Sales platform developer hopes to plug into post-pandemic online boom
A year ago, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, then 31-year-old entrepreneur and computer programmer Kareem Jennings diversified his party-promoting and printing business, launching The PLUG online platform designed to drive sales and improve customer experience for businesses.
As the first anniversary rolls around for the enterprise that is an acronym for Premium Lifestyles Unlimited Gain, Jennings is describing the growth of the venture as “steady” and is hopeful that the easing of movement restrictions and phased return to the hosting of events will help bump up business.
The graduate of University of Technology, Jamaica and Montego Bay Community College says he has invested upwards of $20 million in the business, financed from the profits of earlier ventures, savings and personal bank loans. While not averse to equity, Jennings, who says he developed his entrepreneurial instincts learning from his businessman father Basil Jennings, has not yet had any such offers to consider.
His father is in the construction and hardware business.
The PLUG platform is also involved in ticketing, promotion and marketing support for events in Florida, even as its owner looks forward to the return of mass events in Jamaica.
With the development and roll-out of the business having required spending even before its 2020 launch, Jennings’ tech training came in handy. He was able to do most of the software development work himself. Other businesses he has operated also helped to subsidise the new venture.
“I am still riding the wave of personal investment into the business. I am open to equity investment. With the right partner, we can realise our intention to build out a global platform,” Jennings said.
With approximately 9,000 users and more than 100 business across the island signed up and using the platform, PLUG is aiming to close out the year at 10,000 customer users and 150 businesses.
“PLUG is a community of businesses and events that provide their customers and patrons with one card that they can use to access benefits, special deals, and obtain points and rewards while conducting business with our clients and affiliates on the platform. It is similar to a loyalty card, but we think it is much more powerful,” he said, pointing to the added convenience of customers using one card across multiple businesses.
Businesses like Gustazos and Magna Rewards are, in a general way, competitors to PLUG, but Jennings is not keen on regarding them as such – emphasising that while the former focuses on rates and the latter on rewards, PLUG differentiates itself, like a VIP club does, by offering customers a combination of upgraded experience, rates, deals and perks so that the participating businesses can retain their patronage.
The online business is an integration, of sorts, of Jennings other ventures – organising and promoting parties before the pandemic; and Elite Conceptz and Solutionz, his printing and marketing company that grew out of supplying events with materials and services.
For Jennings, the business idea that evolved into PLUG was based on his wanting to get to know patrons who attended his events, including the Solar-branded breakfast party, MoBay Crab Fest, and Montego Bay Beauty Expo.
“Understanding their needs and wants in terms of services, and upscaling their experience to fulfil those needs and thus retain them, while plugging them into other goods and services based on what they desire, was important,” Jennings explained.
He then designed a system to track, manage and offer incentives and deals to the events’ patrons.
“When the pandemic hit in the middle of us launching PLUG, I realised that we had to fine-tune the idea to give greater focus to customer retention; getting people to come back into our business. That is how the loyalty side was developed – creating new ways of making customers feel special,” he said.
Despite the challenges of movement restrictions during the pandemic putting a damper on the ability of customers to fully enjoy experiences such as dining out and utilising a range of services and facilities, the entrepreneur is of the view “that the market has really adapted to what we are doing ... an all-in-one solution that can serve their marketing and customer retention needs at a cost that is affordable for them”.
In addition to the pandemic-related setbacks that have prevented the coming on stream of the events ticketing side of the platform, PLUG has also contended with a somewhat steep learning curve, Jennings conceded.
“Because people don’t have something precisely like this product that they can relate to, we have had to be running huge education campaigns, mainly on the consumer end. That in itself requires a heavy investment. It is capital-intensive,” he said.
Jennings is grateful to the customers and early clients, the people he considers his “early movers” who have displayed confidence in the platform, inclusive of hotels on the north and south coasts. He also partnered with another company, Get The Spike, on the business’ customer focus.