Wednesday, April 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Mobile app helps small businesses reach Davis customers

Ashley Howatt, a Sugar Daddy's employee, holds up a QR code for a customer so he can get to the OptTown website. The mobile app is free to download on iPhones and Androids. "With OptTown, you are able to pick all your favorite businesses and create your own perfect virtual town," a representative explains. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A10 | March 24, 2013 | Leave Comment

OptTown, a mobile application that facilitates communication between a small business and its customers, has seen itself blossom in Davis over the past six months — attracting approximately 6,000 local users.

And thanks to being promoted as the city’s official app by the UC Davis Alumni and Visitors Center, OptTown co-founder Amanda Arthur said that number is growing exponentially, with 300 new downloads per week.

Arthur, a graduate of Santa Clara University, launched the company within the confines of her college community in 2011 with the help of her father, UCD alum Tom Arthur.

She explained that OptTown set out to connect people to their favorite businesses in the way that Facebook connects its users with their best friends. Instead of spam emails, OptTown’s users opt to hear updates and deals from selected businesses of their choosing.

“It was an idea around the family dinner table for years,” she said. “When I graduated … I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted to do. My dad said, ‘Go after it,’ and it has been an adventure ever since.”

Just don’t get it confused with Groupon, Arthur said, or anything else for that matter. She’s confident there’s a uniqueness to the approach OptTown takes in building relationships between a business and its clients.

“That’s really what we’re built for,” she explained. “Yelp was built for consumers to talk about their opinions to others about a business, not for that business to have a relationship with those customers.

“Businesses have tried creating Facebook pages to communicate with people, but that site was built for friends, so you’re not going to get people proactive about anything but that on there.”

The app connects consumers to businesses such as Thai Canteen, a restaurant at 117 E St. in downtown Davis. In the first six weeks of its participation, Thai Canteen processed 116 OptTown-promoted deals and had nearly 8,000 views on the app.

This local eatery is just one of the more than 60 businesses that have joined the OptTown network. Some can be seen displaying endorsements of the app on windows facing downtown Davis streets.

“We have a good deal of clutch businesses that community members seem to love,” Arthur said. “From restaurants to laundromats to martial arts studios to all kinds of boutiques. … It has been a lot of fun to watch it grow.”

OptTown has extended its network to university communities across California, including the area surrounding San Jose State.

Jack Stampfl, a Davis High graduate who pursued studies at Cal before joining OptTown, said the high population of students — and otherwise locally focused individuals — in Davis made it a perfect fit for the app.

“It’s one of the most tightly knit communities,” he said. “It’s sort of isolated, too. When I grew up in Davis, I never went to Sacramento. I ate here, shopped here and did everything else here.”

OptTown, which is a free download for both iPhone and Android, requires its users to access it through a Facebook login — a feature critiqued as a detriment by multiple reviewers on Google’s app marketplace.

However, there has also been a great deal of positive feedback from locals who have experience with the app, according to Chris Schnack, another Aggie alum among the handful of people employed by OptTown.

“One thing they especially enjoy is the ability to manage loyalty programs,” he added. “You get stamp cards from places like Subway; instead of carrying around 20 different cards, you can put them all on OptTown.”

For the businesses, the incentive to join inhabits a realm of advertising known as “coalition marketing.” With each participating store, the customer base grows not just for itself, but for the Davis economy as a whole.

This subject and more will be discussed at the Davis Chamber of Commerce’s membership lunch on Tuesday, April 2, at the Odd Fellows Hall, 415 Second St. in downtown Davis.

Arthur’s eventual goal is for OptTown to become a nationwide solution for small businesses. Short-term aspirations are more modest — introducing 10 more cities into the application’s network within the next year.

“Hopefully by the summer, we’ll be going to these communities with Davis as our success story,” Arthur said. “We’re just learning so much. We’re a start-up, so it’s all about trying things and figuring out what works.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at bjohnson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

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