People in Places

Episode 6: How Customer Experience Affects Airport Choice

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Cost, convenience, proximity – those are some of the factors consumers use to choose which airports they fly out of. But what about the customer experience? How does it affect airport choice, and how do airports know that the improvements they make are ones that their customers actually care about?

These are questions that Natasia Malaihollo and her company Wyzerr are helping airports to get better at answering. She joins the podcast this week to discuss how airports are beginning to innovate on the customer experience, and how Wyzerr’s intelligent survey tools are enabling them to better understand and anticipate what their customers want.

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

Click here to read the full episode transcript

John Rougeux: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode.

John Rougeux: Our guest for today is Natasia Malaihollollo, who is the CEO and Co-Founder at Wyzerr, an artificial intelligence tool that designs smart surveys, and turns that feedback into operational insights for businesses. Today, Natasia is going to share her thoughts on how the customer experience is playing an increasingly important role in how and why people choose an airport.

John Rougeux: Natasia, thanks so much for being on the show today. How are you?

Natasia Malaihollo: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I am doing great.

John Rougeux: Glad to hear it. All right, so to kick things off today, could you briefly tell us a little bit about yourself, and about Wyzerr.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes. Sure, so I am originally from California. Went to school in the Bay Area. Being in the Bay, I was exposed to a lot of tech, so I always thought that I … I always knew I wanted to be in technology, but moreso on the legal side. Thought I wanted to be a patent attorney, and so I was on that path for several years. Worked at a lot of big law firms as a patent specialist. Ended up going to law school, and then while I was in law school, had an idea for my first startup, and then so I had dropped out.

Natasia Malaihollo: I have never looked back since. I’ve been an entrepreneur now for about six years. Wyzerr’s my second company. Yeah, so kind of a very quick summary of my background. But my background was original in patent prosecution, specifically around software and artificial intelligence.

John Rougeux: Good deal. Could you tell us a little bit more about Wyzerr itself. I tried to give a little bit of an intro there, but I’m sure you can do a much better job than I can.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, so we started Wyzerr four and a half years ago because we noticed that it seemed like every company was sending out a survey. You couldn’t go anywhere, you couldn’t travel, you couldn’t eat, you really couldn’t use anything without that business eventually sending you a survey, or prompting you with some kind of feedback loop. We noticed that the engagement on these surveys were dramatically decreasing year over year, and so we just thought to ourselves, “Well, if this is going down but businesses obviously need this feedback, is there a better way to do surveys?”

Natasia Malaihollo: A quick research, of course, pointed us in the direction of games and social media applications, and we just thought, “Why not adopt some of the design thinking and some of the psychological background and reasoning for why you develop games and social media, and use all of those things to create a survey.” That’s how Wyzerr started. Our goal was to stay under 60 seconds, so we always wanted to be a 60 second survey that collects as much data as possible.

Natasia Malaihollo: Today, we can collect 25 questions in under 60 seconds. Because we’re collecting so much data in a such a short amount of time, we noticed that our customers were having trouble analyzing this larger volume of data. That’s when we began developing the AI tool, in order to process and analyze that data as quickly and as in real-time as possible. That’s how we landed on this AI to turn feedback data into actual insight.

John Rougeux: So 25 questions in 60 seconds. That’s pretty impressive.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yup.

John Rougeux: All right, well in a minute we’re gonna talk a little bit more about customer experience in the airport vertical. But maybe to set that up, could you tell us a little bit more about why Wyzerr has really started to double down on the airport space?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. Initially when we started Wyzerr, we were completely focused on retail. One of our first clients was actually Walmart. Because we did really well with that campaign, we were able to get a lot of really big enterprises really quickly. Over time, it was almost like we were exclusively working with just large enterprises, especially in the retail space.

Natasia Malaihollo: About a year ago, there was a lot of research and I guess news around airports becoming the malls of the future, and retail of the future. We got a call from CVG, and they basically asked us to develop the same type of tool that we were developing for retail, for them, and they wanted to test it out.

Natasia Malaihollo: We piloted the program, but then that program ended up being the most successful campaign that we’ve had, and the most successful client to date. We measure that just in terms of the value of the data, the volume of the data, how useful the data is to the stakeholders, how they’re using the data. Just across the board they were just outperforming every metric and KPI that we had for our customer campaigns.

Natasia Malaihollo: That let us make the decision earlier this year that we were gonna focus exclusively on airports because it seems like we’re delivering a much higher value to them than we are to retail, specifically.

John Rougeux: With that time you spent at CVG, which is Cincinnati’s airport, you really started to see that with the tools you had built pairing surveys and artificial intelligence, you were adding a lot more value than what they were doing previously. If you could shed a little bit more light on that, what were they doing prior to working with you? Was it paper surveys? Was it a less intelligent form of digital surveys? Maybe it was nothing at all. I’m curious what the baseline was.

Natasia Malaihollo: They have a standard survey, which is what most airports I think use, the ACI ASQ survey. I think they were doing a couple hundred a quarter. Today with Wyzerr, they’re doing about 60,000 a month.

John Rougeux: Oh, really. Okay, so that’s an order of magnitude larger than what they were doing previously.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yup.

John Rougeux: I think that’s a good background for what you really wanted to talk about today, which is how the customer experience is affecting how people choose which airport to fly out of. Just broadly speaking, can you start by telling us a little bit more about some of the challenges airports are facing with customer experience right now?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of things, at least from my own, in talking with stakeholders at airports, and just some research on my own. But there’s a couple of challenges because the way that airports are built, when airports were developed was before all of this new technology, and before all of this new behavior that people are experiencing, and before this technology revolution.

Natasia Malaihollo: I’ll give you a perfect example is that a lot of airports were not built to handle Lyft and Uber. A lot of the airports do not have dedicated stops, and they don’t have dedicated pickup areas for Uber and Lyft. In some airport, even at Atlanta, for example, the Uber and Lyft pickup spot is a 10 minute walk, very, very far from the terminal. That was because in the design of the airport, they didn’t foresee. There’s really no way they could have foresee a technology like Uber and Lyft.

Natasia Malaihollo: ‘Cause different things like that, I think a lot of it is rooted in technology. I think there is so many new innovations that people in general, consumers in general, their perception of what their standards are, and what they should expect, and what they should be in the airport is consistent with what they’re seeing everywhere else.

Natasia Malaihollo: Another thing of course, that you’re very familiar with is wi-fi. There’s a lot of talk around wi-fi being it should be a public utility, it should be a free utility, people expect it everywhere. If you don’t have a fast internet connection or if you don’t have access to free wi-fi in places, people are generally very upset. That applies to the airport space as well. Especially in the feedback space, I see a lot of feedback coming in, just in general around airports, and they’re around travel. A lot of it is always around wi-fi, not having access to wi-fi.

Natasia Malaihollo: I think it accelerated because of the tech revolution, but also just because of outside changes that are not necessarily relevant to the airport, but affect how consumers behave and think, and perceive what they should be receiving.

John Rougeux: Yeah, so you talked about a couple things there. One was the amenities themselves that passengers, customers access when they’re at the airport today. I think the other thing you were talking about is trying to prepare for the future. I think you’re absolutely right when you said, “There wasn’t necessarily a great way to prepare for Uber and Lyft,” but it’s probably safe to say that there’s going to some other disruption five, 10 years down the line, maybe even sooner. What are you seeing airports do to start maybe prepare or get a better forecast on what’s coming down the line?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a couple things that I have noticed at scale. To be fair, and I’ll just … My first disclaimer is that I’ve only been in the airport space for about a year now. I wouldn’t even say a full year. I’d probably say nine months. This is just based on my own initial research, and my own interviews. But number one, I’ve noticed that a lot of airports are getting these huge remodeling budgets. Part of that remodeling budget is of course creating a better customer experience. Like LAX for example. They have a huge $15 billion remodeling budget, and a big part of that is around improving the customer experience at LAX.

Natasia Malaihollo: Another thing is just the amount of time and effort that airports are spending to innovate, and to cultivate a culture of innovation. I think that also speaks volumes to just how airports are definitely seeing that they need to get better at understanding what’s to come, or at least keep a hand on the pulse of what is to come.

Natasia Malaihollo: I think airports are getting better at at least putting themselves in the position to embrace innovation, and be part of the innovation, versus just waiting for it to happen, and trying to figure out how to respond and react. I think they’re being more proactive these days.

Natasia Malaihollo: There’s a lot of airports that have innovations programs. I know San Diego has one. Of course, ATL has innovation program as well called ATL Thinks, which we were part of. But I’ve just seen a lot of this pop up all over at different airports.

John Rougeux: Yeah, let’s dive into that a little bit further. You talked about being reactive, but trying to gather data today to have a better idea of what might happen in the future. Certainly feedback and survey tools, like Wyzerr and others, are an important piece of that. What else are you seeing airports do to better understand how passengers are behaving?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, so there’s a couple way … Of course my expertise lies in the data side of it. At least from the feedback perspective is understanding what consumers and customers want, and anticipate or they expect to see in the airport. That’s really big.

Natasia Malaihollo: Another key thing I think that airports are big on right now is this increasing their non-aeronautical revenue. Being able to identify new ways to connect to the consumer, and have them shopping or spending at the airport beyond just an airline ticket, I think that’s going to be as well, key to improving the customer experience because then it becomes … It doesn’t become …

Natasia Malaihollo: Airports right now are like … It’s almost like a requirement. If you want to travel, and you don’t want to drive, and you want to fly, you have to go to the airport. But I think airports are trying to shift that perception and become a place where it’s part of the actual travel experience, like you look forward to going to a certain airport because of these amenities, and these things. Maybe they are stores, maybe they are restaurants. But I think there’s a shift in how airports are trying to change the consumer’s mind around what an airport actually is. It’s not a mandatory stop in your travel, but a leisure stop, or a place that you actually look forward to.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s right. Speaking from personal experience, so I’m in Lexington, Kentucky, which is not a huge metropolis, but even where I live, every time I fly I choose between three different airports. So CVG, Cincinnati, which you mentioned, obviously Lexington, and then Louisville. They’re all close enough to be worth flying out of. It’s not always based on price. There’s other factors. If I come through Louisville and I see they’ve done something nice, maybe I’ll pay a little bit more to go there. Or if I see it’s a little bit easier to park at Cincinnati, I may come back there.

John Rougeux: I’m curious, do you have a favorite airport, or an airport that’s just really doing something outstanding in terms of creating a great experience for people who pass through?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. I don’t get to fly out of this airport often, but every time I do, I am just astounding by just how much they have going on, so the Houston airport. I want to say it’s IAH, it might be that one. There’s just so much going on in there. They have the restaurant where you don’t have to wait for your waiter, you can just order the food. You can scan your boarding pass and they’ll bring it to your gate, if necessary, if they can’t find you. You can pay for food with your loyalty points, with your airline points. I mean, there’s just a lot. There’s so much great things going on. It’s just a great experience.

Natasia Malaihollo: Honestly now, when I’m choosing for my layovers, because I fly between cross-country a lot, and so I fly back to California, often times I’m actually looking for everything but Chicago. Now, I’m really looking at Houston now as the favorite airport, just because of the amount of innovation that I think they’re spending on.

Natasia Malaihollo: I also like New York airport. I think they’re doing a pretty great job of introducing new technologies in the airport. I’ve seen some. They have these portable office spaces and things like that, that’s set up, that you can almost actually work as if you’re in an office there. You can rent these offices by the hour. There’s just a lot of different things that I’ve seen, that I think especially for a business traveler, like myself, then you decide to pick your airport based on that. With New York, like now I’m always flying out New York, and I don’t even look at LaGuardia or JFK anymore.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s interesting, those rentable work spaces. I haven’t seen those personally since I haven’t been through those airports recently, but yeah, I think that’s definitely something that is gonna get a lot of traction. I like what you said too, about it’s not just where you fly from, but it’s where you pass through, and what that experience is gonna be like in any layovers you have.

John Rougeux: When you’re working with airports and you’re talking to their teams, what are you seeing in terms of which departments are involved in customer experience decisions? Do you see, is it a siloed effort? Or are you seeing changes in the way different departments are working together on these types of efforts?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. It’s definitely evolving.

Natasia Malaihollo: I always see marketing. Marketing is always somehow involved in some capacity, or they have someone that represents the marketing team in the meeting. Lately, a lot of our interest has come from these Chief Innovation Officers, or innovation departments that are springing up at the airports. Not ever airport, of course, has someone in this capacity, but for a startup like us, we’ve seen the fastest traction, or at least the needle moves a lot quicker when we’re speaking to someone in the innovation department. Of course, I also see the airport manager. The service manager, or the airport manager is often in the meetings as well. A little bit of everything, but usually definitely someone in marketing is always in the meeting.

