You'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of local business paradise than on Andersonville's Clark Street. It's easy to roam from book-browsing at Women and Children First to Thai-iced-coffee-sipping at Kopi, but until now, the only perk to the Andersonville consumer has been the joy of the experience. Now, with the addition of a hyper-local rewards program called LoLo—short for “locals supporting locals”—what happens on Clark Street stays on Clark Street. Literally.
Matthew Simpson and Clark Harris developed LoLo after years working with local businesses and sensing a very serious problem with consumer attitudes: an obsession with deals and discounts. “We always felt that discount marketing was creating the wrong kind of consumer,” says Matthew. “It creates this true loyalty to discounts and deals and shifts loyalty away from merchants. We set out to change that paradigm.” LoLo is for shoppers who want to form relationships with their neighborhood stores, making it the opposite of a brand like, say, Groupon, whose customers are rabid for the lowest price out there. “Things like Groupon and cash back programs are creating this 'mercenary loyalty'—the second a better deal comes along, those customers will jump ship,” says Matthew. But how to fight against that mindset? The question was, according to Matthew, “Can we create a brand and product that conveys the message that local business is truly important to the foundation of this country? Can we shift consumer behavior and say, 'Let's not be loyal to discounts, let's be loyal to this merchant?'”
The concept is simple. “A consumer merely has to register their card with LoLo and then they just use it like normal,” says Matthew. “The merchant doesn't have to put in any new hardware, they don't have to train employees, they just operate like normal.” For every dollar spent at a participating business, a customer receives 5 percent back in LoDough (“local dollars”). When a customer tries a store for the first time, they get 10 percent back. And on certain days, LoDough rewards will double. But the twist is what makes LoLo special—you can rack up rewards at one participating local business and spend them at another one. In other words, the start-up is creating neighborhood loyalty, not just single-business loyalty.
LoLo began in Asheville, where shopping local is “ingrained in the DNA of the people,” and Andersonville is only their second location. Matthew and Clark ran into Jessica Hammer, the Director of Marketing at Andersonville's Chamber of Commerce, at a conference for sustaining local economies this summer. She told them she'd been looking for a program like LoLo for the past 4 to 5 years, and the rest is (recent) history. Today, 14 Andersonville businesses have partnered with LoLo, from Painted Light and Notice to Hamburger Mary's and Women & Children First. Right now, Andersonville's rewards are basic gift certificates, but next year, your LoDough will be able to buy you more unique rewards, such as experiences or special events—whatever the business wants to offer.
Matthew says they've been approached by different Chicago neighborhoods all over the city, though nothing is finalized yet. “We've been surprised by the unsolicited response,” he says.