In the age of all-things digital, carrying around punch-cards to get the 11th smoothie free might be viewed as an inconvenience.

That’s why 28-year-old Arik Clark started 406VIP in mid-November, and he’s looking to expand his regional business to Helena.

“It’s an antiquated concept of punch cards, but I do that with them punching in their phone number so they don't have to carry around any cards,” Clark said.

406VIP sets businesses up with a key-pad kiosks into which customers can punch a phone number for their cell or landline. Returning patrons then keep punching in their number each time they return, and the business has a choice to offer them rewards.

Clark said businesses can also text coupons, daily deals or, if someone wants to get creative, can send out a mass survey.

It’s the power of promotion “right in the customers’ pockets,” he said.

Raised on a ranch in the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana’s Hi-Line, Clark graduated from the University of Montana in 2011. Since then he’s bounced around to jobs fighting fires on a Forest Service rappel crew and working in the oil fields of eastern Montana. Through it all he never lost the entrepreneurial spirit, and eventually decided to take the leap.

“I’ve had a lot of ideas and finally just decided to jump and do some of them,” he said.

Clark said the concept of text-based rewards has been popping up around the country and seen some success in larger markets, but “not many people were facilitating that service for smaller and medium-sized businesses.”

406VIP utilizes software created by SMS Masterminds, a San Luis Obispo, California-based company.

The company’s first client was Missoula-based sporting goods store Selway Armory. Clark said Selway has seen “pretty good” success locally, and he’s working with them now on how to send out promotional codes that can be used in Selway’s online sales.

Consumers might be concerned that giving a business their phone number will result in an annoying barrage of promotion. Clark said customers have an option to opt-out of receiving any text messages from the business, but in his experience most people who are loyal customers want to know about deals.

He does factor overkill into the deals, and said he does work with businesses to develop a reasonable schedule of text promotions in an effort to not “drive customers away.”

Since Selway Armory, Clark has expanded to Great Falls and now works with at least six businesses in both cities. Last week he was meeting with business owners in Helena to establish his business in the capital city.

Perkins Restaurant owner Peter Mollet said he’s interested in the concept of being able to offer text-based rewards to customers.

“The whole concept seems like … something that’s easy to use to provide a source for us to advertise for people and for them to be on a frequency or reward program that both parties would benefit from,” he said.

For instance, Mollet said if he saw the upcoming weekend was going to be snowy and cold, he could combat the naturally slow-business by sending out a coupon to draw customers in.

Clark lives in Billings, but he said after getting established in Helena he hopes to move on to some businesses in the Flathead region, and he sounds hopeful his startup can reflect the national success.

“The world of the Internet has gone from desktop and laptop to mobile,” he said. “It’s just kind of the way of the future.”

Alexander Deedy can be reached at 447-4081 or alexander.deedy@helenair.com

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