John Rougeux: You mentioned was it an innovation role? Did I hear that correctly?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes. Like a Chief Innovation Officer, or an Innovation Director.

John Rougeux: Is that a role you’re seeing growing in terms of … How many airports have a role or a team dedicated to that purpose?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes. I am actually. I don’t know if I’m surprised or not, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it. But I notice that it’s definitely not a prominent, not a very common role for the airport space. But I do see that it’s a growing role, so I’m seeing a lot of the airports that are known to be forward thinking, have an innovation department, and some of the other ones, they do not.

Natasia Malaihollo: I’ll notice that the people in these roles, they’ve only had this role for a year, but they’ve been at the airport for 27 years. Or they’ve been at the airport for 20 years, and they’ve only been in this role for two years.

John Rougeux: Interesting. This is a new development.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah.

John Rougeux: Airports, it sounds like they’re starting to recognize the importance of having dedicated to innovation and other developments.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes, exactly.

John Rougeux: Natasia, lots of great advice for anyone in the airport industry who’s wanting to create a better experience for their travelers. Let’s cap things off with a tangible piece of advice that our listeners can leave today with. If you could recommend just one resource that you feel is really key to anyone who has a customer experience related role, what would you say?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, so I read this great article that has a link to a Harvard study called The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value. But the article itself, it frames how you should create a customer satisfaction score, and how you should measure your customer satisfaction.

Natasia Malaihollo: Then this article and this study is actually what we used to develop Wyzerr four years ago, and it basically says that there’s only three zones of loyalty and satisfaction. They’re zone of loyalty, zone of indifference, and zone of defection. Every single customer basically falls into one of these three zones. It’s just a very simplified way, and it makes a lot of sense in the modern world, especially in terms of thinking about your satisfaction. Basically, anything below 80% is automatically indifference or defection. You focus your efforts on that.

Natasia Malaihollo: I will send these links to you, but I think that in terms of thinking about consumers and customers in the modern time, especially with all of this technology, I think this is a great way to just think of your measurements and your benchmarks.

John Rougeux: Good deal. Well, we will certainly include a link to that in the show notes.

John Rougeux: Natasia, if someone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Natasia Malaihollo: Best way is probably email. My email is, N-A-T-A-S-I-A at Of course, you have that, John, so feel free to share.

John Rougeux: All right, will do. Natasia, thanks so much for being with us today. Was great having you on the show.

Natasia Malaihollo: Thank you so much for having me.

John Rougeux: You bet.

John Rougeux: All right, if you are listening to this episode and liked what you heard, please do me a huge favor and leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. It would mean so much to me, and it would help make sure that great advice from guests like Natasia get heard by more people. Secondly, if you have an idea for the show or a guest you’d like to propose, send us a note at That’s podcast at S-K-Y-F-I-I dot com.

John Rougeux: Okay, well that’s it for today’s episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. The article Natasia mentions is Customer Satisfaction Surveys & Research: How to Measure CSAT
  2. The Harvard Study referenced by Natasia is The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value
  3. The best way to get in-touch with Natasia is through email at
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Episode 5: How Grocery Retailers Are Reacting to An Online World

By | Blog Posts, People in Places | No Comments

As consumers become increasingly comfortable in an online world, what is the future of grocery retail?

Rachel Elias Wein, Founder and President of WeinPlus, sees the grocery sector heading towards a model where online and offline storefronts are inexorably linked. A model where inventory, accounting, and customer data across both channels are streamlined, enabling grocery stores to not only gain a more complete understanding of their consumers, but also create new and unique experiences for them.

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

Click here to read the full episode transcript

John Rougeux: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of People In Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode.

John Rougeux: Our guest for today is Rachel Elias Wein, who’s the Founder and President of WeinPlus, a strategy and management consulting firm focused exclusively on the retail and real estate sectors.

John Rougeux: Rachel, welcome to the show.

Rachel Wein: Hi, John. Thanks.

John Rougeux: You bet. All right. Now in a moment, Rachel, I know you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on some of the shifts in trends you’ve seen take place in retail and real estate this year.

John Rougeux: But, before we get into that, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rachel Wein: Thanks, John, and thanks for having me. As you mentioned, I am the Founder and President of WeinPlus. We serve the retail and real estate community. We work with large, small, public, and private real estate firms, as well as retailers with a specific focus on the grocery sector. And we’re excited to work with teams that are undergoing major strategic change, and work with them to support their efforts.

John Rougeux: Good deal. Now, I understand that you have a background in both architecture and design. Is that right?

Rachel Wein: I do, yes. This is a little known fact. I did start my career in architecture. And I really got excited about the real estate sector, just in the way that real estate is more proactive about changing communities and, rather than waiting for just the right client, really being the client and making those moves within the community and working together with designers and owners and retailers and other service providers.

Rachel Wein: So that’s when I made the move, pretty quickly.

John Rougeux: Very cool. Well that background certainly gives you a unique perspective on the space that I think few others are able to claim. So, interested to see how that plays out in our interview today.

John Rougeux: All right. So, to kick things off, one of the things that you and I were talking about earlier is how the barrier between the offline space and the online space is really starting to break down. So maybe to set up today’s conversation, tell us a little bit more about what you’re seeing there.

Rachel Wein: Yeah, thanks. One of the things that we’re looking at is how the online and offline presences at retailers have previously been very segregated as really a separate business unit. And that was when the internet was sort of a novelty, and how many people are really going to be buying online, and let’s set up a separate silo for that group.

Rachel Wein: And you really saw that a lot with the apparel retailers, I would say about 15 years ago. And I think The Gap is a really good example of how that worked, where they had a separate online division and offline division. And it started to set up disincentives, if you will, for the in-store staff. So if I was a shopper and I went into a store, and I was unable to find the size that I needed in the store, the salesperson could order that item for me online. But then they didn’t register the sale in that location.

Rachel Wein: And so that’s problematic for a couple of reasons, first of which being that the productivity of the store is not really reflected appropriately. The productivity of that salesperson is not reflected, as well as the mall owner, right?

Rachel Wein: So, so much of the way that we think about the valuation of stores and of assets are related to the sales generated by that foot traffic. And so we find, over the last 10, 15 years, foot traffic is down and sales in-store are up. But they aren’t capturing the full measure between online and offline at the moment.

John Rougeux: Hmm. So, in a way, some of the KPIs that were set up around offline performance and online performance, they’re almost penalizing certain aspects of the business. Or at least, they weren’t really capturing the full picture about whether the business was being successful holistically.

Rachel Wein: You know, I would say that’s absolutely true for legacy retailers. And, you know, if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say sales per square foot isn’t the right measure, you know … But, at the same time, no one’s been able to give me a better one, right?

Rachel Wein: However, for legacy retailers, that’s really important, right? Because they aren’t marrying up appropriately, in my opinion, online and offline. But for digitally native retailers it’s all one, right? So, they evolved in a time where all of these sales were online. So when I go into Warby Parker, that sale is registered online. It’s also registered in the store, and it’s shown to increase the power of that MSA. The physical store is increasing the power of that MSA.

Rachel Wein: When you open a store, the online sales increase. When you close a store, the online sales dramatically decrease. So, that’s all really important. And where I find the evolution moving towards now, is in the grocery sector, right? Because apparel was evolving their online and offline presence at a time where we were all still getting used to the idea of buying online, and the comfort, and the security. And now, grocery sector is developing an online, or click-and-collect, or direct delivery platform at a time where there’s widespread comfort in purchasing online, right?

Rachel Wein: So they’re able to find a way, and I think a better way, of marrying up online and in-store, such that the store doesn’t need to be penalized. That store manager who’s trying to meet their sales goals, their sales goals can still be met.

Rachel Wein: It’s going to be less easy when Walmart is going to take an online order from the distribution center and take it directly to your house. How are they going to attribute that order to the store that’s nearest to you? Because maybe you went into that store, looked at couple of items, and then went home and decided to purchase online. That’s a harder thing to do.

John Rougeux: Hmm. So, it’s almost like there’s this kind of progression of different items or categories that are being sold online. I think even back in the 90s we started with books and, as you mentioned, apparel became one of the next big shifts. And now you’re starting to see that shift take place in grocery, which has its own unique kind of challenges and circumstances that they’re dealing with.

John Rougeux: And I think one of those that you’ve talked about on your own blog is how the role of the grocery store itself is in fact starting to change, and how consumers are maybe finding less need to actually touch produce and handle things in hand. But that’s not quite all sorted out yet.

John Rougeux: Talk to us a little bit more about that.

Rachel Wein: Sure. I think there’s still quite a few folks that really want to touch their tomatoes and pick out just the right strawberries, and I think that’ll be the case for quite a long time. I don’t see a hundred percent grocery absorption online.

Rachel Wein: But I do think that those kinds of needs will fade over time the same way they faded for books, which you don’t really need to touch. But maybe you used to like to read inside the cover and what not. And then for apparel you wanted to try it on, and certainly there’s very, very large rates of return.

Rachel Wein: But for grocery, the role of the store as you had mentioned, is evolving, right? So maybe it’s for, I’ve got a dinner tonight and I’m going to be entertaining people, and so there’s a certain selection of things that I want to go and see what’s the freshest to be able to make that meal. But yeah, for repeatable items, items like milk and eggs and toilet paper and paper towels and sparkling water, those things maybe I can have delivered on a schedule.

Rachel Wein: And I do think that we’ll get to a time where your regular grocery retailer, whether that’s Kroger or Walmart or Safeway or Publix will get to know you well enough that they’ll be able to have you, rather than opt in, maybe even just opt out.

Rachel Wein: We see, John, that you have a big family. You go through paper towels quite a bit and baby wipes and toilet paper and we noticed that you buy them every four weeks. And so, how about every four weeks we’re just going to send them to you on a Tuesday? And we’re going to send you a message on your phone to pick a two hour window when you’re going to be available to receive that delivery on every fourth Tuesday.

Rachel Wein: And, all of a sudden, the friction is going to be reduced. Now Amazon is starting to do that, right? But, for me now, I don’t trust Amazon to do my grocery shopping. I happen to not live in a Whole Foods market, but maybe I would if I was in a Whole Foods market.

Rachel Wein: But I do think that there are habit changes that are coming with the consumers where we’re still sorting things out, as a miss comes also with the merging of online and offline is that how the groceries touch the store and how they get to you matters, because the last mile is certainly the most expensive.

Rachel Wein: Now there are others in the real estate sector that will disagree with me. And they will say that, for the time being, for the foreseeable future, the store will still be the most economical way to deliver those goods.

Rachel Wein: And I disagree, in part, because I don’t think that folks fully load the labor and distribution burden into that statement. Item comes from the distribution to the store. If I have customers and online order pickers both going to that shelf and depleting those shelves, then I might need twice as many folks within the store to load those things back on the shelves.

Rachel Wein: So, if you can avoid having the pickers for the online orders, if you can avoid having those pickers take things from the customer-facing shelf, that’s going to be a big difference in the productivity and the profitability of those orders.

John Rougeux: So you’re saying that the in-store real estate, if you will, the shift that we might start to see is less about those shelves being consumer-facing and more … Are you saying that they’re designed to be more employee-facing or maybe even robot-facing? Or that’s at least the change that we’ll start to see in the coming years?

Rachel Wein: I think we’re going to start to see a segregation of online order fulfillment and consumer-facing store. So, there’s a couple different methodologies. And if I was to say that … You know, I advise retailers all the time, I advise grocery retailers, “I think you should have an electronic distribution system, or a robotic distribution center.”

Rachel Wein: Well, of course. But how do you do that? What’s the best method? Well, there’s two right now that are being tested out. So, Kroger has an exclusive license agreement with Ocado. Ocado is the grocery retailer up in the UK that operates robotic distribution centers, where they take online orders. They take the goods from the farm or from the manufacturer directly to the distribution center, pack those orders, and then ship them directly to someone’s home. They never touch a store.

John Rougeux: Hmm.

Rachel Wein: So Kroger is going to have 20 of those locations, they’ve already announced the first one and that’ll be just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. And they call that a shed. And over time they will build spokes from that shed, and that will be how they service.

Rachel Wein: So, one large distribution center, 335,000 square feet, 55 million dollars. An alternative is Albertson’s. Albertson’s has a partnership with Takeoff Technologies, which has a very small footprint. It’s six to ten thousand square feet, and it operates in the back stockroom of a store, and it’s robotic picking of orders. So, in that case, they will take part of the existing store footprint that is not customer-facing, they will use it to pack orders. Those items will not go onto the customer-facing shelves, and so it will be able to utilize their existing footprint.

