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Talking points

Diversification into monitoring and safety solutions has helped inurface Group engage with customers during lockdown

What do you do if you suddenly lose 85-90% of your business, if you have furloughed your staff and your customers have shut up shop?

For Josh Bunce, Founder and CEO of AV digital signage company inurface Group (pronounced In Your Face), the answer is quite simple – you keep talking.

“You have to keep talking to your customers. At the same time, you can’t keep talking about the same thing, because if you do they will definitely avoid you,” he explains.

Over the last few months, so that it has something new to discuss with customers, inurface has been launching a series of solutions to help retailers and other businesses re-open their premises safely after June 15.

These include:

*A thermal imaging camera for monitoring the body temperature of shoppers, employees and visitors, with an integrated cloud-based system so that data can be shared in real time with store managers, security teams and remote sites (e.g. a head office);

hand sanitiser.

*A digital hand sanitiser that combines a sanitation point with a display for onscreen, real-time information and marketing messages; and

*A traffic management signage system that uses a traffic light system to manage the flow of shoppers, removing the need for extra staff to police shop entrances. Scalable to meet the needs (and budgets) of small retailers as well as billion-pound retail groups, the system can estimate and display waiting times, detect face masks (if they are required) and be upgraded to include thermal monitoring technology if that too is a requirement.

Built from strength
The market is full of similar solutions. The advantage of inurface’s products, claims Bunce, is that they are not generic solutions imported from China but are specially designed with the company’s strengths in mind.

“A couple of months ago we applied for an innovation grant for Covid-19. We weren’t successful but it got us thinking about the assets we have. We import a lot of technology from China; we develop our own technology; and we work with cameras because we do a lot of facial tracking for games intelligence and triggering content on screens. So we started thinking about how we could use our assets and knowledge to bring some new products to market.”

The value of this approach is clearly evident in the company’s digital hand sanitiser. On one level, it is no different to thousands of similar devices coming out of China – it is just a digital screen with a hand sanitiser built-in – but as soon as you factor in the experience inurface has in the digital signage market it becomes a very different proposition. As an example, Bunce cites the possibilities for commercialising the product.

“We’re talking to some of our customers about how you could get a brand behind it,” explains Bunce. “If you’re a service station you could get the AA to sponsor the digital hand sanitisers for six months, so you wouldn’t have to pay for them yourself. We are looking at a few things like that because of a lot of our screens are already commercialised in this way.”

Then there is the service wrap that inurface can put around its solutions.

“You’ve got the hardware element; you’ve got the install; and you’ve got the service and maintenance part. There is also the question of whether you want to have the product locally on your own network or in the cloud. If you are Amazon and you have 10 warehouses and you want everything to come back to one portal, we can put it in the cloud and wrap a managed service around that,” Bunce explains.

Maintenance and support

Digital signage hand sanitiser.

All the digital signage screens that inurface Group supplies to existing customers, such as Westfield shopping centres, Sports Direct and Boots, are provided with a support contract; for some clients, it manages the display content as well.

This recurring revenue has proved invaluable during lockdown, and Bunce would like to provide the new products on the same basis, though he is happy to accommodate other preferences as well.

“We are flexible with most of our customers and don’t force them into corners. Obviously, we need to sell the hardware and we would definitely encourage people to take out a managed service for support and managing data and that kind of thing. But if a customer just wants to buy the hardware and plug it into a CCTV camera and, if it breaks, call us out to fix it, we can do that as well.”

It is early days, but the products have already generated some sales and a lot of interest from companies, including some big IT resellers able to give them broader distribution. Above all, they are a great talking point that have helped inurface to engage with its customers at a time when they are probably not thinking about investing in new digital signage for their stores and offices.

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