|| The Perspective
Tuesday, 12 December 2006
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.
Tuesday, 31 October 2006
APW (Waukesha, Wis.) – With operations in eight countries, APW manufactures enclosures for electronics, such as computer servers, audio/visual and telecom. At APW’s world headquarters, we met with Dave Hammer in business development. He explained how the company started in contract manufacturing for OEMs (metal fabrication, assembly, integration, supply chain), but in recent years has increased manufacturing of branded and standard products for customers. With operations in Anaheim, Calif., the company introduced its I-engage kiosk division in 2005.
D2 Sales (Mequon, Wis.) – At D2, we met with owner and founder Sandy Nix. Before starting the company, Nix was a VP at Frank Mayer & Associates where she spent seven years developing a specialization in technology and motor sports. Nix and her team of about a dozen employees bill themselves as "outside the box" when it comes to kiosks. High-profile projects include 1,200 kids’ entertainment kiosks for Burger King and interactive lounges for Yahoo! In describing her company, Nix said: “We’re business consultants and the kiosk is the means by which we deliver the solution.”
Frank Mayer & Associates (Grafton, Wis.) – Allen Buchholtz, Dave Loyda, Dave Zoerb and Cheryl Lesniak gave us a good overview of their company, which designs and builds merchandizing and point-of-purchase displays. The 75-year-old company is now headed by Mike Mayer, grandson of founder Frank Mayer. FMA built its first kiosk two decades ago and they told us they’ve learned much over the years. FMA has won many awards, notably for BMW, Giant-Carlysle and John Deere kiosks. (Related story: Old company, new kiosks: Frank Mayer and Associates turns 75)
Maysteel (Menomonee Falls, Wis.) – At Maysteel, we met with Andy Allen, business development leader, and Doug Odell, market manager. Founded in 1936, Maysteel is a contract manufacturer with 850 employees and over 550,000 sq. ft. in three locations to serve the self-service industry. Maysteel offers custom self-service solutions including integration of electrical and mechanical components along with vertically integrated sheet metal fabrication capabilities. Additionally, Maysteel’s Technical Center is dedicated to design, prototype, and pilot production. Clients include Diebold, Corporate Safe Specialists and DVDPlay. In addition to self-checkout stations and DVD vending units, Maysteel has built self-ticketing and fare collection systems for mass transit applications.
Touch Automation (Milwaukee, Wis.) – Touch Automation, founded by CEO Don Blust four years ago, focuses on one thing: DVD vending kiosks. We met with Tom Driscoll, operations manager and Steve Young, business developer. Touch Automation’s kiosks uses impressive robotics and come in configurations holding approximately 900 to more than 4,000 DVDs, serving one to eight customers simultaneously. Circular RFID tags and remote monitoring are used to manage inventory. The kiosk enclosures are manufactured and components integrated at a plant just outside Chicago.
Imperial Multimedia (Baraboo, Wis.) – CEO Fred Lochner founded Imperial in 1998, after he built a career with foodservice distributor Sysco. Lochner told us of a time when he went horseback riding, got caught in a storm and had a difficult time getting back due to the poor trail map. That spurred him to develop an outdoor kiosk for parks to dispense accurate, up-to-date information on trails, and print maps upon request. He hired Larry Fisher, a senior “imagineer” from Disney, to help. The company is now rolling out kiosks at 31 parks for the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation in the spring of 2007. The kiosks contain a deep level of content about the parks and surrounding areas. The kiosks contain photographs of thousands of scenic locations with their GPS coordinates noted. The company has a website specifically for the project to help promote advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
TD Fischer Group (Wausau, Wis.) – President Bob Fischer gave us a tour of his company, which makes promotional displays and custom exhibits. We also met with Nick Halfman, director of design & engineering, who showed us examples of their work. At TD Fischer, they use a 3-D modeling program called SolidWorks. Conceptual designs of displays looked like photographs as designers applied materials to realistic effect. Fischer unveil a new kiosk venture soon.
StrandVision, LLC (Eau Claire, Wis.) – StrandVision is a digital signage company started by Mike Strand after he sold his successful bar code software business, StrandWare, five years ago. StrandVision offers web-based software to support the digital signage platforms used in business and industry settings, such as Bush Brothers (Bush’s baked beans) and Bombardier, or in bank branches, such as the Bank of Ann Arbor.