Rachel Wein: Now the question is, of course, over time does a 45,000 square foot grocery store end up having more and more and more of the space being non consumer-facing and less and less of it being consumer-facing as the center of the store shrinks? As Cheerios, paper towels, cleaning supplies, bubbly water, as all of those things start to be subscribed to or ordered online or automatically replenished, where we no longer need as many of those things? And instead, what you’ll go to the store for, are those special items for tonight, or for an upcoming event, or I just need to get a meal kit for this evening.

Rachel Wein: And so that’s where I think that we’re going to see the store evolve in the future.

John Rougeux: Interesting. So, if we can go back a couple decades, I’m sure you’re well familiar with the story of Webvan. And it sounds a little similar to what Kroger is trying, with kind of a large centralized distribution center and then a delivery network built on top of that.

John Rougeux: Now that’s probably an oversimplification, but I’m curious to hear your take on why Kroger will be successful in this approach or what … Maybe a better way to phrase it would be, what kinds of things will Kroger need to do right in order to be successful with this approach that maybe hurt Webvan when they tried to do this a couple decades ago?

Rachel Wein: So, and actually can I just pause for a second? Was Webvan a Kroger?

John Rougeux: Yeah, no, Webvan was a-

Rachel Wein: Webvan was its own thing, right?

John Rougeux: It was it’s own thing. Yeah, yeah, it was a big VC-backed startup.

Rachel Wein: Okay. So, let me take that in pieces. Webvan, I think, falls into the category of being a good idea at the wrong time. And Publix actually had something similar as well, and you may not be as familiar with Publix in Lexington, but down here in Florida they’re very dominant and they have 1,400 locations. And about 20 years ago they had Publix Direct which, similar story to Webvan, huge fleet of air-conditioned trucks delivering, and a large write-off in the end.

Rachel Wein: It’s a good idea at the wrong time. We didn’t yet have a comfort to buy things online sight unseen. And in many cases, even today, we’re not quite ready for that. But the amount of time that it’s taking people to change their behaviors is shortening, right? So, if you would have told me a couple of years ago that I could have delivery of my groceries in 90 minutes in St. Petersburg, Florida, I would have thought you were crazy, right? I mean, sure, New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago maybe. But the technology that exists in our phones has really opened us all up to be more comfortable with engaging electronically with, not just buying things that show up, but also just doing the other things that go along with having these phones, right?

Rachel Wein: Getting into an Uber, renting an Airbnb, using Rent the Runway or any other number of things. And so I think that our comfort level is getting better, so we will start to see a rapid increase in adoption of these services. And they take time, right? The physical retail space takes time. These things don’t happen overnight.

Rachel Wein: So even just the decision to go and license with Ocado, then to have those 20 locations, then to build those 20 locations, then to start to utilize and implement all of those things are going to take multiple quarters. And in that time, all of our preferences, all of our daily activities, are evolving to meet the technology.

Rachel Wein: So I think Webvan was a good idea at the wrong time, as with lots of things throughout history. It’s not just the good idea, it’s also the execution and the timeline and maybe there’s another life for them.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s right. And you hit upon a really important piece, which is there’s a lot of infrastructure and operational changes that have to happen for these changes to occur. And I think another aspect that I’m curious to hear your thoughts on is just how rapidly consumers are willing to change their own behavior as well.

John Rougeux: So, to take your example of these different types of delivery options. One of them of course is this idea of driving to the store and having your groceries delivered in the back of your car, which sounds very convenient, and it is if it’s done right. But as you’ve written about, if you get rotten produce or if you get an off-brand or substituted for something that really isn’t appropriate, that’s a bad experience, and now you’re just even less likely to try that than you might be otherwise.

John Rougeux: So what are you seeing retailers do to make sure that they get this right the first time, and they’re not turning people off from trying these new things?

Rachel Wein: That’s a really good question. I’m not sure that I’ve seen the perfect example of how they’re getting it right. I do know from a customer service perspective in many cases you can choose just the window when you’re going to be arriving. When your phone with the app pulled up on your phone crosses the threshold of the parking lot, it will notify the store that you’ve arrived. Kroger has overhangs for the car to avoid getting wet as they load your car. Amazon has the trial where you pull up kind of like a Sonic carhop station and someone comes out right there.

Rachel Wein: So there’s a lot of different options, but I think you’re right. There’s also the expectation. If I go pick my groceries, I know it’s going to be perfect because, if there’s something that isn’t on the shelf, I will pick just the right alternative. And if someone else does it for me, it may not be perfect. It probably won’t be perfect. And that’s a hard expectation to meet, perfection.

Rachel Wein: And I think that it’s easier, personally, I think that it’s easier with delivery than it is for pickup. And I’ll tell you why. I think that’s because I am willing to forego a certain amount of control because I didn’t have to leave my house. The convenience weighs so much greater than if I spend the 20 minutes on my phone, pick out everything I want, and then I go to the store and it’s not right. Well then I’ve got to wonder why didn’t I just get out of my car and go in the store and do the 20 minutes in the store instead of the 20 minutes on my app?

Rachel Wein: So I think that there’s a greater, I don’t know, a greater understanding for discrepancies in delivery than there is in click-and-collect.

John Rougeux: So you’re saying that, because with delivery there’s more convenience or utility to be had on the consumer side, the consumer’s a little bit more willing to give up some of the control over the groceries. Whereas when you drive to the store and pick up groceries that are pre-picked for you, it is more convenient, but it’s not as convenient because you’re, like you said, you’re having to leave your house and so it’s more of a marginal increase in convenience.

John Rougeux: And so, if that’s all that you’re getting in return, there really should be no sacrifice in terms of what you’re getting from the store.

Rachel Wein: Absolutely. And I think we will get to a point where we have perfect inventory management. And Instacart is doing a great job of having real time inventory management so that I know when I pick something, it’s going to be there. But we’re not quite there yet. We’re not quite there yet.

John Rougeux: So let’s end today’s interview by tying this conversation about grocery and fulfillment and subscription services back to a big trend we’ve seen throughout this year. And that’s private equities increased in volume in the commercial real estate and retail space.

John Rougeux: What are your thoughts on how that increased interest is changing things like store development, store growth, store closures, and other trends in just the physical footprints that stores have?

Rachel Wein: Sure. Well there’s certainly been a bifurcation in the market for the retail sector. And it’s really a story of haves and have-nots. And among the very best mall-based retail centers, there’s been transaction volume with Brookfield Properties buying GGP, certainly. And a lot of interest in redeveloping those assets, those really irreplaceable trophy assets, into mixed use with really Ala Moana Center being a fantastic example of what can be done in an area that has the demand.

Rachel Wein: We haven’t seen any very large transactions from the private equity side. There’s certainly interest in the grocery sector and in open area retail in general. It wasn’t so long ago, just a few years ago, that Blackstone purchased Excel Trust and the U.S. Assets of RioCan and that’s now known as Shop Tour. And I really do think that we’re going to continue to see movement here because, so long as there’s a discrepancy in the market and price dislocation, I do think that there’s going to continue to be opportunities.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. Well, Rachel, you have shared quite a few thoughts today and lots of great insights. We really appreciate you being on the show.

John Rougeux: If one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Rachel Wein: The best way to do that would be through Twitter. I’m @RachelEliasWein, or my email is Thanks for having me, John.

John Rougeux: You bet, Rachel. Thanks for being with us.

John Rougeux: Now, just a couple of quick things before we go. If you like what you heard today, please do me a huge favor and leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. It would mean so much to me, and it will help make sure that great advice from people like Rachel get heard by more people.

John Rougeux: Secondly, if you have an idea for the show or a guest that you’d like to propose, send us a note at That’s Podcast@ S-K-Y-F-I-I, dot com.

John Rougeux: Okay, well that’s it for today’s episode of People In Places. I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. You can get in-touch with Rachel on Twitter.
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Episode 4: Why Commercial Property Groups Are Moving To A Data-First Mindset

By | Blog Posts, People in Places | No Comments

As the digital transformation of retail continues, commercial property owners are beginning to feel the impact.

Max Ryerson, CEO and Digital Strategist at StratForce joins the podcast this week to discuss how this shift is impacting everything from rental premiums to tenant mix, and how by changing their approach to thinking about data, property groups can evolve with these trends.

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

Click here to read the full episode transcript

John Rougeux: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii and your host for today’s episode.

John Rougeux: Our guest for today is Max Ryerson, who joins us from London. Max is the CEO and the Chief Digital Strategist at StratForce and today he’s going to talk to us about some of the things he’s learned in his 20 plus years of working with brands on customer experience and digital transformation. Max, I’m really excited for this interview today. Thanks for being with us.

Max Ryerson: Thank you very much, John, for having me. It’s a pleasure being here.

John Rougeux: All right, so Max, to kick things off, could you begin by telling us a little bit more about yourself and what you’re up to at StratForce?

Max Ryerson: Sure, let me see. So I have a very varied background. I grew up in Europe and worked and lived in the U.S. and a number of countries across the European region and then the last nine years in Australia and I’ve just relocated back to the U.K. So most of those moves were either for work or for pleasure, but mainly for work, chasing dreams.

Max Ryerson: I started coding when I was six and effectively, everything about the rest of my life has been really focused on digital and technology and how do we look at technology as empowering ourselves to improve our lives or improve customer experiences or deliver more value to organizations that I’ve worked for. So it’s a bit of a passion for me, and I’ve been very lucky to be able to do that my entire 22 years now of my career. And yes, it’s been a wonderful journey so far.

John Rougeux: That’s awesome. Before we dive into the meat of the interview today, I have to ask you, how did you start coding at the age of six? That fascinates me.

Max Ryerson: Yeah, I was extremely fortunate. At school, the school had bought some new computers and we had a computer class, basically and there were only two computers in the school. So, 20 little kids huddling around these computers. But I was fascinated and I was very fortunate that my parents bought me a computer, which was a Commodore 64. And so at home, I would just tinker around on it and spend ages just figuring out what to do with it and that’s how I started coding. So I’ve coded in BASIC and then in C+, or in C first and then in C+ and over the years, evolved into HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java and that’s how it started. I think I’m kind of self-taught. At first, I bought a couple of books when I was a little older than six, but I was just fascinated. And it was fun to be able to just program little things and see what the outcome would be when you hit the return key. So yeah, that’s how I got started.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. Yeah, I have a few fond memories on the Commodore 64 as well, probably different from yours, since I wasn’t coding. But yeah, it was certainly an interesting time to kind of get involved with computers at that age.

John Rougeux: All right, so yeah, like you mentioned earlier, you’ve got over 20 years of experience in working with brands on digital transformation and customer experience. I’d love to hear a little bit more about some of the trends you’ve observed over those two decades of doing that work.

Max Ryerson: Yeah, I think what was fascinating is because I was there at the very beginning of the Internet and I started doing websites in fact back then, in 1996. And I think what’s been fascinating has been this absolute transformation from the Internet towards businesses. Because I remember in those days you would tell people, “I think you need a website,” and everything else, and they’d just laugh at you and go, “No, who ever needs that? You don’t need that.”

Max Ryerson: And I think just to see the evolution of, if you’re a business today, you’d be crazy not to have a website. I think that’s been fascinating and I think we’re going to see, we’re going to continue to see a lot of changes with Internet, obviously, capable applications and different businesses that’ll still emerge from the power that the Internet has delivered us. That’s been a fascinating journey to see and how that’s evolved.

Max Ryerson: I think we’ve seen some fundamental trends around that in terms of behavior, human behavior, and that evolution. And so as the older generations, I think, have come to try and use it and use all the services that are tied to the Internet, it’s been really interesting to see how they use it mainly for emails or doing some research.

Max Ryerson: And then as the younger generations, who were born into it, where it was always there, that’s just how it’s been, have a very different way of engaging with others. And also have a different take on things that are in their life and almost this microcosm of their society where the Internet’s there and services like Facebook are available and everything’s available on demand. And I can just buy something online and have it delivered. It’s almost like, “Well yeah, of course that’s the way it is.” There’s no thinking behind it and therefore when the mundane stuff that can be shopped for and delivered it’s not really a big deal. Whereas people like my parents, they make a list, they go to the shops, they do … It’s a very different thing. And I think that’s what’s been really interesting.

Max Ryerson: And along with that, you kind of look at what the impact is from a business to be able to engage with different people. And I think that’s also been fascinating, that’s another trend. So you have different groups of people who are of different generations who interact with a brand, because of technology, in a different way. And you also have this amazing power for a company or a brand to be able to interact now with different people and to understand how their marketing budget is being spent and what the return is and how impactful they’re being. Whereas before, it was very much, “Well, I’m going to spend $100,000 on a TV commercial and I really don’t have much knowledge of who is watching it and am I going to get my money’s worth,” or full page ads in newspapers, which used to cost $20,000 if you were advertising in the Wall Street Journal, for example, if you wanted a front page cover or something.

