Darryl Kuder, president of Red Dot Digital Media Inc. shares the formula for successful digital signage deployments: “A cloud-based software and a really reliable piece of hardware makes for the most successful deployments; and, in the long term, they really are the least expensive.”
Behind every successful entrepreneur stands an integrator with a screwdriver
(Editor’s note: This is part two in a two-part series on Gameway. Read part one here.)
Innovative business concepts start with a dream, like when Jordan and Emma Walbridge had their vision for Gameway, a line of videogame lounges in airports.
Lacking a background in digital signage, they called in the expertise of Darryl Kuder, president at Red Dot Digital Media Inc., a custom integrator.
Digital Signage Today interviewed Kuder via Google Meet to share some of the principles of success that he has learned from projects like Gameway.
Be a good listener
To boost engagement with its unusual business model, Gameway designed lounges with outward-facing digital signage, including digital front-facing signage, which (depending on the location) involves Sony, Samsung or LG models. Kuder explained the process for one of the locations using Sony displays.
“On the outside, we used Sony 43 inch displays — commercial grade monitors — with the BrightSign XT 1144 players running the wallboard software,” Kuder said. “On the inside, we had two screens that were running BrightSign LS 424 models. Those are just basic BrightSign models that we use primarily for just looping images or videos — just simple, simple content — and they’re hosting a menu of services for sale.”
While Gameway locations also feature simple digital displays for things like the snack and drinks menus, Red Dot was not involved in selecting those displays, though they did recommend a secondary, lower-cost, simplified CMS for those displays. This, Kuder explained, is a perfect example of the power of choosing a specialist integrator for highly-customized projects.
“We’re a little unique in the way that we’re a digital signage specialty integrator. We are not a CMS. We don’t make software. But we do compete against CMS who make software, do content and even help clients with installation work. The benefit that we have as a digital signage specialist, as the integrator, is that … we can pick and choose a CMS that really fits the project and, specifically, the player’s needs. Contrary to what a lot of companies will tell you — and specifically a lot of software companies — one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to content management systems,” Kuder explained.
The key to providing custom integration, for Kuder, involves listening to your client and understanding their needs.
“Is the sommelier in?”
So, with so many options out there, what kind of advice would Kuder share with customers and integrators alike on choosing software and hardware while staying on budget?
“Yeah, you know it that is a hard question,” Kuder said. “I would not envy an end user jumping into digital signage and having to figure it out on their own. I mean, there are so many CMS software’s out there. It’s impossible.”
One option, Kuder said, is for a company (or integrator) to hire a consultant to lend expertise in this selection process — which is another service his company regularly performs, alongside actual project execution. (We asked if Kuder felt like the Sommelier from John Wick on consultations, but he said he hadn’t seen the films; Peter Serafinowicz was unavailable for comment.)
“The other key thing that they’re going to want to find with whoever they use is how well you know that software, what it can and cannot do, because that’s where most people get in trouble,” Kuder said. “And, likewise, that goes for the hardware.”
Speaking of hardware, for over a decade, BrightSign’s players have been at the top of that list for Kuder and his team, who strongly prefer this option over alternatives like PC’s or Android devices.
“We’ve learned over time that the reliability of that device is hands down better than any other device on that market,” Kuder said. “And it really cuts down on downtime and service call tickets.” Though it’s not an official, written company policy not to consider using other hardware, and they always defer to a client’s wishes, Kuder strongly prefers to stick with BrightSign player hardware. “It’s good for probably 98% of the projects we do,” he said.
This in turn allows Red Dot to save variety for the software side. “We now specialize in five BrightSign-approved CMS’s and those CMS’s, of course, also work on other hardware,” Kuder said, though he is also keen on BrightSign software. “When you look at BrightSign, the recurring cost of their software is one of the cheapest on the market,” he said, estimating the average cost per player at something like $100 per year. “It really is a low cost.”
