As owner and president of Rally Insurance Group, Ellen Anderson protects collector cars across the country.
For more than 20 years, Ellen has partnered with local car clubs and community groups to sponsor and promote Cruise Night classic car shows as a way to show Rally Insurance Group’s commitment to the people it serves. To spread the word about Cruise Nights, Ellen would distribute up to 15,000 printed schedules every single season at home in the Chicago suburbs and beyond.
While personally distributing flyers worked just fine in the early days, Ellen found her strategy needed to change with the times. As the events’ popularity grew, distributing the schedules took an increasing amount of time and energy. Printing costs alone were thousands of dollars. And it was impossible to communicate changes to the schedule — such as inclement weather or new events.
Ellen’s ideal solution would make it easy to communicate changes to Cruise Nights in real-time and add more information than she could with a printed schedule — without increasing costs.
An app seemed like a perfect solution, but there was one hiccup — Ellen had no development experience. Then she discovered BuildFire and their assisted setup and design services.
Ellen started searching for app builders and calling the most promising. But many were geared toward enterprise clients — not small businesses like Rally Insurance Group.
“I was getting quotes from people that were $30,000,” she said. “For a small business looking to do an app, that we weren't even sure how successful this would be, that was a big price tag.”
Eventually, Ellen found a platform that fit her budget and built the first iteration of the Cruise Schedule app on her own. But the platform wasn’t intuitive, and doing constant research to build her app was cumbersome, she said.
“I had to teach myself all the stuff that had nothing to do with insurance that I sell,” she said. “I found it cumbersome to have to keep learning all this stuff to get the app to what I wanted it to be.”
It only took one Cruise Night season to realize she needed a new platform. Maintaining the app was too difficult, and development took her away from running her company.
She started researching again, searching the keyword “best app developers for small businesses.” Ellen wanted a company that would take a hybrid approach — the partner would provide the framework, leaving her to fill in the blanks.
After seeing BuildFire on many lists, Ellen spoke to the team and shared her vision for the Cruise Schedule app: supporting the communities and car clubs putting on these events, and introducing new auto aficionados to Rally Insurance Group.
With her old platform, building an app felt like a college course. Ellen struggled to make decisions about features because the underlying technology was confusing. Educating herself often meant watching 45-minute tutorials to make what should’ve been a simple choice, she said.
After talking with BuildFire, Ellen found the partner she was looking for from the start. The difference from her old platform was night-and-day, she said.
BuildFire’s intuitive and user-friendly platform meant she no longer had to spend hours researching features. When she needed guidance, the technical team was there to educate in terms she could understand.
Throughout the process, Ellen could tell BuildFire’s experts which features she needed, and the team of professional designers and app experts could take it from there.
Working with an expert team meant Ellen could spend her time running Rally Insurance Group, instead of trying to learn how to build an app — leading to a stronger end product at a very reasonable price.
“BuildFire did a great job of understanding my purpose and helping me to create a balance of the app being about Rally, but also being about the schedule,” Ellen said.
On the technical side, a strong calendar function was critical to the app’s success. Ellen needed functionality that allowed each event to stand alone, yet allow users to see the master list. Integrations with Google Calendar and her website made it easy to keep the schedule up-to-date.
On the service side, Ellen said the team has helped her realize the power of what an app can do. Her first version had a single purpose — the cruise schedule.
Her conversations with BuildFire helped her step outside the box and look at things in a broader way about what an app can do and what features can support it — something she couldn’t find anywhere else.
Understanding what her customers want from the app combined with the support to make it happen have made a world of difference, she said. BuildFire’s learning center and online knowledgebase have also given her the information she needs to make a stronger app.
“BuildFire has been helpful about giving me general information about users, what are they looking for, what they want, and that has me looking at things from a users’ standpoint,” she said.
BuildFire’s guidance on designing for her customers has helped Ellen create an app that’s the first of its kind. Working with the team has helped her analyze what users like and what they want from the app. And BuildFire’s intuitive platform has made it easy for Ellen to improve the Cruise Schedule — even after the app is published.
As the app heads into its second season of Cruise Nights, Ellen has added new features, like coupons, that give her customers a reason to use the app year-round, instead of deleting it at the end of a cruise season.
To understand the power of her app and the excitement of her customers, Ellen said it’s important to understand how organizations like hers used to spread the word about car shows and cruise nights.
Exhibitors would leave their car windows down to act as a mail slot for brochures and flyers about future events. If the person was interested, they had to keep track of multiple pieces of paper to remember the details. Ellen’s app eliminates all of that hassle.
For future cruise seasons, Ellen is working on new features, such as adding a form for users to tell Rally Insurance Group about cruise nights and car shows. She’s also working to make the app more cohesive with her Facebook page and website.
Ellen said she’s most excited about being the first — and only — business in her niche to build this type of an app.
“That part of it I've been very excited about,” she said. “What I like about BuildFire is that they have really helped me create something that's a very usable, not too complicated app that met my goals.”