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Walmart may have backed away from its small-store format but Target is forging ahead, opening four new small-format city stores this week.
Tijuana Flats, a parent company for Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex restaurants, has announced Larry Ryback as the new CEO, reporting to the company’s chairman of the board and partner at AUA Private Equity Partners, Steven Flyer. Larry brings with him more than 25 years of demonstrated success in growth-oriented, leading restaurant brands.Chains: Tijuana Flats
Freshii, a leading health-casual restaurant franchise, has selected OneMethod as its first digital and social agency of record. Freshii has challenged the creative shop to produce memorable content that people will talk about on its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts while elevating the fresh food concept’s digital footprint globally. With their finger on the food culture pulse, OneMethod plans to utilize Freshii’s brand power to generate a strong following and build up the brand in international markets.Chains: Freshii
Checkers and Rally’s are now offering new Kool-Aid Slushies. The icy treats launched in May 2016 as part of the new Chill Stop frozen beverage menu. Available in Tropical Punch and Blue Raspberry, two favorite flavors from the second best-selling powdered drink brand,the drinks are available nationwide at $1.79 for a 16-ounce cup and $2.29 for 20 ounces.Chains: Checkers/Rally's
Noodles & Company announced that Victor R. Heutz has been named to the position of Chief Operations Officer. Heutz will be responsible for leading Noodles & Company’s cross-functional teams in day-to-day operations, strategic planning, and guest service. He will report directly to chairman and CEO Kevin Reddy.Chains: Noodles & Company
Picture this: you start your computer and wait. And wait. And wait some more. When your desktop finally shows its face, things don’t get any better. Your Internet is sluggish, your programs are taking forever to load, and your cursor is dragging 20 seconds behind your mouse. You might have tried to open too many programs at once. Or. . .
You might be infected.
Sometimes a malware infection is plain as day. Other times it’s a silent killer. If you want to know whether or not your machine is sick, you first need to understand the symptoms. So let’s take a look at the telltale signs.Blatant Signs of Infection You’ve Got Ransomware
This one’s the most obvious. Ransomware authors want to make it perfectly clear that you have a malware infection—that’s how they make their money. If you’ve got ransomware, you’ll get a pop-up that tells you your files have been encrypted and there’s a deadline to pay a ransom in order to get them back.
If you haven’t seen scads of people near you seemingly chasing figments of their imagination down sidewalks, through public parks, or — let’s hope this isn’t the case — into traffic, you’ve likely heard of Pokemon Go.
Chances are, you’re currently at the stage where if someone drops a Pokemon reference near you, you laugh to appear hip and with it but you, in reality, still have no idea what anyone is talking about or what the fuss is all about.
The last time you heard of Pokemon — if ever — was like 15 years ago, right?
No worries, though. Presumably about half or more of the adult world — and probably even fewer small business owners — know what Pokemon Go is, so here’s a primer on how it works and a bit about how it can potentially benefit your small business now and in the future.What is Pokemon?
Would you believe this all started 20 years ago? That’s when the first two Pokemon (pronounced POKEY-mahn) video games were released for the Nintendo Gameboy. The franchise has developed in so many ways since that first release and despite dips in popularity worldwide, still remains a phenomenon, for lack of a better phrase.
In Pokemon, humans known as Pokemon Trainers collect these fictional characters known as Pokemon — done so with PokeBalls — all in an effort to fight them against other Pokemon collected by rivals.
Winners are determined by how Pokemons’ powers stack up against each other.
That’s probably all you — as a small business owner and non-aspiring Pokemon Trainer — need to know, and probably then some.What is Pokemon Go?
On July 6 in the U.S., the developers Niantic and The Pokemon Company released a new mobile app for Android and iOS, Pokemon Go.
For Pokemon-ers, it has been a cause for elation. For small business owners (and really, business owners in general), there is definitely room to ride this fad’s coattails for a bit. It’s also a chance to see augmented reality in a popularly consumed form and begin thinking of how you can apply similar concepts to your business and its mobile app(s).
The premise of Pokemon Go is the same as the original games, only it’s all done virtually with your smartphone. Load up the app, create an avatar (you, as the Pokemon Trainer) and voila! You are staring at your screen as you watch your little Pokemon character traverse the same ground you are, searching for virtual Pokemon in the wild.
If you haven’t heard by now, everyone’s doing this. Well, maybe not you but everyone else surely is! It’s the most popular mobile app download of all time already. It topped Candy Crush!How Does It Work?
You’re seeing people face-down at their phones wandering the streets, sometimes in groups, because they’re playing Pokemon Go.
Of course, this is causing all sorts of problems. It’s not bad enough with people looking down at their phones already … here comes something even more phone-centric!
When playing the game, you look constantly at your screen and Pokemon will appear on it as if they’re right there in front of you in real life. The app uses your phone’s camera and gyroscope, among other technologies, to show images of Pokemon in front of you superimposed over the real landscape seen though your phone.