Bailiwick (Chaska, Minn.) – Bailiwick specializes in voice and data wiring, electrical, site preparation and deployment of IT systems, primarily for retailers who have a nationwide presence and are deploying in multiple sites. Since 1995, it has been installing devices like POS systems, routers, switches and kiosks. Account Manager Andrew Lillehaugen explained how the company has developed a database of 400-500 companies through which it provides these services across the country. In recent years, Bailiwick launched Division K with skilled kiosk specialists.
3M Digital Signage (St. Paul, Minn.) – 3M, with $21 billion in worldwide sales, entered the digital signage arena with the acquisition of Mercury Online Solutions in Bainbridge Island, Wash., offering network design, implementation, hosting, monitoring and service, as well as easy-to-use content management software. Kelly Canavan, market development manager for 3M's Graphics Market Center, explained how 3M, with its focus on innovation and process improvement, is developing a new approach to address the key marketplace need - measuring and improving ROI for digital sign networks.
Smarte Carte (St. Paul, Minn.) – At Smart Carte, I met with Arthur Spring, senior VP of business development and international operations. Smarte Carte owns and operates carts in hundreds of airports around the world. Several years ago, they began offering lockers for rental and now those lockers are automated with touchscreens. The company has since branched into stroller rentals at 300 shopping malls and, most recently, cell phone charging kiosks called Charge Cartes. With 1,200 employees (only 70 at headquarters), Smarte Carte has a large network of employees at virtually every major airport in the U.S., Scandinavia, Spain, China and Australia/New Zealand. Expect to see more innovative airport offerings from Smarte Carte in the near future.
Mix & Burn (St. Paul, Minn.) – Mix & Burn President Bob French explained how four years of development has resulted in the ability to deliver 40,000 CDs worth of music through a kiosk so customers can select and burn customized CDs. Compare this to the typical store, which only carries 5,000-15,000 titles. French told me they actually got their start before Apple launched iTunes. While the company doesn’t make a kiosk per se (the content is delivered through an IBM Anyplace Kiosk), it has worked with Signifi, which made a combination photo and music kiosk. Mix & Burn’s principal investor is also its principal customer: Trans World Entertainment, owner of music stores FYE, Sam Goody, Suncoast, Coconuts and others. Mix & Burn’s new offering is The Filling Station – a kiosk that allows users to download music to MP3 players and cell phones.
Next stop: Southern California.
Monday, 28 August 2006
On our trip to Western and Upstate New York this past week, Bryan Harris and I traveled more than 500 miles by car to tap the knowledge of nine innovative self-service firms:
ShoptoCook, Buffalo – ShoptoCook creates content delivered through a kiosk for grocery stores to help consumers get meal ideas while at the store. Customers can look up a product, find a recipe that contains the product and print a recipe with all the ingredients listed so they can complete their shopping. The content is available to stores on a subscription basis and is uploaded remotely. We met with CEO Frank Beurskens, who pointed out that we would be hard-pressed to find the word “kiosk” on their website. They prefer “interactive technology” or “customer-facing technology,” because “people say ‘we’ve tried kiosks and they didn’t work.’” Beurskens cautioned against focusing too much on technology since it can lead one to think about “what you could do versus what you need to be doing.”
ANS Marketing, Hamburg – ANS is an ATM ISO that is branching into DVD rental kiosks with a brand they call Boxer Video Galleries (the name was inspired by President Joe Harris’ dog, a boxer). Boxer is doing two things that seem new and different: they offer in-wall-mounted units, similar to ATMs, and “video galleries” (they also make a stand-alone unit). The video galleries are 400-500 square foot retail stores, ideally located in a shopping center. With one door which customers can only enter with a credit card or membership card swipe, the lobby can be open 24/7. Renters can use cash or credit cards to rent movies. The kiosk also dispenses stored-value membership cards, which offer savings or “movie bucks” to create loyalty. The kiosks are manufactured by Italian-based Videosystem. ANS is deploying three simultaneous pilots on September 9 in Hamburg, N.Y.; Brooklyn, N.Y. and El Paso, Texas.
A Door Six digital sign waits to ship.
