Think E-ZPass, but for nightclubs, hotels and restaurants.
Utilizing similar technology, an Albertson-based start-up has launched a loyalty management solution for hospitality venues to recognize valued regular guests.
Under the EZ-Nite system, loyal patrons receive special cards embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, akin to what's used in E-ZPass toll tags. When a patron approaches the venue, a card reader alerts the staff that a preferred customer is entering the building, allowing him or her to get expedited seating, preferential treatment, added perks, etc.
"The card could be in their pocket or pocketbook," explains Brian Chaplin, 25, of Albertson, co-founder of EZ-Nite along with Berlin-based partner Chris Hardaker, who developed a proprietary loyalty management software platform.
While they've gotten a handful of New York City venues to agree to use the technology, getting others on board has been difficult. "Proof of concept" -- convincing potential clients the technology works and will benefit them -- "is huge," says Chaplin, whose background is in sales, marketing and corporate events. "The next couple of months are going to be critical."
GETTING IT TO CATCH ON
Like any company selling a new product or service, part of EZ-Nite's challenge is just that: It's new.
"Early adoption is always incredibly difficult," says Rob Basso, president of Advantage Payroll Services in Freeport and creator of Venture Pitch, a forum for companies to present their ideas to investors. EZ-Nite pitched its concept last year. "If you're on the bleeding edge of technology, you always have your naysayers," he said.
A product can catch on "like wildfire" or it can disappear overnight, says Basso, noting that getting it into venues quickly is critical.
So far, 13th Street Entertainment, which owns the nightclub Kiss and Fly, the lounge RDV and the restaurant Beaumarchais, all in Manhattan, has agreed to use EZ-Nite at all three venues, says 13th Street creative director Christian Dacus. The first to implement it was Kiss and Fly.
"We cater to high-end clients," Dacus says. "I think this is extremely cutting-edge."
The system will help the company give preferred clients even greater VIP treatment, he says. For example, if the staff knows a regular is in the venue, they can hold the customer's favorite table.
XVI Lounge in Manhattan is also interested in using the technology, Chaplin says.
For now, EZ-Nite doesn't cost individual patrons anything. Venues pay $500 to $1,000 monthly for the system, which also allows them to collect and note customer preferences. Those costs include technology installation, software/maintenance and branded cards to give patrons.
EZ-Nite eventually hopes to start a website where patrons could purchase tiered membership for a group of venues for a monthly fee, in return for perks and preferential treatment.
RFID industry observers say the growth potential for the technology is encouraging.
The RFID market -- which also includes applications for access control, inventory management and ticketing -- is expected to surpass $14 billion worldwide by 2017, with North America accounting for about 29 percent, according to John Devlin of ABI Research, a global market intelligence company with offices in Oyster Bay.
"Interest in RFID in loyalty [programs], hospitality and retail is definitely on the up," says Devlin, who is based in London. But this usage is relatively new, and "takeup has yet to really get off the ground, although service providers are looking at ways that they can better interact with their customers as well as try and differentiate themselves from the pack," he notes.
That's the competitive edge EZ-Nite hopes venues will look for.
In the entertainment market, when "one venue does something and shows it works, then others need to follow in order to not lose market share," says Hardaker, whose background is in Internet services.
EZ-Nite is looking for $300,000 to $350,000 from angel investors to use for marketing and development, with an eye toward getting more venues to come on board.
"I think this is something that could really take hold," says Chaplin, who hopes to be in a dozen venues, including some on Long Island, by year-end.