April 24, 2011
BELLINGHAM – It’s tough for a technology company when it’s ahead of a trend, but patience appears to be paying off for Accelitec.
The 10-year-old Bellingham company is in the business of helping grocery stores increase sales through strong customer loyalty programs. The company has been creating software programs to help stores create bonds with customers through mobile devices, including smartphones.
When they walk into a store, shoppers may soon tap into their smartphones to find special coupons or sales of a product they regularly purchase, or check in-store credits in their digital “wallets.” Stores can also send information about product recalls, crediting the digital accounts for the products that need to be returned or thrown away.
It’s a slight change in direction for Accelitec, which five years ago was focused on physical products, such as a wireless payment chip. Accelitec CEO Tom Bartz said the market was still evolving during that period, making the company ahead of its time demand-wise. So the company kept working at it, waiting to see what the industry would end up using.
“It turns out it was the software (the industry) really wanted,” said Bartz, noting the development of the smartphone was a key factor. “We were able to stay in the game by being patient, and now we’re in a parallel position with the market.”
The company’s potential client base is independent grocery stores, particularly ones that want to compete with the biggest chains but can’t put this kind of system together in-house. Bartz said they are finalizing deals with several companies. It currently has its software program in dozens of stores; in the coming months Bartz expects Accelitec to be in hundreds of grocery stores.
With that target market of independent grocery chains in mind, the company has been adding industry experts to an advisory board. Recent additions include former Haggen Inc. president and CEO Dale Henley and Al Marasca, retired president and chief operating officer of Ralph’s grocery company of Southern California.
Henley had seen the Accelitec product in action while at Haggen, and after retiring from the Bellingham grocery store chain in 2009 told the firm he was interested in becoming involved in an advisory role.
“I’m pretty excited about the product and the company. The software this company offers gives regional (grocery store) chains a chance to compete with large, international companies,” Henley said. “It gives the grocer an opportunity to get to know customers like the old neighborhood store.”
As contracts are being finalized, Accelitec is preparing to ramp up. The company currently has 17 employees, and Bartz expects the company will add 10 high-tech positions in the next eight months, then steadily increase from there.
RISE OF THE SMARTPHONE
Others not affiliated with Accelitec also see the use of mobile devices like smartphones as becoming a dominate item in people’s lives.
Mark Lee, a partner with Big Fresh Media in Bellingham, said he’s seen studies that indicate in four years more people will be accessing the Internet through their phones or mobile devices than desktop computers. He also expects smartphones to be more commonly used for things such as paying for products.
“It (the smartphone) is going to become a wallet for a lot of people,” said Lee, whose company has been busy creating apps (or applications) for the smartphones. Most recently Big Fresh created an app for North Coast Credit Union.
According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, the information sector, which includes most of the high-tech jobs, employed more than 1,528 people in Whatcom County in the third quarter of 2010, down from the peak average in 2005 of 1,742 people employed in the sector.
The average annual salary for those information sector positions was $43,908 in Whatcom County in the third quarter, higher than the overall average annual salary of $36,868 locally for that same period, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Lee said it’s an exciting time to be involved in programming, particularly for mobile devices. Since it is so new, the demand for workers with app design skills is very strong. It’s also an industry that’s still evolving.
“It is happening very quickly. There are things that will be developed that we haven’t even thought of yet,” said Lee.