Companies are used to working with components made in China. But how about when an entire 7,200-square-foot A/V job site is made in China and sent here on a boat?
That’s exactly the case with C. Wonder, the new emporium in Manhattan’s SoHo shopping district that is taking the notion of replication in retail to an extreme. C. Wonder plans to have opened as many as 50 stores within 18 months of the New York debut in November, and within six weeks of that had already made good on four.
The stores’ interior walls and fittings are constructed inside a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in China, then disassembled, shipped to their destinations and reassembled there.
C. Wonder’s merchandise is kind of a pricier version of Target, but its technology is cutting edge with RFID systems, “smart” shelves and dressing room technology that has lit up the fashion blogs. That created an interesting challenge for Cliqk, the integrator C. Wonder brought in to make its vision of high-tech retail come alive.
“This was quite a different enterprise than your typical retail store, which you watch being built and can create and adapt your solutions plans as it moves along,” recalls Mark Hernandez, president of Cliqk. “With C. Wonder, we got detailed elevation plans and millwork drawings ahead of time, but everything for this store had to come together in about a week!”
The template approach to retail construction can lead to glitches, especially in the century-old lofts of downtown Manhattan. Water pipes forced the relocation of several pieces of A/V equipment, including the sections of walls that would hold the dressing room touchpanels, which are the centerpiece of C. Wonder’s A/V. “Even a matter of two inches is a lot when the locations have to be precise,” says Hernandez.
A quick visit inside one of those dressing rooms shows two Card Access WMS10-CL-ZP ceiling-mount wireless motion sensors turn the MR16 halogen ceiling lights and incandescent pendant light on low and start music lightly pouring from a ceiling-mounted Bose DS40F speaker.
Attention is quickly drawn to the Control4 C4-TSWMC7-EG-WH 7-inch Infinity Edge touchpanel controller mounted in the front wall. The touchscreen displays eight music playlists, with the store’s signature theme “wonder-ful” pumped in from a local DMX Profusion XS music server that also supplies the rest of the store with background music.
Below that a row of soft-touch buttons allow the shopper to select three levels of volume or mute the sound. The bottom row of buttons lets them select the lighting level, from dim to bright. The panel is backlit to show C. Wonder’s own graphics. A call button can summon assistance from a store employee.
Hernandez says the uniqueness of what C. Wonder wanted to accomplish in a retail setting needed more than an off-the-shelf solution. Contol4’s automation system had to be made to work on an enterprise-level Cisco managed network. That, says Hernandez, required extensive programming, in the form of coding a series of permissions to allow the Control4 devices, including the dressing room controls and the touchpanels used back-of-house to control store-wide lighting, sound and HVAC, to run on the network. These same controls are also tied into a larger cloud-based program that turns on those systems automatically to open and close all stores 365 days a year in all locations.
“We had to figure out how to write the special rules needed to tell a network-managed switch when to open a specific port on the network to allow one of the Control4 devices to operate on it,” he explains. “You’re basically taking a high-end residential automation system and applying it to a Layer 3, enterprise-class network. We had to write a lot of our own drivers for that. It’s a lot of work but going forward we’ll be able to apply that programming to future stores.”
That melded network was applied well beyond the dressing rooms. RFID plays a large role in C. Wonder; RFID chips in the store’s product’s tags will initially interact with RFID scanners located at the main entrance for several functions, including loss prevention (when a tag is scanned as unpaid, instead of alarms going off the music system plays a predetermined signal song to alert store security without alarming shoppers or tipping off the “boosters”) and inventory control, the latter by linking to the store headquarters’ main ERP database.
Future applications include informing staff that VIP customers have entered the store and allowing transaction-less sales to take place without engaging the staff, with charges appearing on customers’ credit cards automatically; Kiosks centrally located within each store outfitted with an embedded 19-inch Samsung B1940ER SyncMaster LCD; an RFID scanner in the kiosk reads the tag presented by a shopper and can provide information such as pricing and manufacturer, as well as offering related information like accessories that can lead to additional sales.
As cool as the C. Wonder stores are, they are equally calculated. “Everything, especially the dressing room technology, is all about keeping people in the stores as long as possible,” says Hernandez. “In fact, one of the concerns that came up as we were reading about the stores on fashion blogs was that everyone liked that so much that we might have problems getting people out of the dressing rooms.”
In a tough retail climate when most stores worry about getting shoppers into the dressing room, that’s a good problem for C. Wonder to have.