Babir Sultan came to America in 2001 from Pakistan, looking to live the American Dream. He started in New York City, working construction just to pay the bills. His real passion, however, was computer networking.
Within the first couple of years in the states, Sultan wound up in the IT world, but still felt like he kept hitting a dead end. He saw family members living a better lifestyle in Kansas City, so he decided to move to Missouri in 2006.
From convenience store to startup accelerator
Soon after his move, Sultan opened up his first gas station, FavTrip. As an independent gas station owner, he saw a problem.
Sultan saw many gas stations and other convenience store owners struggling to compete with regional or national chains like the QuickTrip or BP down the street. The chain stores had large marketing campaigns, powered by money that the “mom and pop” shops simply didn’t have. He also couldn’t afford to strike partnerships with grocery chains like Price Chopper.
Sultan wanted to create his own niche in an otherwise saturated marketplace. Why couldn’t he have the same brand loyalty coming into his store week after week or, better yet, day after day?
In response, Sultan launched Royal Loyal in April 2014. To give his company a jump start, he went through the Entrepreneurship Scholars Program at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). The Entrepreneurship Scholars Program’s mission is to take “brilliant and promising entrepreneurs” and accelerate them into “scalable, sustainable ventures.”
Why couldn’t he have the same brand loyalty coming into his store week after week or, better yet, day after day?
Sultan didn’t stop there. In the Fall of 2014, he won a place in SparkLabKC’s 2015 class. SparkLabKC selects 10 startups each year for a 3 month, intensive in-house program that provides up to $18,000 in seed capital and business mentorship.
Throughout the 90-days, the various small business owners get to decide their own way. They pick 15 initial mentors and, over the course of several weeks, whittle it down to 3 or 4 that they work with intensely throughout the rest of the process.
“The connections that you made during the program are yours,” said Sultan. “I can go back to them at any time and ask for help. I consider them my personal advisor board.”
SparkLab provides all the potential resources program participants need to thrive, from a lap pool, ping pong and gym equipment all the way down to financial analysis, valuation and when and how to start hiring employees.
How Royal Loyal works
With the help of these two programs and many successful mentors behind him, Sultan has shaped Royal Loyal from merely an idea into a full-fledged company.
Royal Loyal gives other convenience store owners, like Sultan, the opportunity to have a fighting chance competing with the big boys. Through Royal Loyal’s app, customers of participating gas stations, fast food, retail and convenience stores can sign up and become loyalty rewards members.
Unlike a punch card or keychain that gets swiped when a customer comes in, the customized app gives store owners the opportunity to run specials, SMS text, email and Facebook alerts. They can also utilize geo-sensing capabilities and iBeacons.
“Imagine being a store owner and watching customers come by but never walking in your store. Knowing that over 75% of revenue is from my convenience store sales, and not a commodity like gas, it is frustrating just watching them come by and leave,” said Sultan. “With Royal Loyal we can change that.“
Royal Loyal’s new partnership with ePay
Royal Loyal currently has over 50 paying customers utilizing their interface and has over 4,000 organic downloads.
Those numbers are about to blow up though. Royal Loyal recently signed a deal with ePay. This partnership will allow ePay to give Royal Loyal capabilities to their customers, many of which have been asking for such a solution.
“This truly is a win-win for both ePay and Babir since ePay currently has a relationship with over 12,000 independently owned convenience stores,” said Kevin Fryer, Managing Director of SparkLabKC. “Together it is nothing but a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Abagail Pumphrey is the founder of ThinkCreativeKC.com, an online resource that shares ideas to excite, empower and motivate small business owners.