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updated: 5/1/2011 7:38 PM

Vernon Hills brings technology to the table

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  • Vernon Hills has installed display boards at its athletic complex that use QR, or quick response, codes to market restaurants in town. Users scan the code with a smartphone to get more information about dining options.

       Vernon Hills has installed display boards at its athletic complex that use QR, or quick response, codes to market restaurants in town. Users scan the code with a smartphone to get more information about dining options.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Smartphone users can scan a special code on signs posted at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex to receive information about 55 local restaurants.

       Smartphone users can scan a special code on signs posted at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex to receive information about 55 local restaurants.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Vernon Hills is using QR, or quick response, codes on five signs installed recently at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex to provide information about restaurants to smartphone users, particularly visitors from out of town.

       Vernon Hills is using QR, or quick response, codes on five signs installed recently at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex to provide information about restaurants to smartphone users, particularly visitors from out of town.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

Visitors to the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex can get a taste of local restaurants as part of a village initiative to market its menu of businesses and become more interactive.

Installed last week, five signs each carry the logos of 55 restaurants and corresponding QR, or quick response, codes -- the funky bar code-like symbols sprouting like dandelions in spring.

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Passers-by with smartphones can scan the code, use a free application and be directed to a "place page" on Google that provides basic information on the restaurant, such as location, directions and reviews.

The intent is to give visitors -- particularly out-of-towners in Vernon Hills for one of the many tournaments hosted at the facility -- a buffet of options.

"They are strategically placed within the complex itself," Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar said. "We tried to anticipate where parents and players would be walking so it would be easily viewable."

The idea originated with Will Rockwell, the village's GIS, or geographic information system, coordinator, who initially wanted to use QR codes for the ball fields because of the number of calls for directions received by staff.

"Then it kind of evolved into, 'Hey, while we're out there ... why don't we direct them to local businesses?'" he said. "It's a great way to put a tremendous amount of information in a very small space."

QR codes have become a ubiquitous marketing tool for a galaxy of products and services.

"We print them every day," said Jay Cash, proprietor of Sign-A-Rama in Libertyville, which printed the boards for Vernon Hills. "It's all over the spectrum. Six months from now, a year from now, it'll be second nature."

The reason is an increase in the use of smartphones, which currently is about a third of the phone market, according to Rockwell. He said he first saw a QR code about a year ago and thought it was a good idea, but the use of smartphones wasn't as pervasive. The percentage of smartphone users is expected to continue rising quickly.

"We may be a bit ahead of the curve, but I wanted to get it out and test it," Rockwell said.

This spring and summer, the village will assess interest to see how the technology may be deployed elsewhere.

"We want to see if people use it," Rockwell said.

It took him about two months to assemble the boards between other duties, with the most time spent securing permission to use the restaurant logos.

When complete, he sent a high-resolution PDF to Sign-A-Rama for printing at a cost of about $150 per board.

The use of QR codes is beginning to gain a foothold among public agencies. The Lake County Forest Preserve District has QR stickers that link to trail maps at selected locations, for example, and the Vernon Hills Park District is using the codes on promotional posters. A display for the Sullivan community center is in the works.

"I'm going to create a QR code for each of our (24) parks," said Cheryl Baron, the district's communications manager.

Baron said use of the codes was discussed recently by the communications and marketing group of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association.

"There are a handful of us who are starting it," she said.

Vernon Hills also will try another venue of pursuit, having ordered 10,000, two-sided pamphlets to replace the traditional paper folding maps available to visitors in hotels and other locations.

The centerpiece of the pamphlets will be a QR code connecting viewers to a to a "Shop Vernon Hills" website, allowing users to search for stores, restaurants, entertainment, hotels and other attractions.

"We've been trying to find different ways of promoting our businesses in the community," Kalmar said. "We hadn't been able to find a way to do that very coherently until the advent of the QR product."

The village also has opened a Facebook page as a "new level of communication with residents," Kalmar added.

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