Picture : Tomorrow’s Mother RFID fixture in Herberger’s St. Paul store. The SightWare module is inside and the clothing on the fixture is being scanned.
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Tomorrow’s Mother was recently nominated as a finalist in the Most Innovative Use category for the 2009 RFID Journal Awards. Their RFID in-store pilot is all about getting accurate real time inventory data at the item level to improve replenishment and reduce Out of Stocks. Seems like just another retailer that’s experimenting with RFID smart shelves? Not quite. What makes this pilot so interesting is the hidden technology behind the project. Find out more by listening to the podcast!
Links to topics discussed in the podcast :
RFID in Fashion in New York City
Tomorrow’s Mother is a 2009 RFID Journal Awards finalist in the Most Innovative Use of RFID category
We hope to see you at the next RFID Journal Live! Harold will be giving a Preconference Seminar RFID in Warehouse and Inventory Management
Tomorrow’s Mother’s Powerpoint presentation given at the RFID in Fashion Show.
Maternity Apparel Maker Gives Birth to Smart Displays in Stores
(RFID Journal Premium Content – you need a password)
Picture : Harley Feldman, President and CTO of Seeonic (left) & Al Dittrich, President and CEO of Retail Associates, LLC
Interview transcript :
Anthony Palermo (2:32) :
Here we are RFIDRadio.com. We’re here at the RFID Journal Live – RFID in Fashion Show in New York City. I’m sitting here with Harley and Allen and they’re going to talk to us a little bit about this product that they have showcased here at the show and tell us a little bit about the benefits of having this in the retail sector. We’ll let them speak about it. Harley Feldman is President and CTO of Seeonic. I’ll let him speak a little bit about their product and then I’ll let Allen tell us a little bit about what his objectives were and the benefits he’s seeing. Hi Harley, how are you doing?
Harley Feldman (3:13) :
Good. Glad to talk.
Anthony Palermo (3:15) :
Thank you very much for being on RFID Radio. Just let us know a little about the ideas behind this and also what the product does and its functionalities.
Harley Feldman (3:27) :
The main idea was to provide RFID accessible data on a very low cost to avoid the infrastructure costs that most companies face today in gathering RFID data. So the technology we built is a mobile platform that’s actually financially disposable. We bundled the hardware into our service offering. In that module is an RFID reader and a cellular communication’s module so that we can sense the RFID tags in a store and transfer that data to our server on the Internet where our customers can access the data directly. Our challenge was to make it so that we didn’t need any infrastructure of the retail store neither IT nor power. It’s battery driven. It allows our customers to have a sensor in a store and get data directly to them from their fixture or their display that’s in the store.
Anthony Palermo (4:24) :
Battery operated, that means it’s charged every…
Harley Feldman (4:28) :
The battery should last six months or more. It depends on the number of reads that we do during the day because the fixture is powered down when it’s not reading. The reads take 4-5 seconds. The frequency of the read has more to do with it. But the battery should last anywhere from 3 months to 1 year for any predictable read rates.
Anthony Palermo (4:48) :
Can you tell us a little bit about the hardware that’s involved.
Harley Feldman (4:53) :
We’re using a ThingMagic reader they’re embedded M5e Reader and a standard cellular modem from Siemens which speaks GSM today but we can put a CDMA module in there and the rest was custom electronics that we designed and put on a circuit board that integrates all of that together.
Pictures : Pictures of Seeonic’s SightWare module (inside is a ThingMagic M5e RFID Reader, Pic Microprocessor, 16 x 1 multiplexer and Siemens cellular modem). The module can connect to up to 16 proprietary UHF antennas.
Anthony Palermo (5:12) :
This is all UHF technology?
Harley Feldman (5:14) :
It’s all UHF. We could use HF in there but we build antennas for UHF and we can support up to 16 antennas. So it’s really focused on UHF today.
Anthony Palermo (5:24) :
In this circumstance, with of this product, this was a mandate that was given to you by a customer?
Harley Feldman (5:32) :
No. We knew that the ROI for RFID was going to come better if it was from the store. So we focused on store execution and that provides the greatest visibility to the manufacturer and the retailer as to the demand for their product. We’re statusing inventory on a periodic basis and that paints the picture of customer demand. With that piece of data, it makes the rest of the Supply Chain more efficient.
Anthony Palermo (5:59) :
How did this product come to be? Were you asked by a customer of yours or this was your idea and you approached a customer?
Harley Feldman (6:09) :
It was our idea and we approached Tomorrow’s Mother and the fit was right. So we worked with them to build it for them, but it’s pretty generic in what we’ve done.
Anthony Palermo (6:23) :
So I’m here with Alan, President and CEO of Retail Associates who is the parent company of Tomorrow’s Mother. Alan, thank you very much for being on RFID Radio.
Al Dittrich (6:34) :
Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
Anthony Palermo (6:35) :
I saw a presentation you gave this morning about the use of the product and how the benefits have been coming for you guys and your plans to deploy. Can you tell us a little bit more about the objectives you had for RFID technology.
