How a real estate agent fed up with hanging around in barbers’ shops came up with an app that could help small retailers, coffee shops and medical practices keep their customers separate in a Covid-19 world

Yesterday afternoon I drove past a popular Auckland butcher shop. There were half a dozen customers dotted about (two metres apart) on the pavement outside, waiting in a light drizzle. As one customer came out, another went in.

Shopping in a world of social distancing.

The butcher was finding a solution for a problem hitting a myriad of drop-in businesses in an era of Covid-19. Protecting customers from each other. 

Now there’s an app for that. Named Tuipoint, it allows people to join a queue at a distance via their phone or computer. The app tells them approximately how long they have to wait and then lets them know when they are nearly at the front. 

The idea is two years old and was originally designed for barbers’ shops. Tuipoint founder and CEO Matt Brooks was a real estate agent at the time and needed to look smart. It frustrated him having to hang around waiting for the guys in front to get their short back and sides, and their beard trims. 

He decided to make an app which would allow him to do the queuing virtually. He’d log in at the office or from home, put himself in the queue, and his phone would tell him when his slot was 30 minutes, and then 10 minutes away. He could turn up just in time to get into the barber’s chair.

Development didn’t always go smoothly, but by the beginning of this year Brooks had around 100 customers, the bugs were ironed out, and he had brought on Guy Howard-Willis, formerly with outdoor gear chain Torpedo 7, as an investor. He was ready to ramp up.

Then Covid-19 hit and Brooks realised he had a product that wouldn’t just service busy Kiwi blokes getting their hair cut. It could potentially help keep customers safe in a number of different situations.

And maybe it could help keep some small retailers in business. 

“It’s a weird and an uncomfortable feeling,” he says. “I’ve got the technology that can help build back confidence for people to go to medical centres, take their pets to the vet, or go grab a cup of coffee from a cafe.

“This technology is perfect for the situation we are in. People can join a queue, be notified they are 10 minutes away. They can sit in their car in the car park until it’s their turn and then just walk straight in.”

There’s a $1 fee for joining most queues, or 50 cents if it’s just for a coffee. The retailer chooses whether to pay the fee or leave it for the customer.

There’s also an option to pay for whatever you are getting through the app, meaning people don’t have to handle cash or touch an eftpos machine.

“Tuipoint used to be a time-saving app,” Brooks says. “Now it’s a social distancing app. It used to be for barbers. Now it’s been adapted to suit anyone who’s got a queue.

“We want to keep these businesses open and give confidence to consumers they can use these services and queue using social distancing.”

Brooks says times are tough for small businesses and the fear is very real.

“I was in a barber’s shop today. A guy came in and saw there were two customers there, but there wasn’t room for him to be there as well and be less than two metres away. He just walked out.”

Nikki Mandow was Newsroom's business editor and the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Business Journalist of the Year @NikkiMandow.

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