It’s your goal to capture these Pokemon, collect them, and then come together with other Trainers to do battle against other factions within the game. There are three factions … but none of that is really important to this discussion.
As a small business owner, you can see the social engagement factor here. Not only are people connected via one app but they’re also coming together in real life, interacting with their surroundings. If you had to score its socially engaging qualities from 1-10, you’d have to give it an 11.How Your Business Can Benefit from Pokemon Go PokeStops and Pokemon Gyms
There are two central hubs within the game, PokeStops and Pokemon Gyms. While it’s hard to actually become one of these spots as a business, there are ways of benefiting from your proximity to them.
A PokeStop is a central hub where Pokemon Trainers can get items to be used in the game. Pokemon Gyms are where Pokemon Trainers gather to battle their collected Pokemon.
Again, these PokeStops and Pokemon Gyms are generally located in public spots and civic or community hubs, not often at individual businesses. Think: statues, libraries, train stations, fountains, lakes, gazebos, etc.
Of course, you can always apply to have your business or something near you listed as a PokeStop, but so far, getting these requests through to Niantic, the app developer, has proven futile.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Your business’s proximity to a PokeStop could be a boon to you, too. There are already scads of reports of businesses near PokeStops seeing an increase in foot traffic and sales.
The fad has even prompted Yelp to display if a business on its site is located anywhere near a PokeStop.Pokemon Lures
This is probably the most direct way of potentially directing foot traffic to your business via the Pokemon Go app.
The premise sounds a lot like fishing (the hook-line-sinker variety, not the nefarious form that starts with a ph-) and that’s because it kinda/sorta is.
Setting Pokemon Lures requires you to actually get into the Pokemon Go game. And then you’ll need to make at least one in-app purchase and then a little real-time marketing, like on social media for sure.
By casting a Pokemon Lure ($1.99 per through in-app purchase) near a PokeStop, you’ve suddenly become a font for Pokemon for the next 30 minutes. If the game is as popular in your community as it seems to be just about everywhere, expect people to come near your lure looking to catch some Pokemon.
Antique shop owners or purveyors of any fragile merchandise: You may want to give this marketing trend a second thought, sorry!
On the other hand, if you run a coffee shop or eatery, rejoice! Just imagine a gaggle of bleary eyed, hungry Pokemon Trainers stumbling into your establishment. Then imagine them deciding they are in desperate need of caffeine or food — or both — before continuing on their quest.
So, that’s Pokemon Go in a nutshell (or in a Pokemon Ball, for the sake of this discussion!) It’s new (to a degree), it’s interactive in an entirely different way the you may be used to seeing. It’s wildly popular. It’s not THAT confusing (albeit a bit odd and sophomoric) and YOU can benefit from it as a small business owner.
One day, Pokemon Go will probably be Pokemon Gone, but this app will likely have changed how your customers are using their smartphones and engaging with the surroundings and communities by then.
A practical spin on this concept that can be applied to your small business and your mobile app is probably not that far away.
Pokemon Go Photo via Shutterstock, Other Images: Google, Yelp, Niantic
This article, "What Is Pokemon Go and Why Your Small Business Can’t Afford to Miss This Trend?" was first published on Small Business Trends
Fast food giant McDonald's is selling a new "Texas" burger until September 5. The burger, called the Lone Star Stack, was conceived by a Houstonian named Joseph Pena and the winning entry in a recent Burger Showdown competition sponsored by McDonald's.
Hiring an assistant or receptionist can provide a big boost for small business productivity. But some businesses just don’t have the resources to bring on full time staff members to cover those duties. That’s where Conversational comes in.
The company has a staff of full time assistants and receptionists who can work for a variety of different businesses virtually. Read about Conversational and the story behind the business in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.What the Virtual Staffing Service Does
Provides virtual receptionist and assistant services.
Marketing Director Debra Carpenter told Small Business Trends, “We’re virtual receptionist and virtual assistant providers for small businesses and startups. We’re 100 percent North American based and employ all our virtual receptionists and assistants in-house, full-time.”Business Niche
Carpenter says, “We’re proud to be the leaders in the pricing department — we offer lower price-per-minute than any of the other five major virtual receptionist providers.”
From a desire to help small businesses.
Carpenter explains, “Our founder wanted to make it possible to get receptionist services without requiring a full-time hire or in-house help. A need that grew into an offering is how Stephanie [founder and owner Stephanie Schoolfield] created Conversational.”Biggest Risk
Bringing on remote hires.
Carpenter says, “Everyone works in-house with the exception of a few, so we wanted to be sure we could handle a distributed team before bringing on full-time remote employees. It ended up being a great decision.”How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000
Hiring more receptionists and virtual assistants.
Carpenter says, “The ability to take on more clients would be amazing.”Communication Methods
Team apps and parties.
