When British furniture maker Timothy Oulton decided to open a new US store, it set out to speed up the months-long process. It worked with Microsoft partner eMazzanti Technologies to deploy several tablet PCs running Windows 8 Pro and used them to improve employee training and standardize processes, all while supporting its brand. The company opened the new store in just three weeks and credits Windows 8 Pro with providing much of the flexibility and power needed to support business growth.
Timothy Oulton furniture is always eye-catching and sometimes outrageous: an overstuffed sofa covered as a Union Jack flag; a kitchen cabinet fashioned from the timbers of an ancient Chinese ship; a chair that mimics the lines of an Aston Martin. The British furniture designer started out as a wholesaler but in 2011 expanded into retail. Today, the company sells its furniture through 32 Timothy Oulton and partner-owned galleries internationally, four of which are in the United States.
Due to the traditional operational practices of the company’s US galleries, technology often took a back seat to more important retail needs. As a result, the US stores used a mix of computers running Mac and Windows operating systems, and there were no standard networks or business processes. This eclectic technology mix, combined with paper-based operational practices, often prolonged the length of time it would take for the stores to begin running smoothly.
“We sell furniture, and most of our pieces have a period look to them, so we don’t want our stores bristling with computers,” says Matt Wilkerson, Head of Retail for Timothy Oulton Americas. “But the reality of retail today is that you need cutting-edge technology in your stores. You have to make it easy for customers to find information and communicate with you, and you have to be able to answer questions quickly and professionally. We were not doing that with our mish-mash of technology.”
When Timothy Oulton Americas decided to open a high-end outlet store in New Jersey, it took the opportunity to “get technology right.” For guidance, Timothy Oulton engaged eMazzanti Technologies, a New York City–area IT consultancy and member of the Microsoft Partner Network. “We knew that Timothy Oulton needed standardized technology and, because it operates in high-end retail, the technology had to be sexy,” says Carl Mazzanti, President of eMazzanti Technologies.
“Someone who is about to spend [US]$10,000 on a couch doesn’t want to sit across from a salesperson who is pecking away on a clunky PC.”
The technology also had to be easy to use and cost-effective. eMazzanti recommended that Timothy Oulton standardize on tablet PCs running the Windows 8 Pro operating system. It also helped Timothy Oulton install a new network that connected all US stores and installed wireless access points.“We were mostly Mac users, but once employees started learning all the cool features of Windows 8 Pro, they came up to speed very quickly,” says Nate Green, Manager of Timothy Oulton Furniture Outlet. “At the end of the first day, the Internet was up and all employees could write an order, swipe a credit card, and take an order. Previously, it took weeks to get that far.”
Green personally loves the tile interface of Windows 8 Pro, which shows all his most-used applications in one place. “I also love the ability to switch between tablet and laptop form factors and between business applications and customer interactions,” Green says. For example, if an employee is working in the company’s point-of-sale (POS) system and a customer walks up and asks to see a sofa in a different color, the employee can quickly swipe across the touchscreen to the inventory application and twist the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist tablet around to show the customer an image. When the customer leaves, the employee can immediately swipe back to work in the POS.
Salespeople carry the tablets throughout the store and use them to answer customer questions. Timothy Oulton has attached credit card sliders to the tablets so that employees can complete a transaction from anywhere in the store, eliminating clunky card readers. The outlet store uses Lenovo ThinkPad Twist and HP EliteBook Revolve tablet PCs and plans to deploy the devices in its other US stores.
Thanks in part to the Windows 8 Pro tablets, Timothy Oulton was able to open its outlet store in just three weeks. “It took us just three weeks from the moment we said we wanted to open an outlet to opening our doors, and the Windows 8 Pro tablets that eMazzanti recommended contributed greatly to the speedup,” Wilkerson says. Because of the success with its outlet store, Timothy Oulton is going to deploy tablets running Windows 8 Pro in all future stores.Speeding up store openings is critical, because Timothy Oulton is in high-growth mode. “We need a platform that is scalable and adaptable so that we can tweak our systems as we grow,” Wilkerson says. “In Windows 8 Pro, I see something that’s fresh and modern. We have to keep up with our customers but ideally stay one step ahead of them—wow them with cool things that they haven’t seen in other stores.”
For example, Timothy Oulton is launching a new exotic bedding line and wants to promote it in an equally exotic way. Wilkerson envisions a giant touchscreen monitor in the store that customers can interact with to learn more about the company’s fabrics and textiles. “Technology becomes a valuable way to support your brand and engage your customers, and Windows 8 Pro is perfect for that,” Wilkerson says. “Our employees just look very professional and are able to get things done quickly.”
The company likes not only the “cool” factor that Windows 8 Pro brings to its stores but the fact that it’s easy to connect these tablets to its existing business systems. “With Windows 8 Pro, we can do amazing things and control costs,” Wilkerson says.