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Local businesses use iPhone apps to increase revenue

While big brands have been investing in the iPhone applications bonanza for some time, now local businesses and franchisees are reaching Apple consumers with apps of their own.

Salons, restaurants, automotive dealerships including Toyota of Waterford, MI, Honda of Stevens Creek, CA, and Robert Lane Honda in Australia, Goodyear Tires franchisee S & S Tire & Automotive Service of Sunnyvale, CA, Century 21, Re/Max, Keller Williams and Coldwell Banker realtors, SKBK Sotheby's, Florida Aquarium of Tampa, Prudential Florida, Subway of Henderson, NV, and Budget Inn of Hayward, CA, have all tapped MobileAppLoader to launch iPhone applications.

"We're building mobile applications for small businesses, which is a very easy way to for them to get a presence on the iPhone," said Zvika Ashkenazi, founder/CEO of MobileAppLoader, Cupertino, CA. "As far as strategy, a mobile application is now like a Web site -- if you don't have an iPhone app, you don't exist.

"I'm here in the industry saying everyone should have a mobile application and no one should ask why," he said. "People are searching the App Store like they're searching Google these days."
Apple iPhone users are a coveted demographic that brands are actively targeting.

"Consumers self-select themselves by buying an iPhone -- by definition they become target consumers because they are savvy enough to go get an iPhone," Mr. Ashkenazi said.

MobileAppLoader charges $49.99 to set up the application, plus a monthly fee of $4.99 for maintenance of the app. Many businesses are finding that those price points still allow them to come out well ahead after all is said and done.

"We ensure that each app works with the new iPhone3.0 OS and supports any requirement or change that Apple poses for those applications," Mr. Ashkenazi said.

Automotive iPhone app use-cases include offering consumers mobile coupons as part of CRM/loyalty programs. Toyota of Waterford has run loyalty programs using mobile coupons.

Robert Lane Honda includes branding images of the dealership and cars that it offers within its app. The app lets consumers call or email the dealership or get directions via Google Maps with a single tap.

The apps from Honda of Stevens Creek and S & S Tire & Automotive Service offer the same functionality.

Honda of Stevens Creek also lets iPhone consumers request an appointment using a form to send an email. App users can also get coupons and special offers and browse the dealership's Web site.

A loan calculator feature lets consumers figure out their monthly payment for their new car. There is also a special ?Call Immediately' button.

"We enable one-touch calling from the app, so their handset is converted into a speed dial to the dealership," Mr. Ashkenazi said. "There is a feature for people who get lost, so they can get directions to the dealership using GPS-enabled Google Maps."

Restaurants and salons typically offer such services as a tip calculator, in addition to call buttons and offering specials and driving directions. There is also a button to browse the business's Web site.

Some restaurants put a call-to-action near the on-site menu to promote their iPhone app.

"Using the iPhone is the fastest way to make a reservation for services, because consumers can just click on the time," Mr. Ashkenazi said. "You don't have to type in your email address or phone number, because it's sent automatically.

"A person can accomplish that much faster using an app and each business can customize the experience," he said. "We use the same reservation form for hair salons, electricians, mechanics and restaurants."

The apps can also connect to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to make campaigns viral.

The majority of MobileAppLoader clients are local branches of real estate companies. These apps offer Call, Web and Email buttons, property search functionality, including property feedback from consumers, general information about the business and a loan calculator.

"We've created more than 100 applications for real estate agents, letting consumers contact the agent and report back with which properties and neighborhoods they're most interested in," Mr. Ashkenazi said.

One of the most popular functions within the applications has been the mobile coupons feature, which is becoming a go-to mobile marketing tactic.

"Instead of going to Web site of dealership or other business and printing it out, which wastes ink and paper, the coupon is within the app itself, so it's a very green way of doing things," Mr. Ashkenazi said. "Brands are mainly relying on word of mouth to promote these apps, with some in-store signage.

"There are a lot of examples of small business developing apps," he said. "It's not an exclusive club anymore, because we are enabling any business, large or small, to have an iPhone application."