Taylor Romero's DIY Path to an Internet-Connected Store

With his barbershop and men's boutique Spruce, Taylor Romero forged his own path to smart retail.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 18, 2016

A barbershop is just about the most antiquated retail setting most people can imagine. But most people have not been to Spruce, a men's shop on Tennyson Street in Denver's hip Berkeley neighborhood.

After more than a decade of working as a software developer at startups, Taylor Romero says he felt like a cog in a wheel and needed a change. And change came in spades when he and his wife decided to open a boutique menswear and barbershop in early 2015.

Spruce connected its menu board to the internet.
Romero knew nothing about running a barbershop. But he had recently read an article describing the Internet of Things and how, just as most consumers today can no longer count the items they own that have embedded microchips, soon they won't be able to count how many objects they own that are internet-connected. This prompted Romero to start thinking about how the IoT was likely to impact every part of our lives. He says when he'd talk to peers about connecting things to the internet, he often heard retorts such as "Why would I want to connect my underwear, or my shoes, to the internet?"

But he realized that such responses were wrong-headed. "If someone is asking that," he says, "you can be certain they are thinking about the problem in the wrong way. Connecting something to the internet is not the point—it is part of the solution to a problem."

That became obvious to Romero not long after opening the shop, when he realized that the static menu board hanging over the barber's chairs was failing to answer his customers' chief question: "How long is the wait?"

Then he realized he had an available answer: connecting the menu board to the internet. "We had a whole online booking system; we had an API that told us our wait times and shows them on our website," he says. "So we said, 'Why don't we just connect the damn menu board to the internet and answer that question right out of the gate?'"

Now, along with the types of cuts or shaves on offer, and their prices, customers also see a wait time, which appears via a small digital display next to each printed menu item.

Customers could get the answer to the wait-time question before, by pulling out their cell phones in order to access the store's website and view the current wait time information listed in the booking application therein. But integrating the times into the menu board means waiting customers can view the information within a fraction of a second.

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