SUMMIT — When a Google search sends Summit residents on a 15-mile trek for items they’re looking to buy, from falafels to North Face jackets or any other commodities that can be found in the city’s own downtown, it’s a missed opportunity for Summit customers and businesses alike. Money is being spent outside the city, and at locations which might not be convenient for the buyer.
That’s the problem Summit resident David Ingerman is hoping to solve with a new, community-oriented app, Close.By/Summit, which closely connects residents with the businesses around them.
In the iTunes app, or on the website www.close.by/summit, users have a comprehensive and detailed catalog of what Summit has to offer, going beyond what can be found on massive search engines like Google or Bing.
“This is really our first pilot, and the goal is to get enough traction here so we can replicate this in lots of other towns. So far, it seems to be pretty well,” said Ingerman, the CEO of the Summit-based tech firm behind Close.By/Summit, which is called Place Codes. “We’ve got a whole lot of merchants to add their information, add a description about what they do, and keywords that they want to show up. That alone is pretty interesting. There’s a lot of things in Summit that people don’t know about, and you can’t find on Google.”
A topical example of a niche, local business on Close.By/Summit is the student-run venture Sam’s Snow Removal, which was founded by a Summit High Schooler, Jack Browne. When Winter Storm Jonas buried northern New Jersey on Saturday, Jan. 23, Close.By/Summit connected snowed-in residents with Browne, promoting his businesses so much that “my voice mail box ran out of space,” he says.
The app promotes several such student-run businesses for free. But otherwise, being promoted comes with a price tag. The top business listed in each of the app’s 29 categories, from “Food” to “Health & Fitness,” has paid a fee to be prioritized for Close.By/Summit users, which is one of the ways the project is aiming for profitability.
After paying that fee, though, businesses can use their increased exposure to court customers with promotions, from deals and sales to free giveaways. A Summit tavern, for example, gives away free desserts when customers show the app on their phone, while a candy shop is offering chocolate-covered pretzels on the house. Last week, a coffee shop presented free lattes to the first 100 people who presented the app.
These kind of hyperlocal promotions are partially why Close.By/Summit, now in its third month of operations, is gaining traction in the city, having earned 30,000 page views since a November launch.
“It’s not like Groupon, which is trying to be this big thing. We’re doing these for specific towns,” said Ingerman. “It’s somewhat community-based, somewhat a curiosity, somewhat about special offers — people really like deals — and it’s gotten traction through a whole bunch of different activities.”
And Ingerman believes good news for the app doubles as good news for Summit’s downtown, which currently has vacancies that have spurred Summit Downtown, Inc., into hiring a part-time marketer.
“We’re talking about some interesting stuff with them. We can promote all of the businesses and the restaurants and the stores, and there are times somebody might go to the mall and get a North Face jacket because they don’t know a Summit shop carries North Face,” said Ingerman. “By making that search-able, or by using our special offers, hopefully we can drive local businesses here.”
The existence of Close.By/Summit inherently bolsters local businesses, says Ingerman, by spreading awareness about who they are and what they sell. But the app’s creators also share enlightening data points, gleaned from how people use the app, with Summit City Hall and Summit Downtown, Inc.
When residents respond to certain promotions more than others, for example, it’s a way of letting businesses know what works and what doesn’t. A gym that offers 2-for-1 classes might want to consider presenting customers with a week-long free trial, instead, a strategy which the app’s users have responded to en masse.
Alternatively, says Ingerman, information taken from Close.By/Summit can be used to help figure out how to fill those vacancies in the downtown.
“There’s a lot of interesting data-mining and insights which you can get from this stuff,” said Ingerman. “It ultimately helps support the town and figure out what stores it makes sense to open — or not to open.”
Originally, he adds, Close.By/Summit was intended to be a detailed GPS which would help people find “every place in the world,” including local areas not always seen in a large-scale GPS or search engine, such as soccer fields.
But somewhere along the way in production, Close.By/Summit became more about helping people find businesses and products they weren’t aware of, and vice versa.
“Originally, the idea was a short code for every place in the world. People could take any spot, come up with a name for it and share it with everyone else. It would give you perfect directions to that spot. But we evolved, over time, into something helping get people to stores and restaurants,” said Ingerman. “How the merchants can get found, by the right people at the right time and the right place.”