News from Digital Main Street

Toronto’s A-Game Café thrives off the interplay between nostalgia and technology

Andrew Seale | March 6, 2017

Derek Fung knew nostalgia would be a factor in getting people through the door of A-Game Café, but keeping current with social media has proved just as vital to bringing customers into the board game café.

“It’s the bridge that makes it accessible to a larger audience than we would be able to get just by standing on the street saying ‘hey guys, do you play board games? Come check us out,’ ” says the entrepreneur. “It can give you a couple seconds out of somebody’s day that they wouldn't normally give you because a picture drew their interest.”

And it’s critical for drawing those customers into the space to play some of A-Game’s more than 300 games, especially given the cafés inconspicuous position on the second floor of a restaurant across from the attention-seeking Much Music building on Queen. Derek, who opened the board game café with his brother Gary in May last year, has even tried to expand the ties between the online community through Facebook, Meetup and more recently, a custom customer engagement and mobile payment app developed by Toronto-based ReUp

 With only 12 tables, it’s a relatively small space often filled with regulars, paying $3.50 an hour to play or $7 for the whole evening.

 “The social aspect is what keeps people coming back,” he says. They’ve only been testing ReUp, which allows customers to add credit to their accounts and pay through their phones, for a month but it’s just one in a suite of digital tools the café has embraced.

 “We use an iPad for point of sale – TouchBistro,” he says. “We're part of WorkPerks too, (a program that) offers discounts for different businesses around the city.”

 The program, powered by Venngo, gives discounts to employees at places like CIBC, bringing them through the door. In return, Derek can offer the same discounts to his own employees at other businesses. “It’s kind of this cool thing where you have big companies and the banks doing it and I’m able to offer the same discounts to my four employees.”

It’s funny testing out all these technologies admits, Derek, given that the nature of the place is offering an unplugged social alternative for an increasingly plugged-in society.

“Here, you rarely see people on their phones,” says Derek. “It’s a lot more socializing, hanging out, laughing, being around each other, which is something I think we take for granted.”

 While keeping up with the technology carries its own set of challenges, both brothers find the pace of running a board game café more in line with what they’ve come to value about work. Derek has a background in finance while Gary spent the first part of his career in the food industry.

 “We jumped in quickly,” says Derek. But then again, the idea that they’re all in – playing the games with the regulars, teaching games to new customers or even just hanging out and chatting – all adds up to a unique experience akin to hanging out in somebody’s living room as opposed to going to a café.

 “For us the returning customers are what makes it more rewarding to us,” he says. As for the technology, that just helps to keep the curious coming through the door.

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PeopleFlow pilot keep tabs on returning shoppers in Bloor West Village

Andrew Seale | January 19, 2017

A day into PeopleFlow’s pilot run on Bloor West Village, David Howitt, chairman of the Business Improvement Area’s board and co-owner of Marlborough’s Stationery, was sifting through the data of local shoppers collected by the system. He called up Todd Lewis, president and CEO of the platform, which monitors and analyzes the movement of mobile devices within a given region.

“He said ‘hey, look, right in front of our store from six to seven your system says there’s a spike in traffic,’ ” says Todd. “So I looked into it.”

Sure enough, it showed a cluster of anonymous mobile devices in the area. So the next day, Marlborough’s stayed open an extra hour. They made an extra $200

“He had no idea,” says Todd. “It’s one of those things where you have these perceptions of what’s happening but when you have real data that’s recorded consistently it can give you a whole different perspective.”

The idea of collecting shopper data isn’t new – for years businesses have been asking consumers for their postal codes to see where they’re coming from. But PeopleFlow takes it a step beyond. It’s the sort of solution that could only exist at a time where Internet network infrastructure is improving and mobile devices proliferate.

Built by Todd’s geomatics technology company Spatial DNA, PeopleFlow is capable of treating a physical environment in the same way Google Analytics treats and collects data from a webpage. Consumers with mobile phones moving in and out of space are assigned anonymous identifiers then PeopleFlow pinpoints traffic flow patterns and users, like small brick and mortar businesses or B.I.A.’s, can get an idea of how often people are visiting and where they’re coming from.

Todd first brought the idea to Toronto B.I.A.’s in June 2015. They saw some interest, but it was hard to find a B.I.A. who wanted to move first. That is, until Todd connected with David at Bloor West Village.

“David at Bloor West prides himself on being the first mover on lots of things – they were the first B.I.A. in North America to adopt the technology,” says Todd.

They started rolling it out in August but realized quickly that there was no high-speed Internet infrastructure in the area. There was, however, a solar light system. So Todd and co. partnered up with Mississauga-based GenWave Technologies to overlay the Wi-Fi sensors and microwave relay network, piggybacking off the existing infrastructure. They went live two weeks later, just in time for the Ukrainian festival and had another chance to test it out during the Pumpkin festival in October.

“From a B.I.A. perspective, they’re doing marketing efforts and events… trying to figure out what the effectiveness of those events are,” he explains. “It’s one thing to draw people (but) do they come back to the area?”

In an area like Bloor West where segregated bike lanes have reshaped the flow of traffic, PeopleFlow has become a value tool for seeing what the longer-term effects – both good and bad – might be on the businesses. But Todd sees a future where businesses themselves start to adopt the technology or opt-in to the platform in order to garner some insight on who’s visiting the area and how to keep them there.

“(Some businesses) look at the solution like it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he says. But a lot of these solutions have fallen in cost and as Marlborough’s found out, the data pays for itself.

“It equates to one extra customer a month (to) pay for the solution,” he adds. “(PeopleFlow) quantifies everything so that they can make decisions based on what’s actually happening.”

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Page One Café and Bar

Turnstyle | December 18, 2016

Page One is a café and cocktail bar located in the heart of downtown Toronto and steps away from the local university campus.

While the guest Wi-Fi offered by Page One did a good job at attracting customers looking for internet access, they wanted to get more value out of it.

Page One Cafe and Bar Case Study Campaign Message

Page One decided to implement Turnstyle’s Wi-Fi marketing platform, which allowed them to easily gather customer data such as age and gender information, effortlessly build an email marketing list and automate email campaigns to get their customers to visit more frequently.

Wanting to inform customers about their upcoming game night, they created a real time Turnstyle campaign. The email marketing campaign instantaneously emailed customers as soon as they entered the venue and was a huge success.

See the campaign results and the impact on Page One’s business by downloading the case study:

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