ASHEVILLE – Delayed, bored and waiting for her flight to Fort Lauderdale last summer, Flori Pate could not stop looking at the empty, dark beige space inside Asheville Regional Airport.
It had potential, she said, and it was a prime location for visitors and tourists. A few months later, it became available as an advertising space for the Local Flavor AVL app.
For Flori Pate, who was a part of the trio that created the app — designed to give people an insider's view to a true Asheville experience — normal straight-forward marketing would not do.
"What the airport seemed to lack, to some degree, was how Asheville feels. That got my wheels spinning," Flori Pate said. "People are always looking for a place to recharge their phones, tablets and computers, so I thought let's provide that service, showcase our products and make it a whole Asheville scene."
Located in the baggage claim area, the ReCharge Station provides airport travelers and visitors with six traditional electrical and USB outlets. But that's not all it does.
Inside the kiosk, one of its three walls is covered in photos of Asheville scenes, from street performers to Chicken Alley. Mounted vertically on the wall, a flat screen TV has been fitted with molding that makes it look like a large cellphone. The hand-built walnut counter came from Asheville Hardware.
On the screen, a video about the Local Flavor app plays and features 10 Asheville businesses that helped make the ReCharge Station happen: Lexington Avenue Brewery, Sachi Massage, Adventure Center of Asheville, The Ramble, Biltmore Village Inn, Scully's Bar and Grille, Asheville's Therapeutic Salt Cave, Chestnut, 32 Degrees Ice Bar and Corner Kitchen.
"The ReCharge Station is part of an integrated marketing campaign to maximize exposure for local businesses while increasing the amount of app downloads, website visits and visibility of the unique offerings that make Asheville like no other place on the planet," explained Ted Pate, marketing director and co-founder of Local Flavor AVL. "This niche was waiting to be filled and we've seemed to strike a chord with locals and visitors alike."
Even the two-hour soundtrack that pumps through the speakers is part of the experience, including songs from 18 local bands.
According to Tina Kinsey, director of marketing and public relations for Asheville Regional Airport, travelers are taking notice of the creative space to power up devices.
"It's the most requested amenity," Kinsey said, noting that people were trying to use the space even before it opened. "When you think about travelers, they don't just travel with (one) cell phone; their children have cell phones, then they all have tablets and laptops. They don't need one plug. Often, one traveler will take several plugs, and that's just the reality of air travel now."
The ReCharge Station is the only charging area "landside" at the airport, meaning within the space before people go through security screening.
"This is perfect for people who are waiting for their luggage or want to get a quick charge before they head over to get onto their flight," Kinsey said.
The new space has also been a creative way for the Local Flavor AVL app to attract more users.
"We're definitely seeing an increase in our downloads since we launched the ReCharge Station," Flori Pate said, noting the app has roughly 10,000 downloads to date.
The space also marks a milestone for the app — first imagined at the Asheville Startup Weekend in 2013. The ribbon-cutting event on Jan. 27 coincided with the one-year anniversary of Local Flavor AVL being available for download in the App Store.
"This past year, we've learned a lot about what it means to be an entrepreneur," Flori Pate said. "We have bootstrapped the whole thing, and it's Ted and me working together. We have two boys, and it's been new working together, parenting together and starting a business together. It's been interesting to find that balance in all of that."
She said they couldn't have done it alone.
To sign the year lease for the ReCharge Station, Flori Pate said the 10 featured businesses pay a tenth of the rent for the space. Without them, she said, the ReCharge Station might not have been possible.
"We have been part of groups that stress local products for our restaurants for years, but Local Flavor puts the spotlight on all types of local businesses in one place. It helps visitors see how diverse the local Asheville culture is," said Kevin Westmoreland, the co-owner of Chestnut, Corner Kitchen and Corner Kitchen Catering.
Ben Edson, co-owner of the Adventure Center of Asheville, said the reason the outdoors-minded adventure business wanted to be a part of the ReCharge Station came down to a mix of common sense and dollars and cents.
"We feel that more and more people are going to fly to Asheville instead of drive to Asheville in the next 20 years," Edson said. "But, advertising at the airport is just out of our reach. The value is there, but having the ability to co-op that space and get our names in the airport is huge."
Edson said that in addition to showcasing the Local Flavor AVL app, the ReCharge Station is also able to highlight other area businesses, as well as restaurants, services, events, nonprofits, artists and musicians.
"It used to be that everyone pre-planned their itinerary before they came here, and that's simply not true anymore," Edson said, noting many families who visit the Adventure Center of Asheville say they only fully plan out one day of a multiday trip. "Envision a family sitting at the breakfast buffet at the Grove Park Inn. Ten years ago, they would have had a stack of brochures and now they've all got smartphones. Local Flavor AVL is an incredible tool for how they can choose to spend their day."
Going forward, Flori Pate said similar ReCharge Stations could be popping up in other cities.
"It's very scalable," Flori Pate said, noting the Local Flavor app has also been developed for Greenville, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Boca Delray, Florida. "Each one could look different and represent the city in their own way."
Next cities that Flori Pate said the team is discussing for app development are Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. With the Local Flavor AVL app, she said more is yet to come.
With an 82 percent user return rate and an almost 50-50 user base of visitors to locals, Flori Pate said the app is in the beta phase of testing a member forum.
"Potentially, it could be restaurants talking to other restaurants, and restaurants talking to farmers," she said. "We want to provide a sense of community to the back end of Local Flavor."
The group also just launched a new program called the Food Connection.
"We're partnering with local caterers and restaurants so that instead of them having to throw away food, they can text us and we take it to local food shelters," Flori Pate said.
With the first year in the App Store behind them, Flori Pate said Local Flavor AVL is ready to take its next steps fearlessly.
"As an entrepreneur, it's extremely important to listen to your heart, and I do think we have created something special," she said.