By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 29, 2013
He helps tourists plan their vacations in Charleston. He showcases restaurants, activities and historic sites around the city. He handles transactions and prints tickets. He is a six-foot kiosk — a digital concierge service — complete with a seersucker bowtie.
Two years after launching Charles, Charleston-based advertising firm CityCorridor, which created the concept, plans to break into new markets with it.
Since 2011, the company has expanded its digital kiosks to include nearly 50 units in Charleston, 13 units on Hilton Head Island and a demonstration program at the visitor center in Macy’s Herald Square in New York City.
Co-founder and COO Chad Priest said the kiosks are applicable in the hospitality, sports and entertainment, health care and retail sectors, among others. The kiosk also has potential for stadium applications, such as merchandise and food transactions, for example.
“The self-service kiosk is an interactive experience, but really the core of our product is to build interactive solutions to enhance the customer experience. ... We’re a software company at heart. We develop software solutions.”
A few years ago, Priest sat with his friend Caleb Yaryan in a hotel in downtown Charleston. They were staring at a big rack filled with brochures, maps and visitor guides.
“We started talking about the way that attractions and visitors bureaus market to visitors,” Priest said. “We realized it hadn’t changed much in nearly 20 years.”
They wanted to modernize the hospitality industry in a city known for its tourism. Conde Nast’s readers recently ranked Charleston the No. 1 city to visit nationwide for the third consecutive year, and CityCorridor’s founders wanted to streamline the process of planning a visit to the Holy City.
Priest and Yaryan, the company’s chief technology officer, and another co-founder, used their backgrounds in retail signage and software development, respectively, and brainstormed the idea of Charles. They launched the company along with Warren Lasch, company chairman, in March 2011.
The first Charles was launched with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Charles later was expanded throughout the area into hotels, the city’s four visitor centers and Charleston International Airport.
Tourists can print maps, book hotels, make reservations and buy tickets for sites and activities. They can swipe their credit card, and Charles will print their tickets.
Using a smart camera, Charles determines whom he’s serving, whether it’s a family, a couple or one person. His software tailors options for the user based on that information.
Hotels, restaurants and attractions advertise their offerings and deals on Charles. The kiosk runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE wireless network, enabling business owners to have access to make changes to their advertised prices and promotions, or track sales remotely from their desktop computer or mobile device.
As CityCorridor expands into other markets, Charles can be rebranded to fit that market’s culture. The local Convention and Visitors Bureau came up with the idea of calling the kiosk “Charles” in honor of the city.
“Each place can make it their own,” Priest said.
Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119. Subscribe to the Charleston Regional Business Journal to read the full story in the Nov. 4 issue.
(Editor’s Note: The founders thought of the idea about three years ago, not 10).