Iowa Firm Takes Client Patronage Seriously, Mobile App Makes Tracking Simple

While many firms encourage employees to shop with clients, an Iowa firm has taken that commitment two steps further by not only rewarding employees for doing so but also developing a mobile app to make it simple.

Dubuque, Iowa-based Honkamp Krueger & Co. (FY13 net revenue of $43.7 million) scrapped its cumbersome system of looking up clients in an internal directory, saving receipts and filling out Excel spreadsheets. A new smartphone app, for Android and Apple users, gives employees an easy way to submit receipts and find businesses that are clients of the firm. Employees who purchase products or services from the firm’s clients are eligible for prizes.

Participation in the patronage program went up by 43% since the app was launched last spring, with $1 million in receipts recorded in the first five months. The firm’s nearly 400 employees are now submitting 1,000 receipts per month.

The concept of a patronage program originated in 2011 with firm co-founder Arnie Honkamp, who passed away in January and was known as “Mr. Dubuque,” says Natalie Hoffmann, president of HKP, Honkamp Krueger’s work force management affiliate and technology partner for the firm. Nothing made him happier than helping his clients, and he often said, ‘Let’s support the businesses that help support us.’ In the first three and a half years, more than $6 million in spending was recorded from almost 25,000 receipts.

The firm has 12 offices from St. Louis to Minneapolis. If an employee in Madison, Wis., wants to find a restaurant in that city that’s a client of the firm, for example, the mobile app will point the way. The search function sorts by category, keyword or location. Employees can easily submit their spending and take pictures of their receipts.

“It makes us unique in our industry and demonstrates our loyalty to our clients’ success,” says marketing manager Nicole Gantz. One client, Drew Siegert of Betty Jane Candies in Dubuque, says, “It’s been great. More and more people walk into the shop and say they’re from HK. We’ve already seen an increase in sales.”

Publicity about the program has made the firm pretty popular with local businesses. The firm can tell clients exactly how much money their employees are spending there. A car dealership that hadn’t done business with the firm wanted in on the program, and reached out to Honkamp Krueger, Hoffmann says.

“It’s a powerful sales tool, so we provide those numbers to partners, managers and business developers when they’re going in for a presentation at a certain industry,” says Gantz.

The firm takes client patronage seriously. If an employee takes a client out to lunch and expects to be reimbursed, it’s got to be from a restaurant client (unless the client suggests a particular place). Pizza delivery? It’s got to be from a client.

Employees are trained in how to use the app, and they are told to keep the firm’s clients in strict confidence, so they are not to use the app in front of non-employees or tell others that they’re going to a certain business because it is a client of the firm.

Gantz says it used to take up to 12 hours a month to tally the receipts and conduct a drawing for the three winners of $100 gift cards to the client business of the employee’s choice. One winner is the employee who has purchased from the widest variety of clients; another wins for most money spent; a third employee participant is chosen at random.

Employee reaction has been positive. “We have one accounting section that’s really competitive with it, so that’s kind of fun,” Gantz says. She adds that MP Gregory Burbach gave her an intern, administrative help and money in the budget. “It takes someone from the top to really believe in it and make it happen.”

The firm internally decided on the design of the app, but outsourced the development of the product. “We chose to make the investment and it’s paid off for us,” Hoffmann says. “It’s worked very well and it’s a win-win for all of us – for clients and for us – and it’s neat to see the response to the application and know that it’s really making a difference.” IPA