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Wineka column: Cheerwine app guides fans

If Sarah Palin experiences an overwhelming urge for a Cheerwine, where does she turn?
The Cheerwine Finder tells her there’s one around the corner at the Fred Meyers Meat and Seafood Market in Wasilla, Alaska.
If Lindsay Lohan has a Cheerwine craving, she can find it in glass bottles at the BevMo in La Mesa, Calif.
Snooki could buy Cheerwine at Delucia’s Brick Oven Pizza on First Avenue in Raritan, N.J., and Peyton Manning can find Cheerwine at BRICS on East 64th Street in Indianapolis.
Regis Philbin could sit down to a Cheerwine float at either of the Brother Jimmy’s BBQ locations in New York — on 3rd or 8th avenues.
Want to know the closest place that sells Cheerwine?
There’s an iPhone app — and a website — for that.
Software developer Nick Loftin of Raleigh created the “Cheerwine Finder” in 2009. It serves a couple of purposes.
One, if you are traveling and have a craving for Cheerwine, you can consult the Cheerwine Finder (www.cheerwinefinder.com) to locate a place nearest to you that sells Cheerwine. The soft drink, identified mostly with North Carolina and the Southeast in general, actually is available in numerous states, even as far away as California and Alaska.
You just have to know where to look, and the Cheerwine Finder — powered by Google Maps — helps with that.
A second benefit from the Cheerwine Finder is that anyone can add new locations for where the soft drink is available. That’s how the Cheerwine Finder grows and becomes more useful. (Loftin verifies that Cheerwine is sold at the new addresses entered before he places them on the finder.)
Loftin’s finder has become a self-perpetuating tool, dependent mostly on Cheerwine lovers on the move.
“Honestly, I don’t know if it ever does stop,” Loftin says of the finder’s life span.
Cheerwine has a dedicated following — more than 60,000 friends on its Facebook page would attest to that.
“Every single one wants to see this brand do well,” says Tom Barbitta, vice president of marketing for Cheerwine. “Everyone is in Cheerwine’s corner, and Nick personifies that. We’re delighted with what he’s done.”
Loftin’s personal affection for the Salisbury-bred soft drink comes from a childhood spent visiting grandparents Stan and Betty Bozeman in Salisbury. Now his mother, Jennifer, lives and works here, too.
But growing up in Rockingham County and graduating in computer science at N.C. State University, Nick Loftin always had easy access to his favorite soft drink.
“To me, it was as common to see in grocery stores as Coke and Pepsi,” he says.
In the summer of 2009, Loftin took a two-week business trip to California, just outside of Los Angeles. “Toward the middle of the time there,” he says, “I was just starting to miss a few things from home — barbecue, sweet tea and Cheerwine.
“I thought, there has to be a way to get it out here.”
Loftin looked everywhere online for some mention of Cheerwine in California, and various message boards told him to try different places until he found it at a specialty beverage store.
The experience led to his idea for the Cheerwine Finder. “I thought it would be good to have a vehicle to tell people where it is,” he says.
By October 2009, after taking a couple of weeks to write the website code and employing a friend to help with graphics, Loftin launched the Cheerwine Finder. How did he think Cheerwine, the company, would react?
“I wasn’t sure,” Loftin acknowledges. Company officials soon learned of the finder through a post on Twitter, and they invited Loftin to Salisbury for a talk that led to his developing an iPhone application for Cheerwine.
The free application includes links to the Cheerwine Finder and Cheerwine’s Facebook page, allows one to purchase Cheerwine merchandise and even gives users the ability to chug a Cheerwine, if they don’t have the real thing close by.
On the phone, if you turn a picture of a Cheerwine soda can upside down, it sounds as though you’re drinking it.
Barbitta says Cheerwine paid Loftin a very modest fee for developing the application (not available yet on Androids), while showering him with T-shirts and product.
“There’s always a case of cold Cheerwine waiting for him,” Barbitta adds.
The Cheerwine Finder website generates a little bit of money from Google ads, which has covered the hosting fees. “I’m just doing it because I like it,” Loftin says.
Loftin, 27, runs his own software development company and, among other things, has created iPhone apps for Money Mailer coupon franchises in Raleigh and Charlotte. He only has to spend a couple of hours a week in looking after the Cheerwine Finder.
Once, on a business trip to the Tampa area of Florida, Loftin decided to test his Cheerwine Finder. It told him a local ice cream parlor offered Cheerwine, and he went there to see whether it was true.
“Sure enough, they had a bunch of Cheerwine in glass bottles,” he says.
Loftin struck up a conversation with one of the employees, who said a lot of people asked about Cheerwine and knew that it might be at the ice cream shop because of a website.
Loftin recognized then that his idea for the Cheerwine Finder and the work he had put into the site was worth it. He informed the ice cream man he was looking at the Cheerwine Finder’s creator.
“You must be their biggest fan,” he told Loftin.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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