It’s December. It’s cold in most of the United States, but not in sunny Southern California, where you wouldn’t know Christmas was around the corner if not for the holiday decorations and retailer promotions. Los Angeles has a reputation for being a hotbed of activity and innovation — and the self-service technology companies I visited proved to be no different.
Heisei USA, Azuza, Calif. — My first meeting was with Martin Yen, who heads up business development in the United States for Heisei (pronounced HAY-SAY), a Taiwanese company with operations in Europe and Asia. Heisei opened its U.S. office three years ago. The company makes POS systems, industrial panel PCs and kiosks, including a photo kiosk that it markets in Latin America.
Olea, Artesia, Calif. — Olea opened over 30 years ago in an RV garage by Frank Olea’s father and uncle, who built kitchen cabinets, potty-training chairs and skateboard decks. Frank’s grandfather soon joined the company and the family affair continues today with Frank’s mother and sister also participating in the business. The company shifted to building trade show exhibits and then shifted again with 85 percent of Olea’s business now from kiosks. Olea built 625 kiosks for Henry Company’s Home Depot deployment. Olea’s e-giving kiosk for churches and non-profits like the Oregon Ballet recently garnered international press attention.
Rows of Olea kiosks at their facility in Irvine, Calif.
CeroView, Irvine, Calif. — CeroView, founded by president Derek Fretheim seven years ago, designs and integrates custom and standard kiosks. The company makes both indoor and outdoor kiosk enclosures and currently has four models of photo kiosks (two of which have won awards from KioskCom). Derek’s wife Tracy is a CeroView vice president. Derek said CeroView prides itself on being innovative and he named several firsts for the industry, such as offering a standard three-year warranty. The company recently formed a marketing partnership with European kiosk maker UltiMedia, giving CeroView access to that expanding market.
GA Services, Irvine, Calif. — GA Services was born six years ago out of a company called General Automation. The firm started out selling hardware and providing technical support, but in the last two years switched its focus to selling services. GA president & CEO George Harris said they are placing their future in the self-service and digital signage market. Services offered include installation, maintenance, monitoring and maintenance. GA counts digital signage firms ADFLOW Networks and SignStorey and kiosk software company Netkey among its clients.
The interior of GA Services' facility. The firm specializes in kiosk maintenance.
Mitsubishi, Irvine, Calif. — I was impressed by the company’s crystal clear high-definition digital monitors in the lobby of their headquarters. I immediately spotted the photo kiosk, which was the part of the business I came to discuss with Darla Achey, marketing programs specialist. Mitsubishi makes photo kiosks for instant prints using dye sublimation and a micro-lab interface for chemical photo labs. While speed is the main benefit to printing on the spot, using the lab offers more photo manipulation options and a higher quality. When asked how Mitsubishi tries to compete with the big players in the photo kiosk space (Kodak, Fuji, Sony), Achey responded, “We don’t. We’re perfectly willing to sell one or two units at a time to independent retailers.”
Epson America, Long Beach, Calif. — Mike Pruitt, mobile and OEM product manager for Epson, explained that the company has two divisions: consumer and business. In the business division, Epson has become the largest supplier of thermal printers for POS systems in America and focuses most of its business through OEMs. When discussing one of my recent columns on electronic voting, Pruitt impressed me with his knowledge of the subject and laid out a logical strategy suggesting the use of barcodes on printed receipts for the voter to verify before dropping into the ballot box to be counted.
APS America, Carson, Calif. — At APS America, I met with Felisa Matteucci and Lisa Tanaka. APS (Advanced Printing Systems) is a global company with headquarters in Biansco, Italy, software and engineering operations in France and manufacturing in Taiwan. APS makes direct thermal printer mechanisms, controller boards and OEM finished printers. Their products are available through distributors like Telpar and manufacturers’ representatives. They offer a high-speed printer especially for kiosks.
ID TECH, Cypress, Calif. — ID TECH is a manufacturer of magnetic stripe, smart card, and barcode readers for kiosks, POS systems, ATMs and vending machines. George Steele, director of product development, said the company is expanding its offerings in 2007 to include a contactless reader. ID TECH received the 2006 Frost & Sullivan Award for Emerging Company of the Year for the smart cards market. The research company recognized ID TECH for offering a hybrid reader that accepts both magnetic stripe and smart cards.
SeePoint Technology, Redondo Beach, Calif. — SeePoint designs and constructs small footprint kiosks. At SeePoint, I sat down with Sydney Arfin, vice president, and Michael Sass, vice president of business development. Arfin explained how her husband Jonathan started SeePoint in 1999 after experiencing frustration schlepping a large, box-like kiosk up a set of narrow stairs to the second floor of a building during a deployment. Arfin said self-service needs portability just like much of the technology in consumers’ lives today. In recent years, the company has focused on healthcare, retail and entertainment/gaming markets (museums are included in the latter).
Next stop: New York City and the NRF show.