Max Ryerson: So I think that’s what’s been fascinating, is that from an advertising perspective, you can be much, much more precise and much more efficient with your money, with digital and the advent of the Internet. I think that’s been absolutely phenomenal. Yeah, I think those are the big, big trends I’ve seen.

Max Ryerson: And I think some of the things, as well, specifically around customer experiences has also been this tremendous shift driven by technology of, again, that idea that I should be able to get anything now. Most things should be free. And therefore from a customer experience perspective, you kind of need to be 24/7. You need to be online now all the time. And how do you satisfy those customers? And customers can now shop on their terms at any time, anywhere, for anything that they pretty much want. So yeah, that’s been fascinating.

John Rougeux: So earlier in your comment, you mentioned the emergence of, I guess you would say, the digital first generation, people who have been accustomed to using technology from a very young age, six or younger. And I know from your own experience, you also work very closely with businesses that have physical presences, so brick and mortar retail, shopping centers, and other verticals as well.

John Rougeux: So I’m curious, what’s your take on, some of these brick and mortar businesses, they’ve been … they have not really been digital first in many cases, because they’re decades old. So digital is something that they added later, years after their inception. What kinds of trends are you seeing in terms of how brick and mortar businesses that are primarily physical are engaging the digital first generation and some of the needs and interests you brought up about immediacy, 24/7 gratification, 24/7 support and other digital type experiences?

Max Ryerson: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think there’re different players in the ownership or the use of physical space and so you have some, call them groups, retailers or stadiums, venues, entertainment venues, that are probably a little bit more ahead of your traditional sort of landlords, whether it’s a shopping center or an office building or anything like that. I think it’s really interesting because I think you have, on one side, you have one group where they need to work the space, the space is critical to their business in terms of selling, Whereas a landlord is, and the landlords have been, commercial real estate has been traditionally quite behind. I think that’s just a nature of their business. Effectively, they care about rent. Rental income is what they … it’s about and you just kind of need to put somebody in the space.

Max Ryerson: I think in the office building, it’s always really interesting in offices, because people always ask, “How much can we do and what should we be doing?” And I think you need to put the core basics in place from a technology point of view. It’s impossible to predict what technology’s going to be around in 20 years time, because these buildings are going to last that long. But you’ve got to be able to set it up in such a way that you can practically evolve that infrastructure. But most of the cool stuff, shall we say, the user stuff, is going to be brought in by the tenant. So ultimately, office buildings don’t really … owners of office buildings, their business is pretty safe, because people are always going to want the space.

Max Ryerson: And even if we think about the freelancing economy and people who do that, yes, they might not rent out an office floor or even a suite or something like that. But people like WeWork, so these other businesses that have come along and seen an opportunity to service that freelance economy, they’re still going to take out that amount of space from the landlord. So the landlord’s not being that affected by digital transformation in that particular asset class.

Max Ryerson: I think that’s why commercial real estate in general has been slow to digitally transform, because their business, their core business, isn’t really being affected or disrupted like the rest of the industries. And I think we’ve finally got into a point now where enough industries around them have been disrupted digitally that it’s now having an impact on commercial real estate companies, and they’re now finally trying to really transform themselves into data companies or digital companies. I think in part they’re struggling. Some are doing really well, but some are definitely still struggling, getting their heads around what that means for them. I think that’s one group.

Max Ryerson: Shopping centers, for example, are a little bit more in tune to it, simply because retail has been dramatically impacted and the really smart retailers have really grasped that. So they really understand the benefit of physical space versus online and the combination of both. And also the fact that with that, they don’t necessarily need as much space. It’s a question of how do you utilize that space to create a great experience? And shopping centers are now … Owners are now faced with the fact that, well, fewer stores means vacant space. “How do I transform this physical space into something that’s still valuable?”

Max Ryerson: And the trick as well is that retail was the highest paying rent, so there’s a bit of an adjustment with not only rents coming down, because there is too much floor space, but then the types of tenants that go in aren’t going to pay you that retail premium, because you’re going to have to remix it someone … to make it interesting for somebody who’s visiting the center. There’s a combination of, from a commercial real estate point of view, an ownership point of view of these spaces, is, “How do I mix it to make it interesting enough to maintain the loyalty of these people who come and shop here for groceries and some fashion and so forth, while at the same time, I’ve got my customers, who are my tenants, my traditional tenants are now saying, ‘Well actually, a) I don’t want to pay as much rent anymore, I’ve got plenty of options on the market to go somewhere else and I don’t need as many stores.'”

Max Ryerson: That’s the great dilemma, and I think that’s where you’ve got this massive transformation occurring right now. And these companies are needing to transform to understand what to do with data, what to do digitally. And yes, they’ve been playing in this sphere for seven, six, seven, eight years now, but it’s been quite ad hoc, simply because the pressure has not been that real. And I think it’s now at that point and now they’re really trying to put in the right people, the right cultures, the right strategies to really evolve their businesses into the digital age, basically.

John Rougeux: Right, so you shared a lot of really valuable insights there. Just to recap though, I think what you’re getting at is, the tenants themselves, the retailers, in many cases, they were the ones who were first to invest in technology and changes and improvements to the customer experience because they were the ones who were directly interfacing with the customers and the revenue from their stores more directly affected their fortunes. Whereas the commercial property groups themselves were a little bit further behind in terms of investing in technology because for many years, they were focused primarily, or even exclusively, on rent and top line revenue and not really focused on what happened within those doors. But sounds like now, that’s starting to change.

John Rougeux: So I’m really curious. What are some of the specific ways that commercial property groups are investing in digital transformation in customer experience right now?

Max Ryerson: Yeah, I think across the industry, every group is now effectively looking at digital and trying to create a culture around that. So whether it’s training and facilitating up scaling the staff, which are very traditional in these organizations to really understand the benefits and the value of digital marketing, for example. But also, to start thinking about what we like to call data first. And looking at the data, there’s a lot of wealth in the data that they hold and it’s kind of going back and informing their decisions based on that. That is a base. I think everybody’s looking at that now and everybody’s moving that way.

Max Ryerson: And I think they start to look at, “How do we put in the right technology to support the new paradigm of customer experience,” which is 24/7. So whether it’s effectively having an email response, an online chat, or things like that, I think those are the basics that people are, everybody is now looking at or actually implementing.

Max Ryerson: I think it’s a question of how do we get to know our customers better? How do we get to know our shoppers better? How do we get to know our tenants better, to be able to service them better. Because I think that’s really where everybody competes and I think there is, at least in the shopping center space, most countries, the U.S., Australia, to an extent the U.K. as well, have too much floor space. So if you have tenants who now have so much more choice, it’s really in their hands. And therefore you need to compete on other things than just price. So rent and you need to be able to offer them service and an experience, a customer experience that they haven’t gotten from somebody else. So I think that’s really key and I think that’s how companies are starting to transform.

Max Ryerson: And then I think the evolution of that will be that we’ll look at data and data has the power to create new value. I think property groups will finally start to realize that their core business might be rental income, but there’s left or missed opportunity to not look at the data and see how can we use data to solve the pain points of our customers and therefore by doing that, develop or build a new product or a new service that we can sell on? And I think that’s where the future of digital works.

Max Ryerson: I think they’re going to start to look at, and most are looking at this already, but, “How do we start to use automation in terms of optimizing our internal process,” but also automation in the form of artificial intelligence, rolling out artificial intelligence customer bots, again, to service that customer 24/7, to answer their questions. There’s plenty of things like that, that I think commercial real estate companies are finally doing and they’re looking at them now, how far off are they to implement some of this more forward thinking technology. I think it’s probably still a year away until you start seeing everybody being mainstream.

Max Ryerson: Whereas we’ve already seen it with retailers, we’ve seen it with a number of brands. They’ve got customer service artificial intelligence chat bots on their website, on Facebook. They’ve been around for over a year. So again, the whole commercial real estate industry’s probably two years behind some of their tenants, effectively. I think that’s where companies are moving.

Max Ryerson: But the biggest issue is building the right culture. I think that’s the biggest challenge, not necessarily the technology but it’s actually the internal culture that needs to occur.

John Rougeux: Let’s dive into that a little bit further, because I think that’s … It’s a really interesting challenge, because it’s a little bit less tangible. Anybody can buy technology or buy software, provided that they have the budget. But making use of that technology, making use of that data, really doesn’t happen until you have a data-driven culture. And oftentimes, that’s more of a challenge than buying the technology itself. So what’s your advice for a company out there who’s maybe looking at investing in a more data-driven culture, but isn’t sure how to move forward with that effort?

Max Ryerson: Yeah, very good question. I think there’s a number of layers here. But the first one is to really, if you’re on the fence, to go well, “I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith and I’m going to transform my business this way.”

Max Ryerson: I think you can look at a number of industries where that’s happened, a number of companies where that’s happened. And there’s even been studies, whether it’s from Deloitte or PricewaterhouseCoopers or McKinsey, who have demonstrated that companies who do adopt a data culture have seen tremendous benefits. And when you look at some of the top executives in these organizations and how they talk about it, they say, “Listen, if you don’t have a data strategy, a data culture, you’re going to lose your competitive edge, and you might even just become extinct. Because this is what the world is moving to.” I think there shouldn’t be a debate anymore in terms of, “Should we do this, or not?” It’s a matter of, you need to do it. It’s a question of business survival, effectively.

Max Ryerson: I think the way you transform is, you really need to start to think about having a culture of data first. I think where you go there is that you might start small, you empower groups around data. I think you create data champions within your organizations and you really reward data based success. And that is a question of, one, training of your staff, to really look at a number of case studies, look at how data can be used in what they currently do. Start with some little experiments and go, “Okay, well, let’s look at this time, we’re making this decision, instead of just using instinct or past experience, let’s look at the data. Let’s look at what kind of data we have and what data we could use to solve this question or prepare this campaign,” or whatever that might be. And I think that’s where you start and see how you progress and see how successful you are in that. And step-by-step, you can start to transform bigger.

Max Ryerson: I think part of this overall transformation is that you go from being data first to thinking digitally. You need to study demand, so it’s a question of listening to your customers. And then you need to put in place a rapid experimentation culture as well, where you can rapidly prototype some of these things that you are discovering, as part of that transformation. And then ultimately, that leads to a transformation of the physical space.

Max Ryerson: But it’s easy for me to say this, and say, “This is what you’ve got to do.” And definitely, I think we’ve identified that there are five key challenges in creating a data culture.

Max Ryerson: One is identifying your data sources. So do you have enough data sources that the data combined can create value? If not, what do you need to do? Are they the appropriate sources? Do you have the right sources, or are they completely wrong? Then you need to look at the quality of your data. Is the data that you’re collecting of any quality and can be used? Then you need to look at the systems and processes that you need to put in place around data. And then you need to make sure that this data is actionable and being able to put that data to good use.

Max Ryerson: And then the fifth key is really changing people, which is the most difficult. And it’s really getting people to buy into it and to change their ways. It’s about also convincing management teams and employees. And that is essential in order to acquire buy-in to the long term value of insight gathering and the tools that make it faster and easier. That’s key.

Max Ryerson: So it’s a combination of mindset, training and technology combined, to really deliver that culture and be able to deliver returns on developing that culture.

John Rougeux: Good deal. I just want to recap those five points you mentioned, because I think those are a nice tangible takeaway for today.

John Rougeux: I think one was data sources, two was data quality, the third was systems and processes, the fourth was making the data actionable and five was changing people. I want to hit on that last point a little bit.

John Rougeux: Just to play devil’s advocate a little bit with you, Max, let’s say this all sounds really good to me. I’m running a shopping center or a commercial property group. But when I look at my team, I find that I just don’t have the capacity. I’m not sure that I’ve got the skill set internally. How do I make the decision about, “Do I hire new people, do I retrain my employees, do I bring on a consultant or a services team?” How do I look at that decision matrix and proceed?

Max Ryerson: I think, obviously, you don’t want to replace all your people and bring all new people in. But I think ultimately, this is where a number of companies in the past have failed. They’ve brought in, and this is across pretty much every industry, when everybody was just like, “Okay, well yeah, this thing digital, we need to do something about it. We don’t really know what, but we think we need to do something.” So they hired digital people and digital experts internally and they brought them in. But they were usually just one person amongst a huge organization that was quite traditional. And I’ve got a number of examples of companies that have done this, from banking to real estate to others.