Still, having a range of options helps, as in Gameway’s case, where the simpler in-store displays can leverage a simpler system. “Why not offer it to them? Let them save some money,” Kuder explained. “It’s almost like value engineering the project, but you’re just doing it from the start out of respect for the client and their budget — and earning their trust, really.”
This illustrates how simplicity is a key ingredient in Kuder’s formula for success.
“When you look at what that formula entails, it entails making sure that the CMS matches what the client needs and offers either the ability for them to grow into that CMS, or you have to have a way out, where you can switch the CMS and allow them to choose something completely different as their needs change.”
This contrasts with a pattern Kuder describes in which many digital signage customers last about 3-5 years with a given CMS before they start shopping for a better fit; often, this entails finding new hardware and a new integrator, because the three are so often interlinked in this industry.
Thanks to BrightSign, when Kuder’s team has a client curious about switching CMS options, Red Dot has the flexibility to facilitate that without losing a customer, which would happen if they offered only one CMS option. And, since customers can often keep using the same hardware after the transition, they end up saving money and boosting ROI.
“We have so many clients that have used and stuck with us but have used that the same BrightSign player they bought six, seven, eight years ago,” Kuder said. “Because when you think about an Android device or a PC, I mean, you probably couldn’t even think of a PC that you’ve kept for eight years, one that is operated every day. It’s impossible.”
Granted, an older player might occasionally lack a cutting-edge feature that a customer wants to start using, which would entail new hardware; but in many cases, customers don’t need anything fancy and are happy to have their basic needs met without that extra hassle.
“So, to run a playlist for eight years, I mean, that’s what BrightSign is built for,” Kuder said. “When I think of BrightSign, I have the image of Elon Musk’s sports car with an astronaut and they’re just floating in space. You can throw that thing into outer space, have no internet connection, and the thing will just run forever, like years and years and years. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Do your homework
In essence, years of experience underscore classic business advice: do your homework and know your product, and you’ll have happy customers.
“To me, that’s sort of the key to a successful deployment — as the person or the company that’s in charge of getting that content and hardware deployed — that you know the CMS pretty intimately. Otherwise, you end up saying it can do something that you then, down the road, find out it can’t, and that becomes a little bit more of a challenge.”
As an example of one such challenge, Kuder shared a major international project Red Dot Digital Media took on five or six years ago from a global company with 330 locations spread across 56 countries. The client decided they wanted to switch CMS options after less than a year.
“Because of the way that BrightSign has built their platform, and the services that we’re able to do, we could actually switch them over from the first CMS to another CMS, without ever having to physically touch a player — we could do all from our office,” Kuder said. “Those same devices are still running today,” he added. “And that’s one of the beautiful things about BrightSign: it’s a digital signage-dedicated device, so they really built it with that kind of process in mind.”
The story also illustrates the importance of investing in quality. “Well, I hear this all the time: ‘But if I spend only $100, I think could fail three or four times before I have to pay as much as I would have, maybe for a $500 BrightSign device,'” Kuder said. “True, but that Android device won’t install itself. It won’t get reconfigured on its own. There’s labor that you’ve got to take into consideration, and that is where you’re going to save your money in the long run.”
Sometimes Kuder has had client companies that try to cut costs by moving to an in-house signage solution from the original system that his team installed. “They always, inevitably, either don’t go through with it or come back, whether it’s to us or someone else,” he said. “A cloud-based software and a really reliable piece of hardware make for the most successful deployments — and, in the long term, they really are the least expensive.”
Proof in the pudding
All of these principles and colorful stories have contributed to keeping Red Dot Digital Media busy to this day in the custom integrator business, where the company enjoys unusually loyal, long-term customer base, throughout all the changes in the industry.
“Sales today is different from sales 20 years ago,” Kuder said. “And you’re not going to fool anyone. There’s too much information on the Internet. I feel like, if you can come up with the best solution, regardless of what that is, and they find value in what you’ve presented to them, then you’ve done your job,” he added. “You know, if you’ve got a client for 10 years in a row, that’s pretty good — I mean, you’re definitely doing something right.”