Carpenter says, “We work from an office, but have several remote employees, so we use Pidgin and Slack to communicate. Our in-house staff throws themed parties whenever possible — the last theme was 1920’s flappers!”
I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.Favorite Quote
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” -C.S. Lewis
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Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program
First image: (Back row) Kelsey Doucette – Virtual Assistant, Cindy Lee – Quality Assurance Manager, Sara Brehaut – Virtual Receptionist, Tanya Lamont – CEO, Tawnya Thompson – Operations and Sales Manager; (Front row) Jenna Thomson – Virtual Receptionist, Nancy Craig – Virtual Receptionist, Crystal Verhulp – Virtual Receptionist; Second image: Crystal Verhulp – Virtual Receptionist, Tanya Lamont – CEO (daughter Layne in front), Tawnya Thompson – Operations and Sales Manager, Nancy Craig – Virtual Receptionist, Jenna Thomson – Virtual Receptionist (Daughter, Josie); Third image: Kelsey Doucette – Virtual Assistant, Tanya Lamont – CEO, Cindy Lee – Quality Assurance Manager, Tawnya Thompson – Operations and Sales Manager, Crystal Verhulp – Virtual Receptionist
This article, "Spotlight: Need a Virtual Staffing Service? Try Conversational" was first published on Small Business Trends
Artificial intelligence has come a long way in the past couple of years — and its practical applications are staggering. But to some small business owners, A.I. may still be just a concept out of sci-fi that conjures up terrifying images of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator.”
Thanks to the surging popularity of chatbots, the idea is starting to seem a little less scary.
Chatbots have been around for decades, but companies are only now beginning to exploit the technology from a business point-of-view. Just as a robot may simulate all or part of the actions o a human being, a chatbot is essentially a bit of interface software designed to simulate human conversation. Thanks to a few clever coding tricks, chatbots are able to pick up on linguistic ques in the responses from users and begin to learn.
The more a chatbot communicates with a particular user, the more it is able to pick up on language patterns, topics of interest and more in order to respond accordingly.What is a Chatbot and How They Work?
Upon first glance, it may seem like chatbots are just a silly way for users to fritter away an afternoon engaged in a fake conversation. But the truth is, they can actually be incredibly useful in streamlining various tasks.
The better chatbots are plugged into a number of data resources via pre-programmed protocols. This means they are able to deliver information or services on demand — like breaking news stories, cinema times or other pertinent information based on a users preferences. Because chatbots are designed to absorb user information and preferences, they remember things. This means if you ask a chatbot what the weather is going to be like on Sunday afternoon, the program will already know your precise location and the level of detail you’re looking for.
More complex chatbots do not only draw upon multiple data sources in order to answer queries, but they can also aggregate multiple apps in order to perform relatively complicated tasks. A prime example is Assist’s local services chatbot. It leverages the combined power of completely different apps like Uber, OLSET and Eat24. which means you can order a taxi, make dinner reservations and book a hotel room all by sending a few lines of text to Assist via Facebook Messenger.
That makes life simple for users, and it also automatically provides business owners with plenty of new sales leads.How Can I Use a Chatbot for My Business?
Although some of the more high-tech chatbots are capable of providing some relatively high-level service, chatbots definitely are not for everyone. By and large, chatbots are going to be most useful for retailers or service providers dealing with regular and frequent orders. That might include small media outlets, restaurants, information hubs or digital retailers.
One of the reasons that chatbots can be so instrumental for smaller businesses is because they can vastly reduce the amount of time staff members must spend answering frequently asked questions that could be delaying a purchasing decision online. Bearing that in mind, small businesses operating out of virtually any industry could benefit from investing in a simple chatbot that is programmed to relay information from various FAQ or blog pages.
Not only do basic functions like this free up your time, but they also help to forge a sense of brand loyalty — so long as everything is working properly.How Do I Create a Chatbot?
If you’re keen to explore how you might be able to deploy a basic chatbot on your company website, there are a few resources worth checking out.
If you already know a little bit about coding and would like to try to create your own chatbot, The Pandorabots Playground is a free and user-friendly development area designed to help businesses create chatbots with loads of different features.
That being said, the team at Pandorabots also works with companies in order to produce chatbots based on their specific requirements. Other chatbot services like nanorep work with businesses to produce relatively simple — but, according to the company, effective A.I. solutions.
Just remember: the key to using chatbots effectively is to make sure they enhance your customer’s experience. So don’t hop on the bandwagon and invest in a chatbot just because you want your business to look modern or trendy.
So if you’re truly interested in deploying a chatbot and think it could be a smart move for your company, sit down and have a long, hard think about why your customers would benefit. Then come up with a list of possible functions or key information the chatbot would need to provide, and always do your research.
Chatbot Photo via Shutterstock
This article, "What is a Chatbot and How Can I Use It For Business?" was first published on Small Business Trends