Triangle entrepreneurs’ Stealz customer loyalty app gains traction

lfinaldi@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2013 

Ever wanted to arm wrestle a bar manager for a free beer? How about have a trained sushi chef come to your house and cook a meal for six? Or maybe just enjoy a nice free dinner for two?

These are a few of the rewards customers can take advantage of when they download and use Stealz, a new rewards app for iPhone and Android smartphones that was launched in January by four Triangle entrepreneurs. Stealz operates like a digital version of the stamp card your local ice cream store hands out, but with a twist: Rewards are unlocked only after the customer posts about his or her visit on Facebook or Twitter.

The hope is that by giving consumers incentives to regularly visit their partner retailers, Stealz will help businesses reach people they haven’t met but are connected with on social media.

“We were talking to a lot of business owners, and kind of the common theme is they didn’t know how to use social media – ‘Am I annoying people? Am I not posting enough?’ ” said Brent Nolan, a 2009 East Carolina University graduate and one of the Stealz founders. “We wanted people to get posting for those businesses.”

Every time a customer uses Stealz to post on Facebook or Twitter at a partnered business, he or she gets two “points,” and another point just for making a purchase. They can be spent on prizes that vary depending on the number of points accumulated. At the Cary location of Ruckus Pizza, Pasta and Spirits, 40 points will get you to the front of their waiting list, but 500 points will send the restaurant’s sushi chef to your house. At Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar in Raleigh, cashing in 250 points gets you a backyard barbeque for 10 with the bar’s chef behind the grill.

The four founders raised $200,000 from friends and family to get started, and launched officially Jan. 31. Since then, Stealz has partnered with 150 businesses, about 60 of which are in the Triangle. Businesses can pay either $30 per month or $300 per year to become a partner. The Stealz app has been downloaded by just over 10,000 smartphone users, Nolan said.

Customer loyalty apps are nothing new. CardMobili, launched in 2010, is connected with thousands of businesses worldwide and allows users to keep all their reward and loyalty cards in one place. With FourSquare for Business, customers can receive updates on their smartphones about nearby businesses offering deals and events.

But don’t expect to see any push notifications after downloading Stealz.

“I’m not a big fan of getting push notifications,” Nolan said. “There’s a fine line of being too invasive with someone’s cellphone, and I try to keep hands off in that area.”

Ruckus’ Cary restaurant has about 5,000 Facebook likes, but because of sharing restrictions on the social media giant, not all fans get the updates. Ruckus would have to pay for the restaurant’s posts to reach even half its fans, said Ryan Pilz, one of the owners. Since partnering with Stealz, Ruckus’ social media presence has expanded exponentially. About 800 customers have used the Stealz app at Ruckus.

“If you multiply by the number of Facebook friends those people have, it’s a significant reach,” Pilz said.

In addition to the four founders, the company also has 60 paid interns on the East Coast. The company recruited students from about 30 college towns from Baton Rouge to Boston to talk to businesses, introduce them to Stealz and expand partnerships.

The use of interns instead of salaried employees saves Stealz money and helps the company target people in the tech-savvy younger generation who are most likely to use the app, Nolan said.

“We target a lot of students in our marketing because they all understand social media and pretty much all of them have smartphones,” he said. “If the student is the key demographic to my customer, I’m going to listen to them. And because the job market has gotten so competitive now, you can get a really sharp motivated person.”

Stealz is a hit with the regulars at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, which opened in January in the Seaboard Station retail center just north of downtown. Co-owner Cov DeRamus said the app has helped get the word out about the bar. “I think the app is great. It’s obviously good for us – getting the word out about us,” DeRamus said. “I think it’s a brilliant idea and really hope it works out.”

Finaldi: 919-829-4582 or twitter.com/lauraefinaldi

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