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Making Signage a Cinch

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For the past couple of years, “enhancing the in-store experience” has been the buzz in retailing — creating a better environment to attract consumers, build sales and be competitive in a crowded field. One forward-thinking company has adopted digital signage technology to interact with customers on multiple levels.

Dallas-based Rave Cinemas operates some 90 theaters nationwide with such state-of-the-art features as 3D, bars, restaurants and, now, integrated digital signage. NEOCAST, from Real Digital Media, will replace printed signs and previously installed digital signs. Applications include box office show times and ticket availability, concession menus and pricing, digital posters and trailers and auditorium directional signage and seating status.

“The fact is that we’re in the entertainment business, so digital signage adds to the environment we are trying to create in each theater,” says Bill Budwitz, director of information technology and systems development for Rave Cinemas.

Rave isn’t new to digital signage; the company began replacing static signage with digital in some locations several years ago. But changes started taking place more quickly about three years ago when Rave began replacing hardware and software solutions from different vendors with one standardized platform.

“None of it was interfaced with our point-of-sale system,” says Budwitz. “Any time we had to make price changes — which happens quite often in the theater business — we had to contact different vendors and tell them to update information at different locations.

“The lag time would cause problems with patrons,” he says. “They’d come in and see a sign saying that popcorn was $1 when the actual price was $1.50. Consolidating various systems into one uniform platform that was easier to manage and more scalable made sense.”

Current and correct
Before selecting NEOCAST, Rave undertook a six-month test of various systems. One of the things they found was that NEOCAST enables all theaters to be managed from one centralized system. “This allows us to quickly update our content and stay ahead of hardware issues before they disrupt our business,” Budwitz says.

Rave installed NEOCAST at one site and ran a three-month test. It then was rolled out to additional sites in spring 2011; as of March, the chain had completed installations in about seven theaters.

“We hope to have a first phase — about 33 theaters — completed before the start of the summer movie season,” Budwitz says. “We’re doing installations at one or two sites a week and will probably increase that to three or four per week until mid-May.” He estimates the system will be chainwide by the end of the year.

“With Real Digital Media and the templates we’ve developed internally at Rave, all issues have been solved,” Budwitz notes. “Digital signage channels now interface directly with our POS system and other corporate systems. We can make sure that all information is current and correct.”

Scalable and supportable
Digital signage does represent a significant capital outlay,” Budwitz says. “Every screen has to be wired back to the server room so we can control it. This makes it a bit more expensive than simply running it on an Internet network and sending it out to different screens. Also, we have very high-end equipment back in the server room to run video. But in the end it will save us money because it will be scalable and more supportable.

“It’s easier to see the ROI when you go from non-digital to digital,” he says. “That’s when you can look at the pure lift in sales-per-transaction at the concession stands. Since we already have digital, I’m looking at the cost savings on support and content management.”

The results to date have surpassed expectations. “I think content is being updated more quickly and accurately,” Budwitz says. “We have many combinations of amenities at our theaters, and NEOCAST enables us to update everything quickly.”

Once the system is set up, “the content management team just needs to tag the content with the right attributes,” he says. “Then it gets distributed and played at the appropriate theaters.”

Budwitz says data errors have been reduced significantly, and there are also fewer support issues since the company is using the NEOCAST media server. “And we’ve seen a significant reduction in cost with regard to field support.”

Customer experience
Rave customers “have already commented on how informative and useful our various digital signage channels are for them,” Budwitz says. “Once we’ve completed the rollout, we will be expanding the footprint of digital signage to promote other parts of the business, like gift card sales, during peak seasons.

In the past, Rave would set up a small table in the corner of the lobby from which to sell gift cards but “It didn’t draw a lot of attention,” he says. “I’m planning to roll in a couple of portable digital units with screens. Hopefully, we’ll see a significant increase in gift cards sales during the holidays.

“We want to keep it away from the box office,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is slow people down when they’re trying to buy tickets” or concessions.

Rave also intends to put digital screens in employee break rooms to broadcast metrics that will “tell everyone where they are compared with other theaters or against plan.”