If you can’t hand your friend a drink from down the bar, a local entrepreneur wants to let you send it from across the country.
Charlie Vecchio plans to launch GiftCaddies, an app that will allow users to remotely send friends and family members personalized redeemable gifts in October.
Vecchio is betting that the immediacy of an app coupled with the personal touch of giving a specific gift will lure users to GiftCaddies who might otherwise send a gift card or miss a gift-giving occasion entirely.
“Sending a gift card is very generic,” Vecchio said. “A $5 or $3 PBR has more sentimental value than a $10 or $15 gift card.”
Vecchio, 35, came up with the idea last June after a friend tried to buy a bottle of wine for him and his wife while they were eating dinner for their anniversary.
The restaurant wouldn’t take a payment over the phone, and Vecchio said everyone lost out: he and his wife didn’t get the wine, their friend couldn’t give a gift and the restaurant sold one less bottle.
The GiftCaddies app allows users to send an electronic voucher for items at businesses that buy into the GiftCaddies network. For $400 yearly fee, restaurants and other businesses can sign on to GiftCaddies and create a menu of items available for gifting.
Users would download the free app, select a friend from a social network or their cell phone contacts, pick a business and a menu item and buy the gift with tip and tax included. The app then sends the gift to the recipient.
The recipient does not need the GiftCaddies app to receive a gift but will need to download it to redeem the voucher. When the giver makes the purchase, the money goes to GiftCaddies, which keeps a 10 percent cut on the sale and distributes the rest to its vendors on a monthly basis.
So far, Vecchio has pitched the plan to about 45 different businesses. That includes about 25 or so restaurants and a number of golf courses, day spas, hair studios and other businesses. Vecchio said the company has secured several letters of interest from vendors that want to sign on when the app launches, including Richmond restaurant The Halligan Bar.
Vecchio hopes the company may also bring independent artists and merchants who will set up their own online store on the platform.
Vecchio said none of the companies he has approached have balked at the $400 price tag. He believes one of the draws will be a feature that posts the gifts to the recipient’s Facebook page once they’re redeemed, giving the restaurant or vendor the potential to have its name in front of all the recipient’s friends.
Restaurants are also interested in upsell potential, Vecchio said. The restaurant is taking only a 10 percent hit on a promotion of its choice, but the customer gets a free item and may be more likely to then buy something else at full price.
“If somebody sends a $10 martini, most likely people aren’t going to go in, have a drink and leave,” Vecchio said. “They’ll more likely say ‘Well I got a drink, I might as well have dinner as well.’”
Vecchio has invested about $100,000 of his own money into the project and recently brought on marketing firm the West Cary Group as an investor. West Cary Group is building and helping market the GiftCaddies app.
Vecchio is an upstate New York native and has an MBA from Syracuse University. GiftCaddies will be his second startup. He previously launched and eventually sold an advertising firm in South Carolina before moving onto sales and marketing jobs at AT&T’s Yellow Pages.com, LivingSocial and MSpark.
Working out of its office in Glen Allen, GiftCaddies will launch first in Richmond, Virginia Beach and Washington D.C. Vecchio has two other fulltime employees.
Vecchio does not plan to expand his business operations beyond those three markets on his own.
If GiftCaddies takes off locally, he’ll try to work a deal with a larger existing company to put the app on its distribution channels. Vecchio said that could push GiftCaddies into hundreds of new markets in a shorter period of time.
The endgame, he hopes, will be selling GiftCaddies to a tech giant for both the product itself and the consumer data the company will pick up.
“The data we collect after two years will be more valuable than the revenue, or anything else we generate,” he said. “That’s, say, 5 million people that you know where they eat, where they drink – companies pay millions of dollars for that information.”