Wheeling-based Lund Industries Inc. wanted to explore whether a mobile application would attract customers and boost sales, or at least help market the maker of public safety equipment for vehicles.
Owner Paul Lundberg and son Mike Malec, who handles sales and marketing, started tooling around on websites that offer free apps with co-branding or free trials. Some include AppsBar.com, Conduit.com and Google Apps.
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But they're still trying to determine if it would benefit the business, he said.
"Some apps can cost between $5,000 to $50,000 and we just want to see if it's worth it or not," Malec said.
They aren't alone. Other suburban business owners and chamber executives have been exploring or launching their own mobile applications. The questions they raise now are similar to those they raised just a few years ago on whether to launch a website on the Internet, experts said.
This time, instead of a website on a large computer screen, business owners are considering a new technology that offers smartphone and tablet users a chance to access information quickly and concisely anywhere and at any time. It's also more complex, since app designers offer an array of designs for any platform, including Google Android smartphones, Apple iPhone or iPad, or RIM's Blackberry.
Business leaders need to consider whether the app will just offer a smaller version of their website, become interactive and push out messages and coupons, or provide videos to engage customers. Others might want the app to ease the duties of a mobile workforce, experts said.
"It can be a turning point for an organization," said Michael Klynstra, marketing director for Oakbrook Terrace-based Geneca LLC.
Geneca has worked on apps as part of an overall solution for several business customers, including Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research firm. Geneca also helped develop one for Barrington-based Page Foundry, which provides mobile apps and services for digital content that enable publishers, wireless operators, tablet and smartphone manufacturers to sell eBooks and audio books directly to their customers.
Klynstra said apps could be as simple as providing a condensed version of the company's website or as complex as offering features, including a surveillance camera, push-messages, videos and others. Costs can range from $1,000 to $100,000 or more.
And it isn't always easy to determine whether the time and money invested in the app is worth it, since there is no data clearinghouse that monitors those successes or failures.
About two months ago, the Western DuPage Chamber of Commerce, which includes Warrenville, West Chicago and Winfield, launched its own app provided by the chamber's website developer. It highlights membership dues, the membership directory, upcoming events and coupons.
"We honestly do not have any solid data yet as to its effectiveness. However, we have seen an increase of traffic to our website," said Wayne Lofton Jr., vice president of marketing and technology for the Western DuPage Chamber.
Monthly traffic on the chamber's website has increased by 4.6 percent with unique visits, he said.
"Our website has an integrated statistics page that rates many different statistics, such as unique visits, search engine results, time spent on page and time of day breakdowns," he said.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce might soon launch its free app through Ora Interactive and have it available via the Apple App Store. Anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad could download and use it, said Ora Interactive founder and CEO Mike Kelly.
Ora has done apps for a number of Chicago businesses and organizations, including The Field Museum, Yield Technologies, Chambers Business Suites, Four Corners Tavern Group, The Lax Shop, National Collegiate Scouting Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association.
"Honestly, an app isn't for every business," said Kelly. "If you're doing an app just to do an app, you probably won't see much of a return on your investment. However, if a mobile application is a sincere part of your marketing strategy and creates value for your consumers, mobile can be an incredible place for your business to be."
Apps are always on, always connected, and a mobile device is the most personal connecting point where you can reach your consumer, Kelly said.
"Mobile isn't going anywhere," Kelly said. "In fact, it will only become increasingly integrated into the purchasing habits of your consumers."
Steve Sampson, an Arlington Heights-based app designer who has created apps for Peggy Kinnane's Irish Restaurant and Pub in Arlington Heights and others, said apps also can track the number of downloads, but not necessarily whether the user actually looks at the site.
"What drives a customer to use your app is the likability factor. Many people download the app because they like your business," Sampson said.
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