Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.54.33 AMLouisville’s small homegrown coffee shop chain is taking a big technological step.

Heine Brothers’ Coffee has launched a smartphone application that tracks customer purchases and calculates loyalty rewards. Which is nice, right?

But the new app also lets customers make purchases via smartphones at HB stores. Which is kind of cool considering a 20-year-old coffee shop chain is going where few other local retailers have gone before.


Mike Mays, second from left, at a coffee cooperative in Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy of Mike Mays.)

Denizens of the wired world are only now adopting the wireless transaction, with Sainsbury, the London, U.K.-based grocery chain, announcing this week it would accept Zapp app … next year.

Today, you can download the Heine Brothers app at the iTunes store, or on Google Play, connect it to your debit card and make purchases, said Chuck Slaughter, marketing and technology manager at Heine Brothers’. The transaction is through QR codes on the app, and transactional software at the counter.

The development firm gets a cut of each transaction, of course. But the rate for Heine Brothers’ is better than through a traditional credit card processor, said Mike Mays, Heine Brothers’ co-founder and co-owner.

The app allows customers to transfer money to friends — to treat for their purchases, and of course, they can return the favor, Slaughter said.

When they make a purchase, customers get credits toward free coffee or food, Slaughter said, and the app keeps them posted on where they are in the process of earning freebies. The app also does all kinds of other stuff including showing users where the nearest HB is, with distance, as well as menu information.

The app incorporates – actually replaces – Heine Brothers’ years-old loyalty rewards program that had about 12,000 users. But if those customers don’t have smartphones or slates, there is a new loyalty program card with QR codes that registers each purchase.

Mays described the process of developing the app as “an Herculean effort” that involved not just working with LevelUp, a Boston-based tech firm, but integrating LevelUp’s work with the existing point-of-sale tech provider, Digital Dining, based in Springfield, Va.

The process started last January, and took 10 months, debuting at 8:30 a.m. last Monday. “The POS integration slowed it down,” Slaughter said.

At $15,000, developing the proprietary app is a big investment for what is a bigger, but not huge, company, Mays said. “Even though we’ve grown, that’s still real money to us.” But the effort was necessary. “At 51, I get it,” Mays said. “Our phones are our GPS systems when we travel, our computers and now, our wallets.”