Door Six, Rochester – Door Six is a digital signage company launched in 2004 by Jim Odorczyk (his last name sounds like Door Six). Jim’s experience in the kiosk industry goes back to 1982 with a company called Inter-ad. We had a “It’s a Small World” moment when we learned that Jim and Elo's Greg Swistak both worked at Xerox at the same time (each man’s first job out of college) and that Jim hired Greg’s former company Factura to make the enclosures for Inter-ad. Jim sold Inter-ad in 1992 and started a custom touchscreen business called National Integration Services. Jim sold NIS to Elo in 1999. Door Six is marketing simple digital signage at an affordable price point. The product is called Brightboard, which has a 19-inch screen that can be mounted on a pedestal or hung on a wall or from the ceiling. The stand-alone unit runs off standard memory flash cards with no custom software needed; it can display jpegs, mpegs, PowerPoint slideshows, etc. The networked units can have content uploaded remotely.
Eastman Kodak, Rochester – We had a two-hour meeting with Dave Jones, WW Product Line Manager for Kiosks, and Rowan Lawson, WW Marketing Manager for Kiosks. We were given an overview of Kodak and where kiosks fit into their business. Lawson said that Kodak is very serious about kiosks and that kiosks are very important to the company. They have a strong position (#1 in distribution and share of printing) in virtually every country. As the methods of capturing and using pictures continue to evolve, Kodak’s goal is to give consumers the ability to share pictures anytime, anywhere.
IBM, Rochester – IBM’s world headquarters is in Armonk, NY, but Cort Johnson, manager of the national kiosk/ATM practice, is based in Rochester. Johnson was the SSKA president for the past three years and was reelected in March to serve two more years on the Advisory Board. Johnson took us to visit two deployments of IBM kiosk products. At Martin’s (part of the Ahold and the Giant food stores chain), we checked out the Shop & Scan handheld scanner and the related kiosks loaded with applications including: item locator, recipes, deli ordering and cake ordering. Interestingly, the recipe I printed out indicated it was “powered by ShoptoCook.” Next, we headed to Sam’s Club to see the latest Fuji photo kiosk developed by IBM.
IBM Global's Cort Johnson, manager of national kiosk/ATM practice, relaxes at his Upstate New York home.
Elo TouchSystems, Rochester – Elo’s headquarters are in California, but their custom touch screens are made in Rochester. We met with Greg Swistak, former executive director of the SSKA. Swistak is a great teacher and explained all the different types of touch screens (resistive, surface acoustical wave, capacitive, infrared, etc.) and the pros and cons of each. Elo has come out with a new technology (acoustic pulse recognition), which uses clear glass (no coating) and transducers around the perimeter. As the name implies, it responds to sound, so it can work with the touch of a finger, card or stylus. We also toured their facility and saw touch screens being assembled.
Ultimate Technology, Victor – Nick Daddabbo, a member of the SSKA Advisory Board, recently moved from Hand Held Products to Ultimate Technology. Ultimate is a POS manufacturer that has recently branched into self-service with the KwikUse kiosk, built for ticketing, gift registry, etc. We also met with Dave LaBudde, VP of marketing & business development. LaBudde explained the history of the company and the request from client Kerasotes Theatres that led them into kiosk sales. He also shared with us the news that in the inaugural RIS News Hardware Leaderboard Survey released in July, Ultimate was ranked #1 by North American retailers in the POS Systems category.
Hand Held Products, Skaneateles Falls – At Hand Held, we met with Don Thompson, marketing manager; Lisa Danese, marketing coordinator; and Lisa Chalupnicki, supervisor, OMC. Hand Held, a division of medical products company Welch Allyn, has approximately 900 employees with offices around the world. While the majority of Hand Held’s product line is mobile computers, handheld imagers and transaction terminals, they have a product specifically for the self-service industry: the Image Kiosk 8560, a mini kiosk that can be used for price checking, product information and loyalty programs.
Hand Held products marketing manager Don Thompson demonstrates the Image Kiosk 8560, a combination price checker/mini kiosk that can also function as a miniature digital sign.
Optical Products Development (OPD), Elmira - OPD President and CEO Ken Westort has several patents and several pending for his 3-D optical technology. The company got its start 10 years ago developing optics for flight simulators. Now the company is turning its focus on its Promo Driver coupon dispensing kiosk, which uses a 3-D “floating image” or holograph to attract attention. The kiosk has a 23-inch digital sign above and a 19-inch touchscreen below the 3-D image. OPD does not plan to sell the kiosk, but to place them in grocery stores, using a revenue-sharing model from manufacturer advertising.
Monday, 31 July 2006
Last week I traveled to Colorado for my regular visits with members. Thinking I would escape the heat by heading for the mountains, I was only half correct. Denver was steaming, but not Colorado Springs. Here’s the scoop on the companies I visited:
RMES Communications Inc.
