On the surface, it might seem like a tough sell: convincing a national luxury retailer to buy your ultra high-res monitors, and then station them in women’s shoe aisles, where shoppers can peruse offerings both in-store and online.
But that’s what Charlotte-based T1Visions did. And now the Inc. 500 company, which makes interactive touchscreens found in restaurants and at universities, has a partnership with $4.8 billion-a-year retailer Neiman Marcus.
Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, with 41 storefronts nationally, signed a deal with T1V last summer to feature the touchscreen retail tables at three flagship stores in Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Topanga, Calif. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, the firm calls the agreement one of its most significant for raising awareness for its brand in the retail marketplace.
For T1V, which generated $2.4 million in revenue in 2013, the partnership is the result of a years-long strategy. Its plan included targeting the right trade shows and hitting the biggest deadline of the retail season by having their large-format interactive screens ready by Black Friday.
Here’s a look at how the company landed the big client:
Step 1: Finding the right market
You can find T1V’s screens at The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar in SouthPark, where patrons can play games and read the news at the sushi bar and customize a virtual fish in a digital aquarium while waiting for a table. At UNC Charlotte, the screens are embedded into library tables, where students can collaboratively work on projects and presentations. Touchscreen tables are in two boutiques in SouthPark mall, and in 246 digital tiles of a Texas A&M University locker room.
For Dave Aichele, T1V’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, making the jump to a national retailer seemed like a natural next step.
He thought T1V’s technology could help capture distracted retail shoppers who walk into stores with mobile devices in hand, ready to compare online offerings with in-store ones. These digital shoppers “walked out of the store if they could not find that particular color or size” they wanted, Aichele said.
T1V crafted a solution: an interactive table customers could use like an iPad, swiping their fingers across a screen to scroll through selections. They would add items to a digital shopping bag and shop virtually at all the retailer’s stores.
The company had its idea. The next step was finding a retailer willing to buy it.
Step 2: Attending the right trade show
Enter the National Retail Federation’s annual trade show – a gathering in New York City of some of the biggest names in retail.
“Key executives are there, VPs and directors – it’s usually the decision-makers that are attending the show,” Aichele said. “We know that show is going to have the right people to engage with. We know this is the right show to be at.”
But, before they arrived, T1V had an email distribution list of retailers they hoped to meet. They emailed messages to those retailers, including press releases a week before and the day of the show to highlight a retail table prototype they planned to display.
At the show, T1V set up near the back of the trade room. T1V didn’t target Neiman Marcus, Aichele said, but its table still caught the attention of Scott
Emmons, the store chain’s enterprise architect and innovation lab manager.
“I was looking for, on the technology side of things, what can I use to deliver something amazing for my customers,” Emmons said. “I saw T1(V) had their table out on the floor. It really caught my eye. Ideas started percolating.”
Several meetings passed before Neiman Marcus tested the tables against similar products. Two months later, T1Visions was given the green light.
Step 3: Keeping their promises
The rush was on to get three tables in three stores by the Friday after Thanksgiving, the day retail profits go from red to black.
Simply put, “We told them we could hit the dates, and we did,” Aichele said.
For five months, T1V and Neiman Marcus collaborated on everything – from the shade of the “wooden skin” enclosing the monitors to the height of the tables. Then came loading the gadgets with data showing hundreds of the store’s shoes, handbags and other accessories in various sizes, colors and prices.
Subsequent prototypes weren’t necessary, Aichele said. T1V’s designers had to build only the tables and synchronize the programming with Neiman Marcus’ existing inventory.
The result: interactive tables with a continuous pane of glass that measure about 3 feet tall, 70 inches long and 26 inches wide.
Step 4: Being discreet
It’s not easy wrangling out of Aichele some of the exclusive details about the deal with Neiman Marcus.
Take note: Knowing how to keep a secret comes with the territory when working for a mega-retailer whose competitors are Macy’s, Belk and Bloomingdale’s.
T1Visions didn’t publicly announce its partnership with Neiman Marcus until weeks after the tables debuted: “They want to take advantage of this platform and not let their competitors be aware of it,” Aichele said.
The same rules apply for a new client T1V wooed at the NRF trade show this January. That merchant asked the company to keep its plans and tech under wraps until the time is right.
Said Aichele: “We completely agreed.”