Working up an appetite for Bluetooth


UNDER THE RADAR:Kevin O'Connor, Bluezone

QUESTION: WHAT does one in four diners do when sitting down to eat at a TGI Friday’s restaurant? Answer: They use their mobile phones to browse the internet, with a good proportion of them checking their Facebook and Bebo accounts.

This is probably not surprising given our obsession with our mobile phones, our increasing demand for mobile broadband access and our fascination with social media websites, on which the average user now spends about half an hour a day.

It’s certainly good news for Kevin O’Connor, founder of BlueZone, which specialises in Bluetooth proximity marketing and which has just signed a deal to supply free internet access in all four TGI Friday’s restaurants in Dublin and Belfast. “So much of people’s lives are now led online,” says O’Connor. “Being able to browse the net on the go is almost as important as being able to make phone calls on the go. We’ve even had people checking their CAO offers online in TGI Friday’s.”

Wi-Fi hotspots, which allow customers to go online with their laptops, are nothing new, of course. BlueZone’s Bluetooth networks though go one step further, allowing customers with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to download a customised browser and surf the web for free.

The benefit for companies such as TGI Friday’s is that they get to market special offers not only to their mobile-toting customers but to anyone with a Bluetooth-enabled phone within an 80-metre radius.

O’Connor, a database analyst with a degree in physics, set up BlueZone in May 2008. Among his first clients were the Subway restaurants in Blanchardstown, Wexford and Enniscorthy. “I generally look for customers I can see are already spending money on advertising and marketing, because they’re the ones who’ll be looking for new ways to make an impact.”

O’Connor says people tend to think of Bluetooth messages as “something like text messages”, but he argues that they are much more sophisticated than that.

“Each message can include the company’s logo and the success of simple promotions such as ‘show this message when you pay and get 10 per cent off’ can easily be judged against till receipts,” he says. “The ability to surf the web using BlueZone adds a whole new dimension in terms of marketing the business to customers who want to be able to go online through their mobiles.”

O’Connor is optimistic that a successful rollout at TGI Friday’s will be followed by other restaurants in the EE Group, including Dante Pizza and the Hard Rock Cafe, bringing turnover to more than €150,000 in 2010 and forming the basis for future growth.

He expects this expansion to be boosted by two other aspects of BlueZone’s business: BlueZone OnBoard and BlueZone Weddings.

“BlueZone OnBoard is a Bluetooth system for buses that allows passengers to access the internet on their mobiles in the same way as restaurant customers can,” he says. “Whereas with ordinary Wi-Fi a 50-seater bus tends to have only, perhaps, five people going online with their laptops, with Bluetooth that increases to around 30 going online with their phones.”

The BlueZone OnBoard service recently won O’Connor the prize for innovation at Fleetmagazine’s 2010 Bus and Coach Awards.

BlueZone Weddings, meanwhile, involves setting up a Bluetooth network at a wedding venue “so that guests with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones can be sent messages saying, for instance, ‘Welcome to Jack and Jill’s wedding’, or perhaps a little package including pictures of the bride and groom”.

What, ultimately, is O’Connor’s goal? “In a few years’ time I want people to know instinctively when they see a BlueZone logo that they’re in a “blue zone” – a shop or restaurant with Bluetooth internet and special offers,” he says. “For me, that will mean success.”

On The Record

Name:Kevin O'Connor.




Background: Graduated in 2002 with a BSc in physics from Hull University and a diploma in applied physics from DIT. Author of maths ebook, Seriously Simple Sums, available at www. Worked as a technician with Intel in Leixlip, Co Kildare, as an internet support engineer with BT, as a technical support consultant with New South Wales Police in Australia and as an SQL technical support engineer with PMOnBoard.

Set up BlueZone in May 2008, adding BlueZone OnBoard in June 2009 and more recently BlueZone Weddings. Sole distributor of Blue Vibe Bluetooth products in Ireland. Signed three Subway restaurants as clients in 2008 and signed deal for rollout of free Bluetooth internet to four TGI Friday's restaurants in Dublin and Belfast in October 2009.

Challenges:"Convincing potential clients about just how effective Bluetooth marketing can be. It's not until they see how it works that they realise how impressive it is - and their minds start racing with new promotional and revenue-generating ideas."

Inspired by:Sir Richard Branson. "Looking at his empire now, it's hard to believe there was ever a time when he had to persuade himself not to give up, but there was. I've found the various accounts of his life very inspirational. I suppose that's why I've started with BlueZone and added BlueZone OnBoard and then BlueZone Weddings."

Most important thing learned so far: "Not to have too many links in the chain between me and my customers. I like developing one- to-one relationships. They're what make businesses work."