Denver – At RMES, I met with President/CEO Herman Malone. RMES owns all the pay phones at Denver International Airport. When the airport opened about a decade ago there were 800 pay phones. Now, not surprisingly, there are only 200. About three years ago, RMES started installing Internet kiosks at the airport and has 32 deployed now. They plan to expand that number to 100 by July 2007. They also have some calling card kiosks and want to extend their offerings into amusement/gaming. Other considerations are work stations to recharge laptops and cell phones, photo kiosks and CD/media kiosks.
Arvada – I met Kiosk Tree Co-Founder Dan Krueger at Performance Cycle in Denver, a motorcycle parts and accessories superstore where he is beta testing Kiosk Tree. Kiosk Tree develops the software for point-of-decision kiosks to help consumers learn specifics about products and do side-by-side comparisons. The staff at Performance Cycle also uses it while talking to customers as an assisted-selling device. With remote management, new products can be added and removed. Reports can also be generated detailing all customer searches.
KIOSK Information Systems
Louisville – Craig Keefner, channel manager and former executive director of this association, gave me a tour of KIOSK’s impressive 60,000-square-foot facility. I also had the opportunity to meet Pete Snyder, who formerly directed KIOSK’s Scotland plant, but has now moved back to Colorado. Business is good for North America’s largest kiosk maker as Craig told me the company is looking to move to a larger facility in January. The firm’s sales are about 50% standard kiosks and 50% custom kiosks. At times, up to 300 kiosks a day come off the assembly line. KIOSK is often behind the scenes, building kiosks for HP, Sony, Alamo Rent-A-Car and FedEx, just to name a few.
Denver – Russ Hinely, senior vice president & director of diversified services for new SSKA member Bantek gave me an overview of his company over lunch. Bantek recently merged with Efmark Premium Armored and is the largest NCR ATM reseller. The company’s more-than 2,500 employees services over 65,000 ATMs. Among their many services offered are installations, cash extraction, maintenance, upgrades and removals.
Four Winds Interactive
Arvada – Four Winds is a digital signage company, which includes interactive displays. Denis Lesak, director, sales & marketing, let me sit in on a conference call presentation he was giving to a hotel in Washington, D.C. The project, to install digital signage to replace their reader boards and meeting room signs, was all encompassing of hardware and software. Four Winds creates content for clients and then trains clients how to use their content management software. Their targeted verticals are hotels, convention centers and higher education.
Golden – Cognitive manufactures thermal-direct and thermal-transfer printers (the latter uses a ribbon on untreated paper) which print labels, tags and tickets, primarily driven by bar codes. Barry Knott, president/CEO, explained that their target markets are retail, healthcare and warehouse/distribution centers.
Pueblo West – 24DVD, also known as Automated DVD Vending Machines (ADVM), has entered the DVD rental kiosk market. Karen Renz, president/CEO, admits they’re a latecomer, but they already have a deal with KOA to place them at their campgrounds. Their angle is that their kiosks cost about half of Redbox’s and can be placed in cafes, c-stores and non-traditional locations. Karen’s husband developed all the software that runs the kiosk. Interestingly, the DVDs are not in jewel cases, but come out singly with protective backings. A circular RFID tag on the DVDs lets the machine know when each has been removed and when it has been returned. New releases rent for $1.99 per day and after 6 months they become $0.99 per day. There is also the option to buy DVDs. Each carousel in the kiosk holds 150 DVDs. Kiosks can have up to four carousels.
Colorado Springs – RealTime Shredding focuses on one product and does it well: manufacturing a self-service paper-shredding kiosk. The industrial shredder can also shred CDs and floppy disks. It’s quite impressive. It is fast, quiet and safe (a hand cannot get caught in the shredder). I found it fun to use. After getting a thorough demo from Johnny Podrovitz, vice president business services, I sat down with the team, including President Amanda Verrie, to discuss ideas about locations for the kiosk – grocery stores, airports, apartment complexes, offices, etc.
Pantel Financial Centers
Colorado Springs – I met with Pantel’s Linda Upcraft, director of marketing, who explained that Pantel had been acquired by friendlyway recently. She said that friendlyway will be changing their name to Pantel within the next 30-45 days. Ken Upcraft is the president & CEO of the new company, which also acquired Ignition Media, a digital signage company. Pantel places and manages e-banking kiosks (bill payment, money transfer, pre-paid debit cards, and check cashing).
