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

Wait times figured into another IoT solution to a problem as well, Romero says. When the shop first opened, demand was very high and the staff had to sometimes turn potential customers away if barbers were too backed up. Then, a potential investor with whom Romero was discussing the business asked him how he was optimizing his scheduling. If customers were being turned away, the shop was clearly not optimizing scheduling at all. So Romero purchased an internet-connected button (purchased online from Particle.io) and set it up near the cashier's stand. Whenever a customer is turned away, either after walking into the shop or when calling to make an immediate appointment, an employee presses the button.

Romero programmed a link between the button and Slack, a workplace messaging app, so that whenever the button is pressed, all working employees receive a message on their phones, alerting them all that someone was turned away.

A wait time appears via a small digital display next to each printed menu item.
The person who pressed the button then taps the message to access Spruce's appointment-management website, where she can either add in details (noting if the potential customer walked in the store or called, as well as any other notes that led to the missed sale) and what type of cut or shave that person wanted (since each service has a different price). The employee can also click a box to indicate that the button was pressed in error, thereby deleting the event.

In the Spruce appointments software, Romero programmed a simple graph that shows when the most customers are rejected (initially, the problem was particularly bad on Sunday afternoons). In addition, he beefed up staffing during those times in order to provide better coverage. "We're a small shop," he says, "so being able to schedule efficiently is a big deal."

Connecting Without Beacons
While Bluetooth beacons have emerged as a must-have tool for retailers looking to engage with customers, it's not a technology Romero considered for Spruce. That's because he does not believe his customers' needs or interests would be met by having them download and use a special app on their smartphones. "I'd love to use beacons, but who wants to add a native app to their phone just to get a haircut?" he asks.

However, Romero says, he did want to understand visiting patterns and be able to connect with returning customers. So he considered installing a Wi-Fi router in his shop that broadcasts a unique Server Set Identifier (or SSID, which Wi-Fi routers use to connect new devices to a network). This device would be designed to be used as part of a loyalty system, whereby customers, once their phones are identified, could be prompted to download a native app to receive special offers and more. Since Romero had already ruled out the use of apps, he instead designed a work-around.

The store already had a Wi-Fi router in place that it uses to provide internet service for the staff. So Romero utilized an Ethernet cable to connect the router to a Raspberry Pi, and to that device he added a Wi-Fi dongle that broadcasts its own SSID. He then programmed the Raspberry Pi so that the SSID appears as "spruce-guest." In this way the Pi device acts as a secondary hotspot, designed just for customers.

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