Fast-growing AppSuite helps restaurants build customer loyalty

In the third floor executive suite of the One Boca Place business complex is the 700-square-foot room where you’ll find Jim Daleen’s latest business operation.

The 53-year-old AppSuite co-founder’s desk is one of six tucked into the office, where cubicle partitions give an illusion of privacy.

Papers and desserts cover two desks by the door, a black mini-fridge sits on a corner desk, and in the adjacent corner a TV rests atop a platform Daleen built with his son, Patrick, the company’s 22-year-old vice president of product management.

Acrylic trophies from past business milestones cover Daleen’s own desk, but he’ll tell you he prefers the family photos adorning his share of wall space.

A self-described entrepreneur, Daleen said his two-year-old phone app company is growing too fast to expect operations to run from this room for more than another year.

Aimed at the restaurant industry, AppSuite’s service combines all the tools restaurants use to advertise specials and events and analyze customer demographics into one comprehensive content management system.

Restaurants use the system to make apps — downloadable programs for smart phones — that show basic information, such as menu items and directions, and encourage patrons to share their experiences on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, and to return to the establishment to redeem deals. Daleen calls it building customer loyalty.

The coding is done by six programmers in Ukraine, and the Boca Raton office handles design and testing, Daleen said.

Almost 200 restaurants use AppSuite’s service, and Daleen expects more to follow after the company’s trip to the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, where the CEO and chairman was born and raised.

Daleen said he tried not to get lost among the tens of thousands of people gathered May 18-21 at the McCormick Place. AppSuite manned a booth in the center’s third-level north hall, handing out packages of minty company-brand gimmick gum and promoting the company to hundreds of restaurant owners.

One of the company’s biggest success stories so far is Rum Barrel in Key West, Patrick Daleen said. The restaurant’s app has been downloaded nearly 10,000 times.

“We’ve got the right solution at the right time,” Jim Daleen said. “We’ve brought together all the puzzle pieces for what a restaurant needs.”

“This is a game changer,” he said. “It sounds basic, but this is transformational stuff.”

Todd Herbst, an owner of Big Time Restaurant Group, said all nine of the Delray Beach-based group’s restaurants use AppSuite’s product.

Daleen’s service is simple to use at a reasonable price and has grown to offer clients more control over customization, Herbst said.

Though it’s difficult to measure the app’s success in numbers, he said allowing restaurants to connect with customers is an important feature. If he wants to promote a special at Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar, for example, customers who allow the setting will hear their phones beep with the offer.

“Awareness is so much a part of marketing,” he said. “And there’s definitely more awareness of our brands because of this app.”

Daleen came up with the idea from his own restaurant experience. In 2005, he co-founded Louie’s Pizza in Lake Geneva, Wisc., and learned no feasible way to measure customer loyalty existed.

Turning to the app market came from personal interest in technology and nearly 25 years in the software development industry.

He realized he had a natural gift for databases and coding while running an electrical construction company in Chicago, moving on in 1989 to found the company that would become Daleen Technologies.

The ’90s were a stressful time for his software company, Daleen said. He and his family moved to Florida and he worked in a small, AppSuite-sized office in Deerfield Beach. He navigated the company through the early 2000s recession before a private equity firm bought it. Daleen left in 2002, and Technologies is now part of the Windstream Corporation network communications provider.

Daleen became CEO for Affinity Express Inc., leaving in 2007 soon after the print and online marketing company was bought for about $30 million.

He left his CEO position with CPG Solutions to work his current job full time after an acquisition of the technology consulting company concluded on Jan. 31.

His concern now is about the looming competition to AppSuite’s service — social networks, point of sale system vendors and others are entering his niche. But first comes improving the apps and customer service. Daleen is developing his service’s takeout delivery technology, and he wants to hire more sales agents.

Restaurateurs understand they needs apps, but are generally too busy and not technologically savvy enough to create one on their own time, Daleen said. That’s where AppSuite comes in.

“They need help, and they need it from a helpful partner,” he said.

“We don’t want to just sell them an app and software,” he said. “We want to make a longterm relationship with these people.”

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