They are targeting the Hispanic market. The e-banking kiosk for the unbanked to be rolled out shortly is painted in red, white and green (Mexico’s flag colors) with instructions in Spanish and English to attract those customers. The screen on top will have advertising, creating potential advertising revenue in addition to fees. The kiosks will mostly be placed in retail locations like convenience stores.
Next stop: Upstate New York.
Wednesday, 05 July 2006
Smart Power Systems, Houston – While Apollo 13 made common the catchphrase, “Houston, we have a problem,” Dana Davis, national sales manager of Smart Power Systems, told us about another problem in the self-service industry: power. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS), with an electronic power conditioner, protects against “unreliable and unsafe electrical surges and spikes,” according to their website. Davis explained to us how operating systems can lock up without this important protection.
TouchSystems, Hutto – North of Austin, we met with Timothy Boyd, vice president of marketing and operations for TouchSystems. The company was founded in 1996 by one of the original founders of touchscreen technology. In 2002, it spun off Touch International, which we later visited. TouchSystems develops the systems and monitors for customers such as Staples (price checker and loyalty fulfillment), Tootsie Roll (time clocks), and Miracle Ear (automated hearing machine).
Touch International, Austin – Touch International, with approximately 600 employees worldwide, is a manufacturer of touchscreens and touchscreen components for all types of touchscreen technology: capacitive, resistive, projected capacitive and infrared. At Touch, we got to know marketing and communications director Anne Ahola-Ward, who recently joined the firm after working for Apple Computer’s Marketing and Education Department. Though time did not allow us to tour the manufacturing facility, we could see the “clean room” through a glass window.
Wincor Nixdorf, Austin – The North American headquarters of this German-based company calls Austin its home. Well-known in Europe and throughout the rest of the world, the company is striving for the type of name recognition in the U.S. that companies like IBM and NCR receive. Wincor Nixdorf has 7,000 employees worldwide, with about 125 of those in the U.S. The company offers software solutions in addition to its line of POS systems, ATMs and self-service devices. Chad Wagner is now managing the company’s marketing for its retail division.
Pixel Magic Imaging, San Marcos – At Pixel Magic, Mark Melançon, director of product management, and Graham Eastap, VP & general sales manager, explained the workings of the 14-year-old digital imaging and photo kiosk solution provider. Pixel Magic launched its first photo kiosk in 1995 and is now ranked third in terms of U.S. installations. Founded in 1992 by David Oles and Dr. Henry Oles, the company received a majority investment in 2004 by Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) and Altech ADS Co. Ltd. With the proliferation and improvements in camera phones, Pixel sees a strong future in the photo kiosk business.
DynaTouch, San Antonio – After working with the U.S. Department of Defense for several years, DynaTouch has emerged as the kiosk provider of choice for all four branches of the military, plus the Department of Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Services and Internal Revenue Service. Terri McClelland, chief executive officer, explained that DynaTouch deployed its first kiosk in 1988, so it is no stranger to the business. The company now works exclusively with KIOSK (formerly known as KIS) to provide the kiosks that run on DynaTouch software. We viewed a demonstration on one of the “One Stop” kiosks created for the military and were impressed with the extensive amount of content managed.
MCM Corporation, San Antonio – MCM typifies the type of company that works behind the scenes making sure everything works. Managing a force of about 5,000 field technicians, MCM offers onsite repair, maintenance, remote monitoring and electronic dispatching and tracking of service calls. With only 30 employees at its headquarters, the company relies on its sophisticated management systems to be able to provide a response 24/7. One of MCM’s clients is Library Automation Technologies, which has developed a self-checkout system for library patrons.
In addition to the companies mentioned above, Bryan and I also met with two prospective members and three state associations representing the restaurant, travel and convenience store industries. Visiting with 12 organizations and logging over 400 miles on the road, it was an exhausting, but productive and enjoyable trip. Next stop: Colorado.
Monday, 08 May 2006
Editor Bryan Harris and I continued our mission to spend one week a month visiting members, this time to Connecticut and Rhode Island. It was a highly productive trip as we were able to visit with nine companies over three days. For each of us, it was our first time to visit these small, but beautiful states. Here’s a recap:
The JD Events staff, left to right: Jessica Tendler, Joelle Coretti, Lawrence Dvorchik and Joel Davis.
