A slice of next-gen technology born in Moore County was exhibited earlier this month in New York City when more than 35,000 retail industry professionals attended the National Retail Federation’s Big Show.
It was there where companies like Aberdeen-based Meridian Kiosk previewed their latest products. The newest prototype to roll off the company’s line is the mBOX automated locker system, a secure and kiosk-managed storage unit designed to simplify product pickup and improve customer experience.
“We developed the locker system quite a few years ago, but maybe it was a little ahead of its time. Now we are seeing the market has matured, and a lot of people are looking for these solutions,” said Meridian CEO Chris Gilder.
Gilder founded Meridian in 1999 as a company that built custom computers but has transformed into one today that provides self-service solutions for companies around the world. Its roster of clients includes blue-chip companies like Walmart, Dell Computers, Delta Airlines, Mercedes-Benz and Food Lion.
From concept to completion, the company specializes in the design, engineering, fabrication, assembly and integration of its products. In addition, Gilder also founded Spout LLC and also launched Spout, a QR code scanner that essentially provides real-time feedback for businesses through enhanced customer engagement.
Meridian Kiosk subscribes to insourcing and manufactures nearly everything internally from its location on South Pine Street near downtown Aberdeen. Here the company builds automated locker systems and kiosks from the ground up for self-service ticket booths, tourism and way-finding units, parking lot management, and vending and dispensing devices.
The pre-production prototype locker system that was introduced at the NRF Big Show utilizes all of the resources available at Meridian — vertical integration in manufacturing, cutting-edge technology and creative configurations. The company shared exhibitor space with one of its longtime clients, HP Inc.
“We build lots and lots of different solutions,” Gilder said. “When we go to shows, we typically embed with partners. We have a long history with HP that started with our Walmart kiosks. We’ve done over 15,000 and are still doing these, and since then we’ve worked together on lots of different projects.”
The kiosks and the automated locker system feature a steel exterior case that can be wrapped in other materials, like wood veneers, resin or acrylic, or insets with color-changing LED lighting. The interior locker space can also be customized by size and the addition of electrical outlets for charging devices.
“What is nice about Meridian is we can offer our clients options. All of the equipment is manufactured in-house, so we can provide a lot more flexibility,” said Stephanie Mewherter, Meridan’s marketing manager. “The exterior can be more aesthetically pleasing to match a space or company’s image.”
Lockers can be deployed in a variety of settings and are picking up speed in the marketplace alongside mobile ordering, which is on the rise. Potential clients include fast food establishments, pharmacies and grocer applications, plus unattended equipment rentals, short-term real estate key pickup and drop-off, and similar services for auto repair and vehicle rental agencies.
“We’re seeing two big trends. Our clients are looking for outdoor kiosk applications and the locker system, which can be used indoors or outdoors,” said Rebecca Swibes, Meridian marketing specialist.
Recent breakthroughs in technology are also opening up new opportunities for Meridian.
Gilder said there is a huge movement with data and camera analytics that can be incorporated in kiosks. Built-in security cameras can also be used to count the number of people walking by a kiosk, how many stopped to look at information displayed — and what information was on the screen at that time, how long they stayed and if they interacted with the screen.
A bit Big Brother-like, the same camera analytic software can determine the age and gender of a kiosk visitor, and their “mood,” and then dictate the content of the information displayed to match this potential customer.
Another breakthrough involves touchscreen film that allows kiosks to be used through storefront window glass and also on outdoor units, so they can be built more durably.
“There is a lot of room to expand in this market,” Swibes said.
Outdoor kiosks are popular for tourism, serving as interactive information hubs to point visitors toward nearby restaurants, shops and attractions. Meridian has also seen an uptick in interest in drive-thru kiosks for fast food and service industries. The storefront window kiosk applications are also particularly appealing to real estate offices and businesses in pedestrian-friendly locations.
“The through-glass installations put the touchscreen film inside the store. The customer can interact with the indoor kiosk, which is more affordable than an outdoor unit. Basically it provides an outdoor interaction at a fraction of the cost,” Gilder said.
Other modern technologies that can adapted for kiosk use include installing a Wi-Fi beacon, digital advertisements using Meridian’s InterAct software to promote different businesses and events, and embedding QR codes that can download maps, business contacts, menus or other detailed information to handheld devices.
Meridian employs 36 and is hiring for two positions. To learn more, visit meridiankiosks.com