A chance meeting in 2015 between Locally Epic founder Chase Michaels and what he thought was a random person handing him a business card at the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce has positioned the area-specific marketing tech startup for an expansion Michaels couldn’t have foreseen.
That random person turned out to be Dave Ropes, a marketing expert with quite the resume.
Ropes is a former senior vice president at Reebok. There, he oversaw the Reebok pump campaign and developed the “Dan and Dave” campaign, featuring decathletes Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson, for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He’s also a former vice president of marketing and advertising for Ford, the former Pizza Hut marketing and advertising head who led the personal pan pizza campaign, and vice president of advertising for Pepsi.
Now living in the Hilton Head area, Ropes signed on as Locally Epic’s chief marketing officer on Dec. 21, 2015, six months after he and Michaels first met at Peaceful Henry’s in Bluffton, S.C., to discuss the Greenville-based locally targeted marketing firm.
“I don’t smoke, nor do I drink, but that day I smoked cigars and drank Scotch,” Michaels says. “I’m tellin’ you, it killed me.”
But it was worth it.
“I really learned more in that four hours about marketing and branding and advertising than I’d learned in 30 years as a small-business guy,” Michaels says.
The two developed a mentorship that led to Ropes’ asking to join the company, whether Michaels could pay him or not.
“I was a redneck with a little money and a great idea,” Michaels says.
Ropes’ contribution, and, quite frankly, his Rolodex, has helped expand Michaels’ original city-by-city plan for the mobile app. On July 24, Locally Epic will officially roll out after months of beta testing.
Locally Epic is a software as a service (SaaS) mobile application that uses geofence and GPS technologies to connect local businesses with potential customers in the immediate area. It is also available online. It beta tested in the Greenville area last fall after beta testing in Myrtle Beach in 2016 under the name Deals on the GOGO.
It works by using push notifications that alert a user to deals at businesses within a predetermined radius, often within two to three miles. Businesses can create marketing initiatives from their dashboards, push the offer for a determined amount of time, and then track the actual number of people who respond to their marketing efforts. Consumers, in turn, get only offers relevant to their location.
The business currently employs seven staff members — six on the development team in Philadelphia and Indianapolis, and a CIO, Michele Minor.
As a small-business owner who grew up in Nebraska but has lived most of his adult life in South Carolina or Florida, Michaels had always been frustrated with the numbers he was given from various media advertising platforms.
“We spent a lot of money with advertising, and there was no way to measure any return,” he says. “The newspaper would tell us there were 300,000 people who got the Sunday paper, but could never tell us how many people literally picked it up, went to page 37, saw my ad, and through the call to action came into my business. It was a real frustration to be paying for something that there was no way to measure the success of it.”
Michaels said once he saw that businesses and consumers were going to latch on to the mobile platform, he decided in 2010 while living in Lake Mary, Fla., to create a way to measure that rate of return and also communicate with consumers in real time when they’re nearby and ready to buy.
“We really feel that money that’s made in the local economy should be spent in the local economy,” Michaels says.
That led to the development of Deals on the GOGO in the Myrtle Beach area. Michaels says that launch was to determine the habits of tourists in a local economy. The app was rebranded as Locally Epic before its testing in Greenville, where it will officially launch and serve as a model for future sites.
From the October 2016 beta launch until it shut down in March, a little more than 18,000 users downloaded the app with around 100 businesses on the platform. The local Papa John’s franchise group, Perfect Delivery Inc., gave away free large pizzas for each download during special events. Downloads also came from halftime show promotions at local sports events.
Many of the businesses signing on during the beta came from partnerships with the Swamp Rabbits hockey team, who promoted the app’s use to their vendors, and the Fountain Inn and Simpsonville chambers of commerce. Members of those two chambers receive a special rate to use the platform. Michaels hopes to bring other Upstate chambers onboard in an effort to reach more businesses than he could individually.
By the end of the year, using the plan Ropes helped create, Michaels says he hopes to have 500 businesses in the Upstate and 50,000 users.
The current growth plan is to license the use of the Locally Epic app in different markets with separate companies owning those. Though Michaels planned to grow city by city, starting in the Southeast, companies in Canada and France have already approached them about launching in those markets. Hispanic radio network HRN is working with them to launch a Spanish version of the app in Miami.
The app has continued to evolve with feedback from the testing period. When it re-launches, it will include a My Schools section for schools to use to get information immediately to students, free use by nonprofits to promote their events and volunteer needs, and customer loyalty programs.