LoyalFree is a place promotion app that began life in Leicester before expanding to over 30 towns and cities across the UK. Assisting businesses with digital loyalty schemes, as well as creating city-wide trails and even adding on an online shopping function, the business has adapted and grown. We caught up with CEO and Co-Founder, Sophie Hainsworth, to find out more about it.
Tell us a little about LoyalFree and how the business began…
The LoyalFree app is a place promotion app working in 32 towns and cities across the UK. App users can discover exclusive deals, exciting local events, interactive trails and fun competitions, all on their smartphone! LoyalFree began back in 2017 when we first had the idea of creating a deals based app for the high street. Loughborough became our first partnership in 2018 and the business has grown substantially since then! We now represent over 5,000 businesses around the UK.
We have also recently launched an e-commerce platform: the LoyalFree Marketplace. Businesses can list products, experiences and gift cards online for free and shoppers can continue to support local by purchasing from the best independents anywhere in the UK.
What sets you apart from others in your field?
Our interactive trails and digital loyalty schemes are unique selling points for the LoyalFree app – there are also so many features all in one place, meaning app users can engage with local trails, collect loyalty stamps and save money at their favourite stores easily and conveniently in the palm of their hand!
In addition, our give as you save charity initiative sets us apart from competitors. We donate 1p to worthy causes every time a stamp is collected on the app. LoyalFree are currently supporting the NSPCC but have supported numerous local and national causes since the initiative launched in 2019, the first being in partnership with the Give Leicester campaign to support homelessness in the city centre.
You now work with place marketing bodies nationwide but what benefits does having your hub in the midlands have?
We work in partnership with towns and cities across the UK from Bristol to Scotland but the Midlands is the perfect hub for being able to easily reach any of these areas when we need to. Geographically, it’s the perfect place for us to base ourselves. Not to mention, office rental costs being considerably lower than some other cities.
Plus working and networking in the midlands allows us to meet so many other creative startups which has strengthened our business too. LCB depot is a unique office space which has led to invaluable connections and discussions in the growth of our business.
How have you navigated the challenges associated with Covid and the national lockdowns?
The lockdowns were very difficult for the high street and we had to quickly adapt and find ways to utilise technology including allowing online deals on the app for the first time, launching open for business and delivery trails to let the public know which businesses where offering collection or delivery services.
The other big project borne out of the Covid-19 pandemic was the creation of an ecommerce offering to add to our offering. The LoyalFree Marketplace was born out of wanting to support businesses even further during such a difficult time. This ecommerce site allowed small independent businesses to sell products free of charge whilst restriction meant their shops had to close.
How did your journey from initial business idea to business start-up progress?
It sounds a bit cliche, but everything fell into place quite naturally. We worked on the business idea whilst having other jobs, to make the start up financially viable without having to take external investment. We tested our idea across many businesses over months, gathering feedback all the time to continuously improve our app. During this time we had to commit a lot of time and energy to our vision and learn to deal with rejection; a crucial skill in business!
It soon became clear that there was a gap in the market, to provide this platform to whole towns and cities across the UK. By working in Loughborough we were able to bring more functionality to our app, which would be useful for a whole town – such as tourism information. From there, our developments are always led by feedback and demand – finding solutions using technology.
Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
There are many exciting developments in the pipeline for our business. At the moment we are working on creating Augmented Reality experiences to support heritage and historical trails around the UK.
In 5 years time we hope to be international! There is a lot of interest in our platform from an international market and many opportunities to bring our platform to businesses around the world.
What has been your proudest moment whilst running LoyalFree
There have been so many moments, but there is one which was a big day for us. Back in 2018 we were in the depths of scaling the business up and making our vision a reality, but still only a team of 2 and with many challenges.
That year we were shortlisted at the National Retail Systems Awards, which was an achievement by itself. However, we went on to win 2 categories at the national final in London, where we were up against businesses such as New Look, John Lewis and Cafe Nero. To win these awards amongst such credible and well established brands was a massive achievement for us and really helped us to believe in the vision of our business.
Where can people find out more information?
You can download the LoyalFree app straight from the iOS or Google play stores by searching ‘LoyalFree’ or clicking here: www.loyalfree.co.uk/download
Plus check out the LoyalFree Marketplace here: www.loyalfreemarletplace.co.uk
To follow us on journey online our social media handle is @loyalfreeapp