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Photo© Kevin Garrett
Pickens County, located against the southern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia, isn't exactly a tourist hot spot, especially with metropolitan Atlanta only about an hour's drive away. Dan and Stacy Guidice want to change that.
In late 2010 the couple, who live in Big Canoe, Ga.--the Pickens region's county seat--launched NGAtops, a website and iPhone app spotlighting the people, places and things that set the area apart. Optimized for visitors and natives alike, the app includes an events calendar, photos, videos and local listings for hotels, ranches, golf courses and eateries, complete with GPS-enabled maps and directions. If it's happening in northern Georgia, it's happening on NGAtops.
"Before we launched, there was [no] single resource to aggregate all the wonderful things we have here, like kayaking and hiking and fishing and all the good restaurants," says Dan, who oversees ad sales for NGAtops while Stacy supervises editorial. "It's a beautiful spot, but we tend to be isolated up here. When people drive through town, we have to give them a reason to stop."
The Guidices rolled out NGAtops in partnership with TownWizard, a software provider in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., that supplies web and mobile app templates that let small-town entrepreneurs build guide services previously limited to major urban areas. The concept grew out of 30A.com, a site developed by TownWizard.com co-founder Mike Ragsdale to promote attractions along Florida's Gulf Coast.
"I started the 30A website as a personal tool. I wanted to remember all the neat places I wanted to take [visitors]," Ragsdale says. "From there I developed an iPhone app that includes the same content. I knew people on vacation would use this app--people aren't bringing their laptops and PCs when they travel, but they all have smartphones."
The TownWizard software platform costs $495 to launch, with a monthly license fee of $195. TownWizard helps its partners get their websites and applications up and running, including submitting each app to Apple's App Store.
"We teach you how to operate the content management system and how to enter information," Ragsdale says. "Most of all, we help you understand how to grow your brand. You're not building an app--you're building a brand that defines entertainment and dining in your community."
Once TownWizard signs up a partner from a given locale, that area is off the board: "You own that market--we won't compete with you," Ragsdale says, adding that each partner can designate a ZIP code they wish to serve, with all adjacent ZIP codes included in their exclusivity deal. TownWizard has signed up more than 30 regional partners so far.
"What we're doing is so different from national travel apps," he says. "You just can't automate this stuff. It's got to be authentic--otherwise you're not going to know about that great local place. Even more important, you have to know about the local personalities. That's why each app has a unique flavor."
Just like Pickens County itself, NGAtops won't thrive if it remains little more than a well-kept secret, so the Guidices are marketing the service throughout northern Georgia, meeting with local businesses and handing out promotional decals at regional festivals.
"You have to build it, then you have to go out and sell it," Dan says, adding that NGAtops made more than $7,000 in advertising sales its first two months after going live. "Our pitch to customers is that we're all in this together."