Max Ryerson: So you bring somebody like that inside and you think, “Great, we’ll be able to do things.” But traditionally, these companies are still quite scared of change. They don’t want people to come in and rock the boat. But they want to be able to say, “We’re doing something about digital.”

Max Ryerson: So unless you’re going to support those people and you are enabling them to build a team, because by themselves, they can’t transform your entire organization, even with buy-in, they still need some people, and that may be a bit too daunting. Therefore it’s a question of don’t bring a unique person in and think that it’s going to solve your problems. You either bring them in and you bring in a team with them, or you bring in an external company that can come and help you, or you outsource it for awhile, until you get comfortable and you understand the value of this. And then you can start slowly being able to train your existing staff, with some external help. And then internally, you bring somebody on, once you’ve reached that next level. Because then the people inside the organization will understand what that person’s coming in to do and speak their language a little bit more.

Max Ryerson: And then you can start to build governance and capabilities internally, as part of a team that supports the rest of your staff, because your staff has undergone this initial training as well. So it’s a question of retraining people who are currently in the organization, while bringing in additional resources to support that, and ultimately putting in a new framework around being data first and having a digital culture. And you need the help of external providers to get you on that journey, is my belief.

John Rougeux: So the biggest mistake you’re trying to help our listeners avoid is this idea of just hiring one person to come in, and with the expectation that they’re going to transform the organization on their own.

Max Ryerson: Absolutely no.

John Rougeux: Okay, and so it sounds like to do that, you either need to bring in a team to support them or look at finding some external resources who can come in with that expertise and start making some recommendations and transformations a little bit earlier on in the process.

Max Ryerson: That’s right.

John Rougeux: Max, this was all really helpful today. I wish we had more time for our interview. I think we can … We could probably spend another hour or two talking about this today.

Max Ryerson: For sure.

John Rougeux: But I do want to leave our listeners with one specific, tangible takeaway they can leave the show with today. So I know you’re a lifelong learner. You’ve probably read a ton of books and listened to plenty of podcasts and other resources. If there’s one specific resource that you’d recommend in terms of digital transformation or customer experience, what would that be?

Max Ryerson: One of my teachers, David L. Rogers, who is at the Columbia Business School, wrote a book called The Digital Transformation Playbook: Rethinking Your Business For The Digital Age. It’s effectively my go-to bible. It’s absolutely fantastic and it’s got a lot of case studies, a lot of different examples across a lot of different industries, but David really takes you through what it’s like to operate in the digital world and all the different changes that have occurred. What are platform companies, cutting out middle man, so forth and kind of rethinking the whole marketing funnel, rethinking customers. He talks a lot about the customer network and how to build strategies around your business to succeed in the digital age.

Max Ryerson: I would highly, highly recommend his book.

John Rougeux: Good deal. Thanks for that. We’ll be sure to include a link to that in the show notes. Max, if one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Max Ryerson: Yeah, best way, either by email, I’m also on Twitter @maxryerson. So I think those are probably your two best ways.

John Rougeux: All right. Well Max, thanks again for being with us today. It was a real pleasure. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Max Ryerson: Thank you, John. It was a pleasure being here.

John Rougeux: All right, well just a couple more things before we go today. First of all, if you found Max’s advice helpful, please head to iTunes and leave us a five star rating, or even better, a short review. It would mean so much to us. Secondly, if you have an idea for the show or a guest you’d like us to interview, send us a note at That’s

John Rougeux: Okay, well that’s it for today’s episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii. Thanks again for being with us. We’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. The book Max references as his “go-to bible” is The Digital Transformation Playbook: Rethinking Your Business For The Digital Age, by David Rogers.
  2. You can get in-touch with Max on Twitter, or by emailing him at
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Episode 3: How Data Can Help Drive Downtown Revitalization

By | Blog Posts, People in Places | No Comments

How do you revitalize a declining municipality?

Katie Meyer, Executive Director of Renaissance Covington, is on the front lines of this challenge in Covington, Kentucky. Her city’s downtown shares a similar story to many others. An incredible historic infrastructure still stands, albeit empty. Over the years, their downtown has lost a lot of small businesses and population, but she’s working hard to preserve it before it’s too late.

Her approach of choice? Smart city initiatives.

That’s where our second guest comes in. Mike Grogan, Director of Mobile Strategy and Product Marketing at Cincinnati Bell, has partnered with Renaissance Covington to not only connect the downtown area with WiFi, but also collect data insights to improve the revitalization strategy.

The biggest challenge with the revitalization efforts that Katie used to face was proving the return on investment –  answering tough questions like: how many people did it attract or how did it influence business growth in the district? Now, empowered with new data, answering these questions and understanding what’s working will become much easier.

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

Click here to read the full episode transcript

John Rougeux: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of People and Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode. Today we have two guests on the show who are going to talk to us about how data can help drive downtown revitalization. So joining us are Katie Meyer who’s executive director of Renaissance Covington, and Mike Grogan, who’s director of mobile strategy and product marketing at Cincinnati Bell.

John Rougeux: Thank’s of being with us, guys.

Mike Grogan: Thanks for having us.

John Rougeux: Now in a moment we’re going to talk a little bit more about how smart cities can better use data to drive these revitalization efforts, but before we do that, can you guys each give us a little bit of background about who are you and what you’re working on at the moment. Let’s start with you, Katie.

Katie Meyer: Sure, thank you, John. Like John said my name is Katie Meyer, I’m the executive director of Renaissance Covington and we are a nonprofit organization that is focused on the social and economic revitalization of our historic downtown. We are accredited through Main Street America, and we work to fill vacant store fronts create sense of community and drive the economic vibrancy of our historic central business district in Covington, Kentucky.

John Rougeux: Good deal, thanks, Katie. Just for context since we’ve got people listening in different parts of the country and different parts of the globe even, where can we find Covington on the map? Just so we have a little bit more context.

Katie Meyer: Sure, yeah. Covington is at the very northern tip of Kentucky just south of Cincinnati. Our city is population 40,000, so we’re not a very large city but we are part of the metropolitan region of greater Cincinnati.

John Rougeux: Cool, thanks for that. Mike, let’s here a little bit about yourself.

Mike Grogan: Yeah, so as John mentioned, I’m the director of mobile strategy and product marketing for Cincinnati Bell. Cincinnati Bell is the telecommunications provider in Cincinnati. We’ve been around for a little over 140 years almost 143, I believe. My role is essentially, and mobile strategy and product marketing is developing new products, new services around mobile that can enhance overall experience within our consumers, our businesses around greater Cincinnati. So, part of the discussion today is around the Renaissance Covington, so once of the things that we’ve developed a solution that we kind of bundle together as an overall solution, starting with really the root of what we are developing in fiber.

Mike Grogan: So, for 140 years we’ve obviously changed out business model several times and we’ve been the telecommunications provider. More recently, probably the last five or six years, we’ve been working on really reshaping our brand, reshaping what people believe Cincinnati Bell offers in being more of a technology provider as opposed to a telephone provider. We built a fiber asset throughout the greater Cincinnati area to the tune of about a billion dollars and we’re going to continue to develop that and build fiber as believe that fiber is the future. So, really what my role is is building out those products, building out those relationships that glare over the top of that fiber solution. So when there’s wifi, whether it’s analytics, whether it’s mobile applications or any other applications that can be developed over that fiber layer, my responsibility with our future builds.

John Rougeux: Cool, thanks Mike. Certainly a lot of exciting initiatives you guys have going on there with cutting edge technology and paired with a 100 plus year old company. Look, I’m really excited to hear what you guys are working on together in Covington, and so maybe to kick things off, Katie let’s start with you, can you tell us a little bit more about what’s happening in Covington with your revitalization efforts there, and what are you guys trying to achieve through these efforts?

Katie Meyer: So our downtown shares a story with thousands of downtowns across America. Where we have this incredible historic infrastructure, but during the 60’s, 70’s, through suburbanization, federal highway act, initiatives like that we lost a lot of population and a lot of businesses from our downtown, and so our work is really, it’s preservation based, so it’s about preserving our historic buildings. One piece of that is regulation, but our role in historic preservation is activation of those historic buildings. We know that when there are upper floor residents, offices and filled store fronts, that those buildings are more likely to be preserved. We’re also a community driven organization, so we work with a number of our key stakeholders in the downtown to drive the revitalization efforts together and that’s the bottom up approach versus the top down. Finally, we’re play space so we only work within 16 blocks of what was the original business district of our city. So, most of our work is based on small business recruitment, retention, creative place making, and promotion, and helping to change the narrative around city as one right for economic development. A great place to live, work and play and all of that good kind of economic development strategy.

John Rougeux: So, you’re doing a number of things to really add life to the city, and I know- I as watching the video that you guys put together about some of your efforts there and it’s really exciting to see what you’re doing with local businesses, art, events, things taking place in city streets, there’s so much going on there. So, I’m going to try to include a link to that video in our show notes because I think it’d be great for our listeners to check that out and get a little bit more context for what you’re doing. Can you talk to us about some of the challenges you’re facing? I know we’re going to talk about data a little bit more specifically so I’m really curious to hear, in particular, what kind of challenges you have faced in terms of learning about this city and getting the data you need to really inform those efforts.

Katie Meyer: Yeah, one of the challenges that Covington is facing, as well as many other cities is how do we build out a economically viable retail district or retail opportunity. A lot of our small businesses are competing against Amazon, they’re competing against big box stores, and as we try to fill our vacant store fronts, providing as much support to those businesses specifically helps create a better destination and a stronger sense of place in our downtown. So, that’s really one of the challenges as we move forward. We’ve had a good progress with food and beverage restaurants, bars, and even hospitality with the convention center, but that last piece of retail is something challenging. The other piece is- as many cities in Kentucky, cities are struggling financially because of pension issues and other things like that. So, our city government doesn’t have a lot of money to invest in the public realm and they need to think about creative solutions to become more efficient and to save dollars wherever they can. There are some pieces of this project that help support that effort from the governmental side as well.

John Rougeux: So you got a number factors involved, you’ve got kind of a political lens that effects things in the economic challenges that are going on, and certainly some macro transitive kind of been shaping things for decades. So, I know you guys are working with Cincinnati Bell in particular, because there was a number of reasons, but one in particular was you’re trying to learn a more about how people interact with the city, what they’re there for and just trying to get better insights on what’s happening. Can you tell us a little bit more about what’s happening with that aspect of your project?

Katie Meyer: It’s an interesting question because this conversation started for our organization as we were looking at our public arts and creative place making more- most of our work is funded through private foundations, as well as with some support from the local government. As we do these projects, whether they’re park woods or we did a pop up performance park, we’ve done a lot of murals, one of the questions is always what is the return on investment, how many people did it attract, how did it influence business growth in the district. That’s requested as part of grants or as parts of reporting to the local government. So that’s actually where we started to try and understand how can we use technology to create stronger data around return on investment for the arts.

Katie Meyer: Over time as we developed a relationship with Cincinnati Bell, we were able to realize the incredible potential to create new data to impact everything from how we develop a wayfinding system, how we think about traffic patterns and parking, how we thinking about foot traffic for our small businesses and the impact of our special events on turnout, as well as direct marketing. So, as much as we had a targeted approach from the beginning, ove the process of developing the project, we were able to expand the impact incredibly across a number of different areas of work.

John Rougeux: So it sounds like there’s a pretty direct connection there, because you talked about funding and grant money and this need to show the ROI in terms of some of these initiatives that you’re doing. If I’m hearing you correctly, it sounds like the data you’re getting from measuring things like traffic patterns, visitor counts, attendance at events, things like that. That all helps prove that ROI, which then directly effects your- or improves your ability to get some of this grant money and other sources of resources. Did I get that right?

Katie Meyer: Yeah that’s absolutely right. That is a big piece of it is how we measure our impact, but it also incidentally has been the opportunity to make better decisions going forward, not only for us but also- as a small non-profit, but also for our local government, also for our small businesses.

John Rougeux: Well, look I know this is an initiative you’ve taken on solo, you’ve worked with some partnerships including people like Cincinnati Bell to kick some of this off and really have the support you need to make this happen. Can you tell us a little bit about the role that partnerships have played in some of you data efforts?