Al Dittrich (6:55) :
We run leased apparel departments within what we call host stores, for a department store for example. Thus we’re across a broad base of different retailers all of which have different systems and different levels of information that we’re able to access. And even when we can access, it’s in different formats. We needed to have better control of our own information to be able to read or hands and understand our in-stocks within the stores. So we were looking for a solution that would allow us to do that. We happen to come across Seeonic and they were developing a solution that happened to be very close to what we were looking for. Then working together we’ve been able to roll out this first test unit that is out operating in the stores and it is giving us what we wanted.
Anthony Palermo (7:43) :
Great so this first store, what have the immediate benefits been for you.
Al Dittrich (7:49) :
The benefits have been to be able to read our in stock inventory and in particular on our basics. So that we can know and understand when we need a product by size, by color in those basics to be reordered and sent back to that store on a very timely basis.
Anthony Palermo (8:06) :
How big of a problem was out of stocks, or you were talking of safety stocks? Is this something that was a substantial problem?
Al Dittrich (8:14) :
I’d say substantial +.
Anthony Palermo (8:18) :
So obviously this was something. Did you know about RFID technology before you were talking to Seeonic?
Al Dittrich (8:25) :
I had heard of RFID technology but hadn’t spent a lot of time knowing and understanding what it was. Through our connection with Seeonic is where I learned a lot more about what it is, what it can do for you. And started to understand what the real capabilities of it were and how it really fits and applies to our business.
Anthony Palermo (8:45) :
What’s the future plans for Retail Associates? It’s to move forwar with a full deployment?
Al Dittrich (8:55) :
At this point we’ve got 1 fixture which I think was a very good move for us to know and understand and we’ve certainly made some adjustments. This is brand-new technology. We’re now going to roll out 20 more and know and understand more and then we will go from there.
Anthony Palermo (9:10) :
The first one, how long have you had it in use?
Al Dittrich (9:14) :
We’ve had it in use for about 6 weeks now. One of the things was when we coded the tags, we didn’t code them correctly. We had to go back and recode some tags. We’re now getting really accurate information from the unit. We’re getting what we want and finding that it’s useful information.
Anthony Palermo (9:36) :
Are you working solely with Seeonic or do you have your suppliers involved as well and you’re sort of a group that have aligned to use this technology.
Al Dittrich (9:45) :
We’re a fairly unique situation because we are also the supplier and the retailer. So we are the suppliers and we are the retailers running leased departments. So yes we had our suppliers involved because they’re us.
Anthony Palermo (10:00) :
This is all the items are tagged or just a series of clothing?
Al Dittrich (10:05) :
At this point we’ve tagged just the basics, we call them the essentials. That was our priority: to know and understand on the reorders. Long term, I would think we’re going to be tagging all of the products because of the benefits of being able to take quick inventories of the products at a much reduced expense to us. But at this time, currently on the floor we have just the basics tag.
Anthony Palermo (10:29) :
Where is the tagging happening? At the DCs or at the stores?
Al Dittrich (10:34) :
Well currently since we’re in just 1 of our 300+ stores, we’re tagging it at the store level. Long term plan is to tag it back at the source (source tagging) just like we currently tag the UPC tags or the hang tags. It’ll be integrated into part of the hang tags. So the long term plan is to have it done at the source of production.
Anthony Palermo (10:52) :
So these are stores employees that are doing this? The same way that they would put a price tag on an item, they’re also putting these tags?
Al Dittrich (10:59) :
We actually have merchandisers that go to the stores and do several functions for us. That’s who’s doing it at this point.
Anthony Palermo (11:08) :
Harley, tell me a little about the software that is being used in this case. Is this something that is web-based or something that is installed at the Retail Associates headquarters?
Picture : A picture of the Web-based application that provides a real-time data stream retrieved from one of Tomorrow’s Mother’s fixtures. As you can see the pants are listed by style, color and size. Note that each pair of pants has a unique identifier so that each item can be tracked individually. One of the uses of this number is seeing that some items go to the dressing room and then return which should not signal a replenishment alert.
Harley Feldman (11:19) :
It’s all web-based and there’s a couple of functions that we have. One is short term alerts for replenishments that are noticed because we’ve gotten below some threshold. In the longer term, we’re building a replenishment model so that Tomorrow’s Mother can make predictions on out of stocks and get ahead of the curve instead of waiting to react to them.
Anthony Palermo (11:39) :
The plans to commercialize the product, has that already started?
Harley Feldman (11:44) :
Yes, it’s a commercial product today. It’s a service we offer today on the Web. It’s software as a service offering.
Anthony Palermo (11:51) :
Is this something that someone can visit your Web site and find out the costs? Obviously, it varies on what they are looking for I imagine.
Harley Feldman (11:59) :
It does. We don’t have a standard catalog because there are so many variables: length of time that the fixtures are being used, the amount of data being used, SKUs. We’re happy to sit down and work with that. Plus we have to do a little work on the front end with the antennas to configure the product.
Anthony Palermo (12:14) :
What’s the website?
Harley Feldman (12:17) :
Anthony Palermo (12:23) :
Thank you very much, both of you, for being on RFIDRadio.
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