JD Events, Trumbull, Conn. – First up was JD Events, organizers of the annual KioskCom show. Since the Las Vegas show had recently been completed, we found a relaxed and easygoing staff who welcomed us warmly to their office. Lawrence Dvorchik, who works from New Jersey and normally spends Mondays in the Connecticut office, drove up on Tuesday instead so he could meet with us. We met in JD Events President Joel Davis’ office. On Joel’s wall is inscribed the words “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do,” which Joel says captures his competitive spirit. Following our meeting, we had lunch on the patio in the spring sunshine at a lovely Spanish restaurant called Barcelona.
Ventus Networks President and CEO Keith Charette with SSKA executive director David Drain.
Ventus Networks, Norwalk, Conn. – At new member Ventus Networks, we met with president/CEO Keith Charette, and Lynda Barton, office manager. Keith explained that Ventus developed a method to use cellular networks for wireless Internet connections to self-service devices like ATMs and kiosks. Cellular towers are made to be shared, he explained, and users are passed from tower to tower and sometimes dropped in the process. Ventus invented a way to maintain that connection. They started manufacturing routers when they could not find the product they needed to make it work. The networks are encrypted and remotely monitored. We stood in the control room and viewed a live connection with an ATM in a Houston CVS.
Pitney Bowes, Stamford, Conn. – At the corporate headquarters of this Fortune 500 company, we met with Anne Coyle, director of new business development. Everyone knows Pitney Bowes for their mailing systems. They also have 1,900 certified technicians in the field who are trained in installing, maintaining and repairing systems that consist of CPUs and printers, like most kiosks. Pitney Bowes is the authorized provider for Datamax, Dell, HP, Lexmark and Zebra. Out of Pitney Bowes’ last 15 acquisitions most have been software companies, demonstrating the firm’s diversification. The company will also be releasing a postal shipping kiosk shortly that should make waves in the industry.
Selling Machine Partners, Old Lyme, Conn. – Alex Richardson, managing director of consulting firm Selling Machine Partners and current president of our association, picked us up from our hotel in New Haven and showed us around the campus of Yale where he received his MBA. As founder of Netkey, Alex’s team won over 40 industry awards. He now consults to several big names in retail on deploying a self-service or assisted selling strategy through multiple channels. Over dinner, Alex asked Bryan and I about our impressions of the industry since joining it a few months ago. We both responded enthusiastically about its interesting nature and growth potential.
Practical Automation, Milford, Conn. – Bob Donofrio, sales and marketing manager, gave us a tour of Practical Automation’s manufacturing facility. In business for 40 years, the company started manufacturing thermal printers about 15 years ago. Bob told us that about 95% of airline check-in kiosks use Practical Automation’s printers. He said that we will begin seeing the wide format ticket more often since it holds more paper and prints faster than the long format. Since the kiosk printer market is quite competitive, I asked Bob how they differentiate themselves. His response was that in addition to high quality, the firm’s engineers work directly with customers to develop custom solutions. They are also one of the few (if not the only) company to manufacture in the USA.
Netkey, Branford, Conn. – Miller Newton, CEO, and Bob Ventresca, director of marketing, gave us an impressive presentation on Netkey’s software solutions provided to Fortune 500 companies such as Target (8,000 kiosks), JC Penney (1,800 gift registries), Home Depot (a gift card kiosk for malls that was completed in eight weeks from concept to completion), Swift Transportation and BMW. Netkey developed Borders’ popular “Title Sleuth” kiosk, which has been in use for over five years and is being rebranded as “Borders Search.” Bryan asked Miller what he saw as the next big wave. His answer: postal self ordering, digital merchandising (interactive, not passive) and human resources.
AutomationMed, Pawtucket, R.I. – After touring Connecticut, we traveled up to Rhode Island to meet with an orthopedic surgeon named Jack Goldstein. While Dr. Goldstein has an active practice, his passion for years has been developing medical automation software and a medical kiosk that collects data from patients for medical outcomes or “pay for performance measures.” All the patient rooms in Dr. Goldstein’s office where outfitted with a computer so the doctors and nurses could input patient data directly into the system without the paperwork. Also tied into the network is billing information, so not only could he tell you who, when and what a patient came in for, but he could tell you the outcome, cost of treatment and the amount of the invoice.