Katie Meyer: Yeah, so you know, this project would not have been remotely possible without the partnership with Cincinnati Bell, everything from the fiber deployment to the captive portal system, to the integration of Skyfii as our backend analytics, in addition to that critical piece, and I mean, the deployment of the access points and the 24/7 monitoring and maintenance. Like you mentioned, we are a small organization and we were able to fund this all through private grants, but at the end of the day, Cincinnati Bell did all of the heavy lifting and it’s our responsibility to take all of that effort and make an impact through sharing those analytics. So, we’re partnering with the city to do workshops, we just did one yesterday, where we’re sharing this information with our small businesses so that they can make more data driven decisions. We’ve partnered with 32 property owners to install access points on their buildings and we’re including publicly held properties and that way we’ve created a partnership where we’re sharing data with the city government. So, you know this whole project was made up of 40 plus partnerships, although Cincinnati Bell and Renaissance Covington are the primary one, it was a total community list, not any single organization or person was able to make it happen alone.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s great. I like how you’ve got partnerships from multiple angles to really make this happen. You got partnerships with technology companies like Cincinnati Bell, with local government, with small businesses, local businesses in the area. I think that’s really interesting how it’s not just been the efforts of just one particular party, it’s really this collaborative effort that’s kind of an on-going project together.

John Rougeux: Okay, so Katie to give us a little bit more context for today’s discussion, I understand that you partnered with Cincinnati Bell to develop a free public wifi network in your downtown. Can you briefly tell us just a little bit more about that?

Katie Meyer: Sure the technical application was really based on the existing fiber footprint and some of the expansion of the fiber footprint throughout our downtown, and then that was centigraded through access points on properties to create a ubiquitous, seamless wifi experience. Something that you might experience at an amusement park or an airport but instead it covered all the streets and sidewalks and public spaces throughout our downtown.

John Rougeux: So you’re basically taking the kind of wifi experience that you’d get at another large public venue, broad coverage, high speed access, capacity for lots of user and you’re recreating that in a downtown atmosphere, is that right?

Katie Meyer: That’s exactly right.

John Rougeux: So maybe this would be a good opportunity, Mike, to bring you back in the conversation. I’d love to hear your perspective on how and why you guys at Cincinnati Bell decided to work on this with Covington.

Mike Grogan: Yeah, one of the things, I’ll just add to what Katie said. As we approach these conversations with municipalities it’s about a partnership, so certainly we are a telecommunications provider, we’re a technology provider so we’re selling solutions. At the end of the day, we want to build partnerships that are successful because as we look at working with other municipalities we want to make sure that we’ve done the right thing for the organizations that we work with, because we want to use that as leverage to partner with other municipalities. So we’ve been very involved and working very closely with Katie, with Renaissance Covington, and they’ve been certainly very helpful in spreading that word. So the partnership’s been great and Katie mentioned we’ve worked with several other locations as well with small businesses, with simply as putting an access point on their building or selling in services. So it’s been more about developing that overall partnership as opposed to it being a one way street and we’re just selling solutions into Renaissance Covington, because they’re success is very helpful in our success for the future as well.

Mike Grogan: You know, as it relates to the partnership with Renaissance Covington, specifically, I think one of the major drivers in Renaissance Covington choosing Cincinnati Bell is that fiber, it is the foundational layer. So, as opposed to whether it’s coax cable or whether it’s a fixed wireless solution, fiber is the future, I mentioned that earlier, and I think that was a big driver in Renaissance Covington choosing us. It’s also the other things outside of that, as we layer on best of breed technologies, whether it be Aruba wifi, whether it be a Skyfii solution from analytics and engagement perspective. Those are the things that I think were major drivers in the work that Renaissance Covington and Cincinnati Bell have done together.

John Rougeux: So I want to touch base on something you mentioned earlier in that comment. You mentioned you didn’t want to just come in and sell something to Covington and just have it be more of a transaction, you’re really looking for initiatives that you feel will be successful and you can work on in a more collaborative fashion. I’m curious, when you guys started talking together and you were vetting each other out, what were Katie and her group doing well that got you guys excited about working with them?

Mike Grogan: As we look at smart city, Katie and Renaissance Covington were very out in the forefront of addressing what the needs are around smart city. As we look at smart city, it’s really the foundation of fiber, but then what are the real problems that exist within an organization that they’re looking to address. So, Katie obviously has talked a lot about the revitalization of the city of Covington, we knew that what we were doing and what we’ve done in the community is very key in what they’ve done and that is that fiber asset. So, a lot of Covington already had some of the fiber that we’ve built out, but it allowed for us to build out even more and what Katie’s doing from a revitalization perspective is happening all over the greater Cincinnati area. There’s very small municipalities that need to compete with their neighboring communities, and those were some of the things that were obviously very key in the conversations that we had because we knew that we could solve a very important need that Renaissance Covington was looking to address.

John Rougeux: So, I like that they kind of recognize the need to compete and just stay relevant among the larger metro area, and then along with that they had this foundation of in your case, fiber, but this foundation of a really strong communications network internally in the city for other internet bat call. So, you work with a lot of initiatives and probably some other cities, Mike, what advice do you have for other folks who are working on a smart cities initiative or maybe who are thinking about working on one? What advice do you have for what they should look for in a tech partner?

Mike Grogan: Really the first thing is the smart city is a very broad term. It’s important to really focus on what the need is. So, whether it’s economic development, whether it’s public safety, whether it’s engagement with the community, those are all certain things that municipalities really need to address. They don’t all have the same problems, so coming up with that problem statement as to what are you addressing, and then making sure that you’re bringing in the right partners.

Mike Grogan: Katie knew that there was a couple providers in the space from a comminations perspective that could really help. From our perspective, one of the things that’s very beneficial about Cincinnati Bells is we can be that one stop shop, because we are the communications provider so we can take that from end to end. So, identifying who that communications provider is very important because at the end of the day, all smart city applications have to run over some type of communications platform, whether it be internet connectivity, whether it be macro cellular connectivity, whether it be low power ran. So in order for the data to be utilized, there needs to be a communication tool, so addressing what that communication tool is and then from there you can start to layer on whatever that problem is, layer on the applications that would directly associate with that particular problem.

John Rougeux: To start with the issue, the problem first and then look for the solution. Don’t pursue a tech partner or even a smart cities initiative just because it sounds interesting or might be a shiny object, but really focus on problem first, solution second.

Mike Grogan: Correct.

John Rougeux: So Mike, another question on this line of thinking. What kind of trends are you seeing in terms of how cities are starting to use data more effectively?

Mike Grogan: It kind of goes back to what I mentioned as far as what those problem statements would be. So, municipalities are looking at data in a whole different way and how they can start to capture more and more data. Whether it’s through a solution such as wifi, because with wifi you can start to understand and analyze. Katie mentioned it a little bit earlier, foot traffic, traffic patterns, all these different thing that can provide a better visitor and customer experience because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. If you provide the best experience to a guest, a visitor, a resident, whatever it may be, that’s going to want to keep them coming back. So, more and more people or more and more municipalities look that data. They can bring in data sets from all different kinds of angles. So, bringing them in, analyzing it, utilizing it for the purposes of some of the things that were mentioned but economic development. It gives businesses, municipalities, whatever it may be the opportunity to engage with their constituents on a more personal level. So now if I’m capturing data about users, I can now be more targeted as opposed to just sending out broad and blanket messages. I can be very targeted in how I engage with those users or with those guests.

John Rougeux: Good deal. So really trying to, not just put out these blanket messages, but understand who people are, how they’re different and then maybe tailoring that communication to those various groups. I really like that. Look I want to end today’s episode with one question for both of you guys. Katie, I’ll let you take this first, come back to you and then, Mike, we’ll let you take it afterwards. What advice do you have for other cities, municipalities out there who are maybe thinking about a smart cities initiative or maybe more fundamentally just thinking about how to start better using data. What’s your advice for how they should get started and what can make that effort successful.

Katie Meyer: I think one of the most important things, which we have discussed quite a bit over the last several minutes is that partnership approach. That pulling together of governmental, non profit and full profit partners to A identify the problem, like Mike mentioned, or problem, I think it’s really true that, in our case public wifi and this whole process opens the door to have discussions not only about economic revitalization, but about digital divide and access for our adjacent, you know, high school students, elementary school students, community college students to utilize our public spaces and create stronger public spaces as well as all of the opportunity for the government to understand a bit more about some of the basic infrastructure needs and opportunities. So, I think as you identify the common and shared problems you can also identify unique resources that may help especially smaller cities with smaller budgets get over that funding barrier. If we don’t start having these conversations now, as cities, especially in Kentucky, then we’re going to continue to fall behind our competition nationally as we think about how we grow, how we attract business, how we create jobs and how we build stronger cities.

Katie Meyer: So, my advice is get together a group of folks and get started as soon as possible because waiting too long will just continue to create the lag in the cities economic growth in the long run.

John Rougeux: Thanks, Katie. Good advice for someone who’s actually out there doing this and been working on it for some time. Mike, what’s your advice?

Mike Grogan: So, Katie kind of stole mine, but I’m glad she said it because it is the most important component and it is the partnerships. So, if you don’t identify the right partners to work together collaboratively, then it’s not going to be successful.

Mike Grogan: I’ll tell one quick story around the Renaissance Covington launch. Katie and Renaissance Covington is a small organization and they have a lot of responsibility. So, Katie’s team leaned on us a lot to provide some of the marketing around the launch around the initiatives, so we basically were an extension of Renaissance Covington as it relates to- from a marketing front to really make sure that this a successful launch. So, we held a couple of events in Covington to really make sure that people understand what this is all about. So we brought in residents, we brought in guests from greater Cincinnati, we brought in small to medium businesses, so we really tried to make this a very successful launch and a partnership, that this wasn’t just- we’re not just putting this on Renaissance Covington, we’re making sure that this is a successful launch as a partnership as a whole for Renaissance Covington and Cincinnati Bell.

Mike Grogan: So partnerships to me, it’s the biggest thing. Technology is going to be very important obviously once you figure out what you’re addressing, but I think the biggest thing for us was making sure that we had the right partners in place and working closely and collaboratively with Renaissance Covington and some of the other partners that were involved.

John Rougeux: Alright, well thanks Mike. I appreciate that, it sounds like partnerships are really key, data’s important, technology’s important but if you don’t have the right partnerships some of that maybe might start to fall apart. So, Mike if one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you today, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Mike Grogan: I can be reached by email, my email address is mike.grogan g-r-o-g-a-n

John Rougeux: Alright, thanks, Mike, and Katie if someone wants to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

Katie Meyer: Couple of ways. My email is It’s, or you can follow us on Facebook, Renaissance Covington and message us there as well.

John Rougeux: Alright. Well I want to thank you both, again, for being on the show with us today, lots of great advice on how cities can make better use of data. Thanks again for being with us.

Mike Grogan: Thank you.

Katie Meyer: Thank you.

John Rougeux: Alright, just two quick things before we go, if you found this episode helpful and liked hearing from Mike and Katie, please head to iTunes and leave us a five star rating. That will make a huge difference in helping us get the word out about the show. Secondly, if you have an idea for the show or guest you’d like us to interview, send us a note at That’s Okay, well that is it for todays episode of People and Places, I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii, thanks for being with us, we’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. See how Renaissance Covington has transformed the downtown district in this video.
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Episode 2: Why Wireless Networks Are Key To Your Customer Intelligence Strategy

By | Blog Posts, People in Places | No Comments

Wireless networks have evolved from a commodity to a core part of data strategy, and early concerns about speed and security are being replaced with a desire to know what to do with all the data coming in. Özer Dondurmacıoğlu, VP of location services at HPE Aruba, joined the podcast to shed some light on why you should start thinking about your WiFi network as a business asset.

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

Click here to read the full episode transcript

John Rougeux: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of people and places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode. I’m joined today by Ozer Dondurmacıoğlu, and he is the head of location services at Aruba. Ozer, how are you doing today?

Özer Dondurmacı: I’m doing great, John. Thanks for having me.

John Rougeux: Yeah, you bet. Thanks for being on the show. Really excited to learn your experience, or learn from your experience as a product guy in the wireless network space. I know you’ve got some things you’d like to share with the audience today about how wireless networks can inform your customer intelligence strategy. But before we get into that, Ozer, I’d love it if you can tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you and the team are up to at Aruba.

John Rougeux: I understand you’ve got a translation for your last name that you want to share with us as well.

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, actually I can maybe start with that, actually. It means son of an ice cream maker, thanks to my great, great grandfather’s business back in the day, in Turkey. Apparently he used to have an ice cream shop.

John Rougeux: Very cool.

Özer Dondurmacı: So I’ve been part of the Aruba organization since 2004. Bit of a dinosaur here in the organization. Had seven to eight different roles. Joined when Aruba was a small startup. Of course, we went through the growth stage, IPO, got acquired by HP. And now we kind of operate as an access networking business with wireless, wired location based services. Security services, and a variety of other car powered software solutions within the organization, with our own dedicated sales team, marketing team, support team, services team, et cetera.

