Chris Bizzell has lived in Greenville all his life; he remembers looking around town for things to do and not finding too much. He, like many of us who spent the ‘80s and ‘90s watching the city change, has been pleasantly surprised by Greenville’s growth.
“As a teenager, there would maybe be 20 or 30 things happening in town a month,” Bizzell says. “Now on any given day you’ve got hundreds of events.”
Bizzell loved the increase in things to do around town, from book clubs to museum exhibits to plays to wine tastings. He was particularly happy with the plethora of live-music options since he’s a lifelong music fan. But he also didn’t really see any one spot where people could visit to get as full a picture as possible of their entertainment options.
So around four years ago, Bizzell put his decade-plus of professional experience with website and app creation and database management to create a new app, iOnGreenville. The app and website collect and format event information from all over the Upstate, from children’s events, concerts and scheduled food-truck locations to theater productions and local sporting events into easily accessible calendars.
“Our tagline is ‘The best of Greenville on your phone,’” Bizzell says. “I wanted to give people a space where they could find these events and enjoy them.”
Bizzell spends several hours every day looking at event schedules for venues, museums, theaters and more, and hand-curates a list that typically numbers over 100 events per day. In the case of the concerts, an iOn user has the option of hearing the music of the bands listed, which Bizzell says is crucial for smaller shows.
“If the group doesn’t have name recognition, the ability to hear them is a huge thing,” he says. “We don’t charge the bands to put anything on the app, we just want people to know what they’re doing.”
And after four years, the app is boasting some pretty impressive numbers.
“The app is used per month about 90,000 times,” he says. “The website’s up to 40,000, and with our social media pages, we’re at about a half-million impressions a month. It took off pretty quickly.”
And local businesses have noticed. The iOn platforms currently have sponsorship from an array of familiar area names, including the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Corley Plumbing, Priority One Security, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, the Children’s Museum and many more.
“Our partners pay to be on the app,” Bizzell says, “In return, we created a branded mini-app for each business on our app. These mini-apps contain complete information for each client and are an excellent marketing platform for these businesses. ”
In the last six months, Bizzell says, the numbers have exploded, partially from word of mouth from people happy with the app. “The web traffic is up 50% since January,” he says, still sounding a little surprised. “We’re experiencing huge growth.”
With huge growth, though, comes the need for more content.
“I want to continue to add content that has value,” he says, “to our sponsors and especially to everyone using the app.”
To that end, Bizzell brought on local music journalist Brett Barest (who’s worked with USA Today and the online Upstate arts magazine Fete Greenville) to write preview pieces about upcoming concerts. He’s also added a monthly “Upstate Dining” feature by noted author and chef John Malik.
“Brett Barest is just as committed as we are to these artists,” Bizzell says. “He brings a nice voice to what we do; he writes about shows you might not have heard of or shows by artists he loves. We’ve given him a lot of freedom to write what he wants, and I felt like it was a good way to go having someone come in to give background to who’s playing. I felt like it was the next logical step for iOnGreenville to take.”
The dining features by Chef Malik are designed to give people an inside look at the Upstate dining scene. In his first piece, for example, Malik profiled the culinary creativity on display at Greenville’s new Oak Hill Café.
“John’s extensive knowledge of cooking and the restaurant business in general should provide a very unique perspective for our readers,” Bizzell says.
And there’s more original content to come on the iOnGreenville app.
“I can judge what’s most popular on the app,” Bizzell says, “and the food trucks are immensely popular. So I wouldn’t mind having more content about them in the future.”
Bizzell has also been expanding iOn’s brand beyond the app recently by sponsoring local concerts. He’s been involved with the Albino Skunk Music Festival (a bi-annual music festival in Greer) for years, serving as a sponsor for their Skunk Patrick’s Day music festival. And he’s teamed with the Radio Room in Greenville to bring a New Jersey indie-rock band called The Happy Fits to the Greenville venue in April.
“We almost fell into it accidentally,” Bizzell says of the concert sponsorship. “We’ve been working with Albino Skunk Fest for awhile, and it started because I enjoy going to the festival so much. And I was a fan of The Happy Fits because I saw them at a small house show. When I saw that they were coming to Charlotte, I reached out to (Radio Room co-owner and booker) Wes Gilliam about bringing them here. I think it’s a natural outgrowth of what we’re about.”
As iOnGreenville expands and more people begin using the app, Bizzell says the challenge becomes keeping up with his own creation.
“It’s really exploded over the last six months, and I’m happy to say that,” he says, “but that also means that the onus is on us now to keep everything current. I have people I contract with, but it’s mostly me. So it’s a big job. The endgame is just to continue to build the product into the best it can be and make iOnGreenville the go to location for the best of Greenville.”