MontegoNet, Portsmouth, R.I. – On day three, we met Tim Kearns, MontegoNet’s director of marketing. He showed us some of MontegoNet’s kiosks, including the iBank line for self-service banking. We also saw a kiosk they’ve developed for Care Pages, a company that offers a free website to help family and friends post updates and messages for someone who is in the hospital. Tom Smith, president and co-founder, and Rick Wessels, EVP of marketing and sales, talked to us in between meetings they had going on that day. We knew we would see them later as we were invited to the company’s 10-year anniversary party later that evening. (See related story, MontegoNet celebrates 10-year cruise).
Swecoin's Kevin Kent with SSKA executive director David Drain.
Swecoin, Middletown, R.I. – Just down the road from MontegoNet, we visited the U.S. office of Swecoin, a Swedish manufacturer of thermal printers. At Swecoin, we sat down with Kevin Kent, director of business development. Kevin explained that Swecoin focuses solely on kiosks and has the largest market share in Europe with 25% of its worldwide sales coming from the U.S. Swecoin printers can be found at Disney World and in Coinstar’s popular coin counting kiosk. With inkjet technology from HP, Swecoin has recently developed a high-quality, letter-sized color kiosk printer (up to 4800 dpi), capable of printing up to 15 pages per minute. Printers are key components in a kiosk. If the printer doesn’t work, or is out of paper, the kiosk is broken in the eyes of the consumer.
My next road trip will take me to jolly old England where I will “hire” a car and attempt to drive on the left side of the road. Britons beware.
Monday, 03 April 2006
Editor Bryan Harris and I returned from Chicago recently having taken our first of several planned member visits. We met with four SSKA member companies. Each company graciously welcomed us in their offices, told us about their products and some of their challenges and we shared with them the latest plans and activities of the association. Here’s a brief recap from our trip:
DNI Marketing, St. Charles, IL – CEO Jeff Pacelt and four other members of his staff met with us in their conference room for an overview of the company and an engaging discussion about the industry. DNI creates custom-built, in-store displays and has added interactive kiosks to their line up. Their strength lies in branded enclosure design. “If someone needed a kiosk shaped like a spoon, we could do it,” said Rod Carrico, VP of targeted accounts.
DNI Marketing: SSKA executive director David Drain with The DNI Marketing Group CEO Jeff Pacelt.
Pay-Ease, Roselle, IL – Dean Scaros, president, gave us a demonstration of their Automated Commerce Machine. With a touch screen, card reader, keypad, cash dispenser, bill and coin acceptor, card dispenser, decal dispenser, credit card reader, speaker, check reader and receipt printer, this kiosk had more functions than a Swiss Army knife. Bill pay, loyalty card, gift cards and stored-value debit cards are just some of the functions possible with these units. We were especially impressed when the machine printed a parking permit decal for the City of Milwaukee.
Paying with ease: Pay-Ease president Dean Scaros demonstrates the company's advanced financial kiosk to SSKA executive director David Drain.
Adusa, Lombard, IL – We met with Juan Perez, president and chief technology officer of Adusa, which began in 1995 offering consulting and systems integration for grocery stores. In 1999, the company entered the self-service industry by producing a deli-ordering system for one of its customers. Their biggest customer is now Kroger and they are developing web and kiosk software for the quick-serve, fast-casual and casual-dining segments of the restaurant industry. Perez shared with us a March 28 article from CNNMoney.com called “Dining trends: Self-service=quick service” in which he was quoted.
Corporate Safe Specialists, Posen, IL – For our last visit, we drove just south of Chicago to meet with CSS President Ed McGunn. McGunn, who is also a vice president with the association, regaled us with his American dream story of beginning his safe business in his garage in 1988. After landing Blockbuster as a client, he committed to delivering a safe to each Blockbuster store as that chain was on a mission to open a new unit each day. He didn’t have a contract with the video store behemoth, but he was told he could keep the business so long as he could keep delivering safes. That relationship lasted 11 years. CSS entered the self-service industry several years ago when a client asked for remote access to his safes. In addition to the traditional safes the company continues to build, they now offer biometrics, bill handling software and a self-checkout kiosk accepting various methods of payment integrated with a keyless lock safe. The business McGunn and his younger brother started in 1988 has now grown to 62 employees with clients around the world.
Safe at home: Corporate Safe Specialists president and CEO Ed McGunn, far right, leads a tour of his company's assembly operation.
Our goal is to visit members one week a month this year. Bryan and I are already scoping out our next member visits for the New England area. Who knows, we might be coming to a town near you.
I know many of you are preparing to head out to Las Vegas for KioskCom. At last count, there were 63 member companies set to exhibit at next week’s show. I look forward to meeting you there.