Özer Dondurmacı: So it’s still a growing part of the business within HP. We try to create value for our customers in a variety of different aspects of the access networking solution set. And I would say we’re well-known in the market as kind of a wireless networking company, since that’s where our heritage takes us.

Özer Dondurmacı: You know, as the company grew, I grew with the company, spend a lot of time in marketing, tech marketing. And now been working with our location services product teams for the last two years, trying to make an impact in that area as well. That part of the technology’s growing 50 to 100 percent, depending on which region, which theater you look at. So it’s definitely high growth area for us. And it’s an aim to extract more value out of the networking technologies we deploy our customer sites.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. So you are certainly a veteran in the wireless networking space. Looking forward to hearing all the expertise you have to share with us in that regard.

John Rougeux: You know, as you mentioned, there’s a lot changing in that world. So maybe to set the stage for today’s conversation, could you start things off by just walking us through how wireless networks have evolved from more of a commodity, to what’s now becoming a core part of a data strategy for businesses with physical locations.

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, absolutely. So initial data wifi, really nobody wanted to touch it. You know, I’m talking about 2001, 2002. It was not secure enough, it was not high performing enough. There was not enough devices, everything else. Fast forward 15 plus years later, we can’t do without it. Every home is connected with 20 plus devices. Back to the cloud using wifi technology. Corporate environment is no different. Corporate campuses, public venues, no different. Museums, shopping malls are no different.

Özer Dondurmacı: Building a reliable wifi requires a technology like Aruba, right, which is I can manage hundreds of these access points, thousands of these access points in one centralized management portal. I can secure it, I can onboard devices to the right policy on the network. All that enterprise IT [inaudible] requirements that we hear today.

Özer Dondurmacı: Once that is done, you get a great performing network. And obviously it’s a habit for every single one of us out there, to connect to the wifi network and get our jobs done. Or just enjoy our day-to-day activities.

Özer Dondurmacı: One of the key parts of that engagement, is of course, happens on the smart phone, right. So smart phones generate the most traffic. They generate the most, highest level of [inaudible] time when they’re on the wifi network. That’s the first device that you really think about connections to Wifi wherever you enter a new space. And smart phones, they tend to connect to wifi networks that they remembered before. So there’s no action that you need to take. If you’ve been to a space before, your device is going to connect automatically.

Özer Dondurmacı: So you look at the habit of people, just desiring constant connectivity. You look at the habit of the smart phone, being able to connect to some wifi network I’ve connected to before. And the always on nature of these devices, people started asking themselves, wait, there’s a lot of useful data that we can extract from this network.

Özer Dondurmacı: The concerns 15 years ago about security, performance, everything else, now is being replaced by, of course I need to have wifi. But what can I do with the immense amount of data that comes through that constant connectivity and they have it forming technologies that smart phones bring to the table.

John Rougeux: So that space is evolved from being at a point initially where there are a lot of issues around, like you said connectivity, scalability, and certainly not a critical mass of devices to either connected or just present. And now you’re saying that many of those scalability and security privacy issues have been solved, or being addressed. And we also have this huge proliferation of devices. Smart phones included, but other devices as well. And now that’s just providing this constant stream of data back to businesses.

John Rougeux: So the question now, is how do you make use of that data, and how do you inform your customer insights based on what’s possible there?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah. And some of the businesses, I would say they’re just not realizing that oh my god, I actually own this data. Maybe I should put it to good use. You know, if you ask a network IT audience, they would probably say it’s performing great, it’s secure, its’ stable. AP’s are running, knock on wood. And they will just leave it there.

Özer Dondurmacı: But you start talking to marketing audiences, real estate facilities, business operations, and they already assume that wifi of course going to work. It’s of course going to be secure. The line of business starts asking, wait a minute. You’re telling me that a hundred thousand smart phones connected to our network last month, and I don’t have anywhere, I haven’t been storing that information anywhere to give me some business intelligence?

Özer Dondurmacı: So line of business looks at it in a completely different angle, right. They don’t even need to know the differences between different wifi specs and technology. They just go and ask the smart question. If all these devices are connecting, if they’re all accessing these apps, why are we not taking advantage?

Özer Dondurmacı: So as soon as you bring the wifi topic to the line of business [inaudible] then you start finding a variety of ways to look at the puzzle.

John Rougeux: So instead of the mentality being, let’s make sure nothing breaks, it’s how can we get value out of this and inform our line of business?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, absolutely.

John Rougeux: So one of the things you and I have been talking about recently, is just the terms in kind of proliferation of different technologies, and ways to use wireless networks that can really cause some confusion if you’re not technical and if you’re new to that space. I think one in particular you and I were talking about, was presence verses people counting.

John Rougeux: So could you walk us through some of the kind of common points where people get hung up, and maybe clarify some of those definitions for us?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, absolutely. So one of my favorite topics to discuss, dismantle, have a conversation with our customers on. So I usually look at it as three layers. I’m sure we can add more, but three is usually a number that we can all keep in mind for an extended period of time. So three areas, the first one is, the presence and people counting technologies.

Özer Dondurmacı: So we know that this technology could be enabled in a variety of different ways. There are infrared sensors. There are computer vision technologies. There are video camera systems who are able to recognize bodies as they walk around a specific area, specific space. And these systems may not give us the identity of the user. These technologies may not count the number of mobile devices running on wifi or Bluetooth networks. But they’re just giving us the knowledge about presence and people count.

Özer Dondurmacı: Especially infrared sensors. Unless you design them and deploy them in relatively high density, and in a specialized way, you’re not really even people counting with the PIR sensor. You’re just basic detecting presence in a zone of five to seven meter radius. You don’t know who those people are, you just know that there are people there.

John Rougeux: There’s something … Yeah.

Özer Dondurmacı: There could be good information. One of our customers tell us, “Hey, you know what, I want to measure space utilization. I don’t care about engagement, I don’t care about which apps are being used on the wifi network. I don’t want to measure amount of connectivity, how much people, time spending on the network. I just want to know some activity there. Bodies are showing up.

Özer Dondurmacı: We say, look, then wifi is not the solution you are looking for. You should really mess in presence detection solutions that will give you 100 percent of the data that you need to be able to make business decisions.

Özer Dondurmacı: So these presence detection technologies, they may not be the smartest in terms of knowing who you are, where you’re coming from, how long you’re spending on the network, which applications you’re accessing to. But they give you a lot of data. Like, 100 percent of people present are actually detected by these technologies.

Özer Dondurmacı: So they’re not a smart, but they give you highest level of data set. Largest set of data set. So that’s number one. I don’t know if you have any questions on that one.

John Rougeux: Not a question, but you’re getting at this idea of tools in a toolbox. And depending on what you want to learn as a business, about your space and the people there, there’s not one technology that’s going to cover all of those use cases, all of those needs. You need to be maybe pick and choose about using the right technology for the outcome that you’re looking for. Is that what you’re getting at?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, pretty much. Because usually this conversation goes into, okay well presence sensors and computer vision sensors, everything else, these are good stuff. I like what you’re saying, but how about wifi? Usually that’s kind of the second question, because wifi is so pervasive, and is so heavily used. And we change the conversation about wifi from presence, to intention to spend time somewhere, or intention to interact with a brand.

Özer Dondurmacı: I mean, if somebody cares enough to sit down, open their phone, open their laptop, connect to the wifi network, go through the wifi network, go through the [inaudible] portal if there is one, or username, password authentication. They’re willing to spend some time sitting there, and getting some work down, interacting with other people. And at that point, they are really intending to use that space in a longer period of time.

Özer Dondurmacı: You might trigger a presence sensor by just walking through a door, or walking through the hallway. But if you’re connecting to the wifi network and you’re spending 22 minutes watching YouTube, sending emails, downloading files from Dropbox, then you’re really intending to use that space. Of course, that connectivity comes with a variety of different valuable information. You might identify yourself to the network through authentication. If you’re an employee working at a corporate campus, once you authenticate through the network, maybe your department ID is a useful context for people who are trying to figure out which departments have the highest needs of application performance, everything else. Or it might be a way to measure people’s intention to spend time in a meeting room, verses the open areas, verses the kitchen, verses the cubicle space. So it can give you some interesting data sets there.

Özer Dondurmacı: And then, if you’re a public venue, obviously you probably care about digital engagement just beyond wifi. Somebody connects to the wifi, but are they accessing your digital brand assets? Maybe your mobile website, maybe your website where you run a variety of different market activities. Are these people connecting to the wifi and interacting with my digital brand assets, or just connecting and passing by?

Özer Dondurmacı: Those are the important, valuable information that you can really gather from wifi beyond presence. And these two technologies are not mutually exclusive. You might use PIR sensors, presence sensors, to turn on the lights when somebody’s walking by. Very useful application, that’s why we use it here in our headquarters. But on wifi a dataset can give you a lot of information about facilities management, your space management. And if you’re a public venue, maybe it would inform the marketing department about how they should be engaging people on a digital domain using wifi.

John Rougeux: So certainly, if someone’s … Like I said, if they’d accessed the wifi network intentionally, then that’s a strong signal that they’re using that space perhaps differently than someone who’s just passing through. They’re investing and spending time in that space for one reason or another.

John Rougeux: And so there’s certainly, from that point once they authenticate, there’s a lot of information and interaction that you can create there.

John Rougeux: One distinction that I hear about a lot, and you probably do as well, is this distinction between registered or authenticated users on the network verses anonymous users who have not necessarily logged in or authenticated. Can you walk us through that distinction? And tell us what sort of insights you can get from those two types of users.

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, I mean as long as mobile devices are scanning the air, because they’re trying to find if they need to connect to a wifi network. They will generate certain frames, wifi frames, on the air for you to pick up using the access points. And that can give us a data point. Does not necessarily tell us who that user is. Usually, private information like Mac addresses, device identifiers, et cetera, they’re not revealed during that process for privacy reasons by iOS and Android.

Özer Dondurmacı: But it gives you a crowd presence detection. It can tell you, there’s this many mobile devices around. And out of those many mobile devices, we think that 70 percent of them are connecting to the wifi network, right. You can kind of compare and contrast devices present, devices that are connected. And that distinction for some organizations is useful, especially if you’re spending a lot of time investing in a stable wifi infrastructure, and your primary goal is connect as many people as possible. Because that’s the start of a digital journey. Digital brand experience for the users who visit your venue.

Özer Dondurmacı: So that level of business intelligence gathering is required, usually if it’s tied to a bigger [inaudible] activity, digital engagement activity, while the owners of the public venues and their marketing teams … And the corporate campuses, it’s usually not a reflection. It’s usually not something that we hear a lot, because you’re at work. You’re going to connect to a wifi network. Our attach rate here at Aruba is 100 percent. Everybody runs on wifi. Everything runs on wifi. And education, everything runs on wifi. So it’s definitely around the public venue space, where we’re trying to measure the effectiveness of a digital engagement plan or a marketing activity.

John Rougeux: Sure, sure. So those attachment rates, like you said, they’re going to vary quite a bit from setting to setting. And it may not even be valuable, or that information may not be valuable to know in certain contexts like you said. Education or corporate campuses, where it’s just going to be 100 percent.

John Rougeux: You know, another technology that I hear you talk about a lot, that’s related to wifi, or at least complimentary, is Bluetooth and beacons. And there’s some different use cases there. Can you explain kind of, what beacons are used for, and maybe what kinds of applications might trigger a business to look at investing in that technology?

Özer Dondurmacı: Absolutely. And that’s really the third piece of the puzzle. So we detected somebody’s presence, and then we realized that we need to turn on the lights. Okay, great. Or we got some useful metrics around spatialization. And then we looked at people who are connecting to wifi network, and how they’re intending to do their work, and how frequently and how long and what type of spaces, and which spaces.

Özer Dondurmacı: So we’ve done those two things. The third piece of the puzzle starts with Bluetooth. Bluetooth gives us the ability to reduce the radius of engagement with the user, from … If wifi offers 10 meters of a radius, gives us a location data point that is 10 meters or so accurate, Bluetooth brings us to zero to three meters, interacting with a smart phone.

Özer Dondurmacı: If I want to have my smart phone interact with a Bluetooth beacon by just touching that beacon, I can enable that. Or I can have, I can create a blue dot experience on that phone with three meters of accuracy, in order to guide someone from point A to point B. Or for them to be discover, or they are in discovering a type of nearby amenities, parking spot, a restroom, a store with their preferred product or et cetera.

Özer Dondurmacı: And that is usually enabled by the Bluetooth technology. At that point, we’re not in the presence domain. We’re not in the intention to spend time, measuring the intention to spend time. We’re really in the business of measuring interaction with the physical space. Do I want my smart phone to tell me more about the space that I’m in, using an indoor mapping engine, using my blue dot, using my current specific location. Do I want something happening on my smart phone, or in my physical space.

