LNL Systems listens to customers to develop retail communications systems that help stores and customers.
By Mark Lawton
Listening to customers is key at LNL Systems of Natick, Mass. “We really have to understand the retailers and the customers and the challenges they face,” owner Mark Barnes says. “A lot of product ideas and enhancements [come] from customers themselves.”
Mark Barnes founded LNL Systems in 2009. Initially, the company mostly sold Motorola two-way radios for in-store communications among retail workers.
“About three years ago, one of our largest customers came to us and said they were cutting back on labor but still wanted to know when people were in certain areas of the store, largely for theft or loss prevention,” Barnes says. “They also wanted to know where good customers were so they could go over and assist them.”
In response, LNL created the FlorLink SmartHub, which takes input from sensors on the sales floor. Sensors include cameras, motion detectors, customer call buttons, sensor mats that customers step on, door sensors and other devices.
The information is routed to the two-way radios, tablet computers or other devices of store associates – though mostly two-way radios – so the employees can then go to assist the customer or perhaps deter a potential shoplifter.
FlorLink SmartHub can also send message from corporate headquarters to retail associates. “A lot of larger retailers have their own online order system,” Barnes explains. “If [customers] want to pick an item up in a local store, corporate can route a message to a retail associate. Some retailers offer pick-up within one hour. It provides a better level of customer service.”
On the Retail Floor
Other LNL Systems technologies include FlorChat radios and phones so retail associates can communicate with each other or management, FlorCall buttons for customers to call for assistance – such as in a fitting room – and FlorData services that measures FlorCall activity and how responsive retail associates are to customer calls.
All of these systems are meant to increase efficiency in the retail environment because, as Barnes notes, “increasing productivity lowers costs and enhances customer experience, which improves sales.”
LNL Systems targets a range of clients, including big-box stores and specialty retailers such as convenience stores, dollar stores and specialty clothing stores.
For grocery stores, LNL Systems supplies a four-button device for use at the checkout areas. The device can be used to request a manager, a need for change, someone to carry a customer’s groceries or other types of assistance.
LNL Systems also has equipment for liquor departments, which tend to be high-theft areas, Barnes says. A camera triggers a message over a speaker when someone dwells in the area for a short period of time. The message says something like “Thanks for shopping in the liquor department.”
“For bad guys, it’s a trigger that someone is watching,” Barnes explains. “An associate can then come over and either help a customer or be a deterrent.”
LNL Systems clients include H&M, Coach, Staples, Marshalls, Dress Barn, Reebok, Kroger, Foot Locker and T.J. Maxx.
Retail vs. Online
While the buzz is all about online sales taking over from retail sales, Barnes insists he not losing any sleep. “The majority of all sales is being done in stores,” he says. “Even though five years ago everyone though retail is going to be dead, the in-store experience is still relevant. When people want something right away, they still want to purchase it in a store and also see it, feel it and touch it.”
He adds that, “even though it seems like online is growing every year, as a percentage of retail sales, only 15 percent of sales by 2022 is expected to be online.
The key will be creating a great experience when going to stores. We think we are well positioned to help with that. One of the key things is to assist the customer when the come into the stores.”
To continue to reach new retail customers, LNL attends retails trade shows, some of which are dedicated to loss prevention. It also belongs to organizations of suppliers and retailers.
Barnes says that while there is a lot of competition in the sales of two-way radios, there is “not anyone who is doing what we are with cameras and recording video and providing alerts. Our challenge is getting the word out to as many customers as possible.”
Recently, LNL developed FlorTrak to track where retail associates are in a store. “If a customer requests assistance, we can tell which retail associate went to assist a customer and at what time,” Barnes explains. “We can tell response times. We can tell how long it took them to respond. We have stores wondering which employee is responding and how long it is taking.”
LNL is working to develop a new product that would allow retail associates to voice-query a computer database. “FlorLink SmartHub would convert the voice to text and then back to voice over a two-way radio to the associate,” Barnes says. “That will require a bit of work but it’s next on the horizon.”
Also, on the drawing board is a technology to send alerts sent to employees’ smart watches. LNL is currently writing code to make that happen.
Barnes anticipates a good year for LNL Systems. “In 2019, we’re hoping to see some [retail] chain-wide rollouts,” Barnes says. “Sales have been good over the last nine years. We’re expecting to really take off.”