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If you buy local and you know it, use this app

Chambers of commerce from across the Brainerd lakes area united in 2015 to form the Lakes Proud initiative, which aims to get people shopping locally. On Monday, the Lakes Proud App was debuted at Roundhouse Brewery in Brainerd, one of the initial business participants in the app system.

After users download the app, they can type in a unique PIN number at any of a number of local business. When they post photos to their social media from the business and give it a shoutout, they earn points in the app—redeemable for Lakes Proud merchandise, such as wristbands and hoodies.

Seth Neistadt joined the Brainerd Lakes Chamber in January, and is now the vice president. He developed the app earlier this year, manipulating lines of code himself, while a chamber task force worked on the what the app should look like to user and how the interface would work. When meeting to work on the app, the chamber used “wire frame” drawings, or sketches of what the app would look like, Neistadt said. Development to the beta (testing) stage took about four months, he said.

The chamber developers debated whether or not to have the check-in system operate via geolocators like Swarm or Foursquare, Neistadt said. However, they eventually opted to instead go with a PIN entry system to prove a user was at a business, since it wasn’t certain a particular user would enable his or her phone’s GPS to work with the app. They also considered letting each business offer its own loyalty program and reward merch instead of just the Lakes Proud items, but decided against that since it would be too complex, Neistadt said.

The app is already live on the Android platform, but Neistadt is still working on getting approval from Apple for it to be available in their app store, he said.

Businesses can pay the chamber for special prominence in the app: $25 per year allows a full color business logo to be displayed rather than a simple listing and $50 per year gets a business multiple photos as well as a link to its website. Another option lets them pay $50 a year for them to have a deal of the month, where a coupon for their business is displayed and can change monthly. Finally, business users can pay $100 to stake out a particular month where they’ll be exclusively featured on the app home page.

Business owners are already clamoring to have their company names in the app and pick out which months they get special attention, Neistadt said. During the unveiling party at Roundhouse, a florist whipped out a wad of cash to reserve his place right then and there as the rest of the crowd looked on and laughed.

There’s a weakness in the app’s design, however: users can type in a single code from one business an unlimited amount of times, so theoretically a user could visit one business and get all the points (and free stuff) they want. Neistadt said he and the chamber are well aware of the dynamic.

“There was a lot of thought put into that,” he said. “It wasn’t something we could avoid, because … if we went (geolocator), not everybody could use it.”

However, the system is also designed so that simply entering in the business PIN number grants just one point to the user. In order to gain any significant amount of points per check-in, the user has to also share the check-in on social media and share a photo. A user trying to cheat and get 100 points—worth a Lakes Proud wrist-band—would have to pay a stiff price anyway, Neistadt said.

“It’s literally going to take you 100 check-ins to game the system,” Neistadt said. “So we felt that if you’re going to invest enough time to check in 100 times, you’ve earned a wristband.”

Another thing—wouldn’t it be easier to just buy the Lakes Proud merch outright, rather than checking in on an app a bunch of times?

“Some will, some won’t,” Neistadt said. “We think that … the kids in high school, that like to eat at Tim Horton’s or Cherry Berry—all the businesses that have kid-friendly products—I think it’s going to be a great thing for them, because they all can’t afford hoodies and hats.”

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