” for two, and $100 translates into a cocktail party for five. As of Wednesday, with 17 days to go, $4,631 – 19% — had been raised.
The centerpiece of Village is an in-house loyalty program where users will get a bonus when they make their first purchase. At their favorite coffee shop, the bonus may be a free pastry with their pumpkin spice latte. If they become a frequent customer of the coffee shop, they get another bonus and a Foursquare-type badge.
Merchants will pay a monthly membership fee — $29 is one number Hybenova and her team are considering — to be listed on Village and use all its features, including the loyalty program, which will be supported with an interactive map showing the locations of participating businesses on busy Knickerbocker Avenue and other commercial streets in Bushwick.
Hybenova, a former attorney who emigrated to Brooklyn from Slovakia, explained the special features of Village’s loyalty program:
“We are not developing your typical loyalty program. What’s new is the integration of rewards in the content and the website in general. Our readers will have access to limited deals per month. Pro members — “Bushwick Royalty” — will get unlimited access to the rewards and other goodies on the website such as exclusive content, reports and Bushwick Daily-branded freebies.
“The price levels for membership is still in debate, but our goal is to create an additional affordable advertising option for business who can’t at this point afford banner advertising. Village revenue will be additional to existing banner ad revenue. I don’t think that the presence of Village will harm our banner ad revenue. It will open doors to advertising or clients who previously haven’t tried advertising because they couldn’t afford it. Now thanks to Village, they will see the benefits of advertising.
“The content created through Village — business pages, events, etc. — will increase our traffic and engagement, and that will lead to higher ad revenue as well.”
Hybenova says Bushwick merchants are “really excited” about Village. She says about 20 have signed up even before launch.
If all works according to projections, she said Village’s membership revenue should “more than double our existing revenue.”
Many big retailers have established loyalty programs, but they’re relatively new in local markets. Silicon Valley-based FiveStars is targeting smaller merchants with an easy-to-use search feature where, for example, a user who types in “coffee in San Francisco” will get 26 interactively mapped selections of coffee shops. The user can then go to a specific shop for more details about deals being offered.
Up to 50% to 60% of first-time customers in the typical local market don’t come back again, FiveStars says its research shows. It says its bonus promotions generate purchases many more times than display ads and direct mail.
Minneapolis Happening — part of the 23-site Happenings Media network — has also just introduced a loyalty reward program under which users can earn points toward a gift by promoting a business through social media as well as stopping by a participating loyalty-reward business.
A loyalty program can produced mixed results if it isn’t carefully thought out. Street Fight’s Stephanie Miles compiled 10 best practices from program experts. One of her examples: “Don’t give away too much. ‘We recommend that even the lowest redeemable reward is only obtainable after 50 visits (or check-ins, in the case of clubs and studios for health and fitness), said Sunil Saha, founder and CEO of Perkville, which helps small and medium-size businesses set up loyalty programs. ‘We recommend this because most of our clients want members or customers to not only come in regularly, but also refer their friends to come in. Referrals are worth the most points because it means new business, which helps the bottom line. Points should reflect this.'”
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of the in-development hyperlocal news network Local America that rates communities on their performance across a broad spectrum of livability — Local America Charleston launched earlier this year.