Özer Dondurmacı: So Bluetooth is usually used for interaction. It has even a lower attach rate compared to wifi, because it demands the use of a mobile app on the smart phone. So today, iOS or android, they both demand the use of a mobile app to be able to access the Bluetooth stack on your phone, and interact with Bluetooth beacons around you. Of course, a mobile app can be part of your brand strategy, your engagement strategy. But we should be realistic about the download rates, right. Our employee facing app, for example at Aruba, has 60 to 70 percent attach rate. And our best public venue customers have about 35 to 40 percent attach rate.

Özer Dondurmacı: So we’re looking for 30 to 70 percent of the people, even if it’s a really successful, really popular mobile application. But you know what, usually employees who are the most engaged, fans who are, they are your biggest fans about your brand. People who really want to interact with doctors and nurses at a hospital facility, they’re the ones who like to take advantage of this extra service. And probably those are the first people who will give you useful feedback, and probably those are the most frequently cared for audiences that you need to serve.

Özer Dondurmacı: And especially within public venues, we all know that if you show up at a stadium or a museum or a shopping mall, if there’s a frequent visitor who ends up being your VIP program, or your fan program, they’re going to be the one who are spending the most time and money with you as a public brand. And it’s perfectly acceptable that only our fans, only our VIP customers really download that app, and start interacting with you in these physical environments.

Özer Dondurmacı: So interaction with the physical environment usually reserved for the most valuable audiences, and those most valuable audiences are usually the most vocal about how they would like to see that space evolve, and your brand do things to change whatever needs to be changed.

John Rougeux: So the takeaway there, is just because your business is an app, just because you’ve deployed beacons or Bluetooth within your space, that doesn’t mean that you should expect 100 percent of people to engage through that means. But for people who want to interact with your brand, that provides another level of granularity and interaction that is a compliment to other technologies like wifi, or people counters or cameras or things of that nature.

Özer Dondurmacı: That is correct, that is correct. Yeah, I mean these three pieces of the puzzle … presence gives you limited amount of information about the person who is present there. But quite accurate, lots of data points. You move over to wifi, you might not have 100 percent coverage of everyone. You’re not counting bodies. You’re really counting connected mobile devices. At that point, you might get 70 percent attach rate, 80 percent attach rate. But it still provides lots of useful data about how much people are intending to use a certain space.

Özer Dondurmacı: And then the third piece of the puzzle, Bluetooth is usually reserved for fan engagement, and engagement with your most valuable audience.

John Rougeux: Got it. So just one last question for you today Ozer. It’s hard not to talk about these connectivity technologies without also talking about privacy. It’s such a huge topic today. What should marketers, operators, venue managers keep in mind, in terms of respecting visitor’s privacy when using these technologies?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, I feel like it’s a must. Because once end users get the news that you may not be respecting their privacy, they’re not going to care about really engaging with you all that much. I think the concerns about security and privacy are increasing every day for a variety of reasons, primarily what’s on the news cycle. So it’s kind of a mandate. If you are collecting some information, make sure that you’re open about what you’re going to do with that data, and how it’s going to be used. And how that data will be used to improve everybody’s experience, and not just for the sake of data collection.

Özer Dondurmacı: And not bothering the end users for sign ups and constant email communication, and constant push notifications. Constant advertising. Nobody wants that, nobody likes that. You’re going to turn a bunch of customers away if you’re a public venue, and you keep doing that. If you’re higher education institution or a corporate campus, you’re going to piss your students and employees off. So just do it in a way that it’s open, but the amount of activities, the number of engagements that you drive through this data is also as minimal as possible. People have enough distractions on their phones and laptops on a day to day basis. Just don’t turn your engagement model into a spam essentially, right.

Özer Dondurmacı: So definitely be open about it, and don’t spam anyone. Those are, I guess, the obvious two recommendations.

John Rougeux: Be open, no spam. Love it. And I think that’s great piece of advice to leave our audience with today. You know, it’s been a real pleasure having you on the show today. Lots of great insights on wireless networks, how they can inform your customer insights strategy in different ways. If one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you, maybe ask a question or two, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Özer Dondurmacı: Honestly, Twitter is usually the best way. O-Z-E-R-D-O is my handle. I would love to answer any questions there.

John Rougeux: All right, good stuff, Ozer. Thanks again for being on the show today. I really appreciate your time.

Özer Dondurmacı: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, John. I appreciate it.

John Rougeux: Thanks, take care.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. If you have questions for Özer, you can get in-touch with him via Twitter.
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Episode 1: Solving Customer Problems Using New Technology

By | Blog Posts, People in Places | No Comments

Technology is not the end all be all, or the one silver bullet for solving your customer’s problems – but it can be a great enabler.

This is wisdom Tim Weale and his company Mirvac Retail Solutions live by. As a property group in Australia, they’re out to solve their customer’s problems using technology as an enabler. And with three different customer types (retailers, consumers, and business units), it’s no easy feat. However, when you think holistically about the problems your customers have, you can discover more creative ways to solve them.

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

Click here to read the full episode transcript

John Rougeux: Hey, everyone, and welcome to another episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of marketing here at Skyfii and your host for today’s episode. Our guest for today is Tim Weale. Now, Tim comes from Sydney, Australia, where he’s national manager for Mirvac Retail Solutions. And he’s going to talk to us today about how he’s finding some new ways to solve customer problems using technology. So, I’m really excited for you guys to hear from him. Tim, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?

Tim Weale: Yeah. Good, thanks, John. And thanks for having me on the podcast today. I’m really excited to share our conversation with you.

John Rougeux: Yeah, yeah. You bet. To kick things off, could you just tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what you’re up to at Mirvac?

Tim Weale: At Mirvac, we’re a diversified property group in Australia, and we have vehicles in residential office, industrial, and also in our retail space. And my role is in the retail team. Essentially, it’s to solve our customer problems using technology as an enabler. We don’t see technology being the be-all and end-all and the one silver bullet, however, it will really assist us to solve those problems. And our customers … We’ve got three customers, essentially, we break it down into. We’ve got our retailers who are in our centers. We’ve got our consumers, who obviously visit the center, and also ourselves as a business unit. So, they’re our three focus areas for solving customer jobs to be done.

John Rougeux: Good deal. I like how you set that up as technology is not something to pursue, necessarily, in and of itself, but it’s really an enabler for solving specific problems.

Tim Weale: Yeah.

John Rougeux: In a minute, we’re going to talk about these themes that you’ve got around this strategy called the “Connected urban customer strategy.” But maybe to set things up … You talked about these three groups. You’ve got your customers, you’ve got your retail tenants, and you’ve got, of course, your own business itself. Can you walk us through some of the specific problems that you’re thinking about trying to address first?

Tim Weale: Yeah. For sure, for sure. And there’s so many out there, and it’s unfortunate when people always tend to just reflect on their own personal behavior and try and solve those problems. But in retail, as you know, there’s so many different customer segments out there. In Australia, we have Nielsen definitions on it, and it’s called … There’s 400 different personas. Out of those 400 personas, we’ve narrowed that down into six personas that are appropriate to our consumers in our centers. Just as a bit of a background, our shopping centers, our strategy, is that we own and manage shopping centers that are in areas of medium to high density living, medium to high disposable income, and also low unemployment rates. So, they’re really hyper, urban, inner urban areas, and typically, that customer is quite a connected customer living in a small apartment. And the shopping center, essentially, becomes almost a third place where they can meet and catch up with people.

Tim Weale: How we defined our problems or our jobs to be done … We followed Clayton Christensen’s theories of innovation disruption. The Harvard professor that many of you may know quite well. And we almost follow his theories to the letter, and really to try and understand what our customer’s jobs to be done and what their problems are. So, we did a big, deep dive and we trained our summer interns in this theory and in questioning techniques, and taught them about what it’s like to ask questions so that you’re getting a real answer. Not just “yes, no” answers, because if you said to someone, “Oh, I can see that you came to do shopping today. Do you always come to this shopping center?” They’re more likely just to say, “Yes. Of course.” Whereas, we can, by asking deeper questions … And it’s almost like a three or four year old asking, “Why, why, why” all the time, you can really get deep into the problems and the reasons why they come to the center or why they potentially don’t.

Tim Weale: And that can be the same for the retail as well. That’s why they trade well and what attracts them to being in our centers or not. So, we did that exercise, and it was really, really interesting. And we came up with seven jobs to be done; the top seven. Three of those are consumer-focused, two were retailer-focused, and then we had the remainder were for ourselves as a business. But for today, probably the most important ones are really the retailers, and also, the consumers. So, the consumers … The top three jobs to be done that they had to do … They wanted to know what shops are available and where I can find the product that I’m looking for. And you can always swing back around, but just keep that word “the product” in the back of your mind for the moment.

Tim Weale: And the next one was … They wanted to know how to get to where I want to go using the pathway that will work for me. So, that screams of convenience. And then the third one, third job to be done, is, “I wanted to stay in touch with my friends and family inside the shopping center.” So, that was really quite important to us because it’s that thought of people living in smaller one bedroom and studio-type apartments, or small two bedroom apartments in these areas where our shopping centers are, that they use our centers almost as their lounge room or as a meeting place for friends and family.

Tim Weale: On the retailer side … And this is the most exciting of all for us as a retail landlord, because we’ve got this saying in the office that, “Change has never happened this fast before and will never be this slow again.” I’ll say it again. “Change has never happened this fast before and will never be this slow again.”

John Rougeux: Did you guys come up with that quote yourself, or is that a quote from someone like Clayton Christensen?

Tim Weale: No, it’s not actually a Clayton quote. I’m not sure where it came from, actually. It just popped up, and then we’ve all just been running with it as a bit of a … In the back of our mind, just to keep thinking about that for anything we do. Planning, and forecasting, and we can, in a way, reimagine retail in our shopping centers. But it’s a cool quote. I don’t know who I can give accolades to for it, but we’ll keep running with it.

John Rougeux: Well, when someone asks me about it, I’ll just say that you came up with it yourself, and we’ll leave it at that.

Tim Weale: You can quote me. Quote me for it. But with the retailers, it was 18 months ago when we initially did this exercise. The retailers wanted to understand foot fall and consumer behavior in the shopping center, was their number one. And then the second was they wanted to be able to promote their product to people who are already in the center. Now, that was 18 months ago, and the industry has changed so quickly. The traditional bricks and mortar retailers now … Their two most important jobs to be done is how they can quickly leverage the balance of a successful bricks and clicks business. Alibaba referred to it as new retail, or one retail. We like to call it uniformed commerce. How can a retailer be able to leverage successfully online and bricks and mortar?

Tim Weale: And we see, to be truly successful, you need both. And you see that with the Amazon, and the Amazon Gos, and the Amazon Books, as an example. And then also the Alibaba examples with their products over in China and expanding through Asia. The second most important job to be done for bricks and mortar retailers who are in our centers is how do they solve fulfillment? Do they use their stores that they’re already paying rent for out in the marketplace that are almost like forward distribution note points to customers close-by, or do they use dynamic warehousing, which could be something close by their stores, but filled with stock that is seasonal or they know sells quite well and they can get their distribution out quickly, or do they do larger big box, large industrial warehousing type fulfillment?

Tim Weale: So, that changed in 12 months. And with this increase of online and this unified commerce and people wanting to leverage the success of that, how quickly it changed in 12 months. So, the idea of it being able to promote to people just within the center now is almost irrelevant because so much investigation and research that people are doing is online first. And then while the transaction from what we’ve seen is probably … Up to 50% to 60% will still transact in store, but a lot of the research is done online. And then I’m going touch and feel and try it on. And then we get into our business problems, but we can talk about those next time.

John Rougeux: Sure. Yeah. Let’s just pause there and kind of recap. You’ve got a set of problems that customers themselves face. You have a set of problems that the retailers themselves face. And if I got them right … Correct me if I’m wrong, but for the customers, it’s about finding the right product. It’s about finding convenience. And third, it’s about staying in touch with people in their circles while they’re at those centers.

Tim Weale: Yeah. Correct.

John Rougeux: Cool. And then for your retailers, you mentioned foot fall. You mentioned measuring traffic, customer journeys, things of that nature. You talked about promoting some of these products in the center, but really, I think you mentioned that that’s even starting to change just in the last 12 to 18 months. And now, even exploring things like the fulfillment strategy and how the brick and mortar locations in a shopping center fit into that picture … That’s really top-of-mind for these retailers now.

Tim Weale: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s fundamental to what they’re all talking about now. In Australia, the Australian retail market is, for traditional retailers, typically about 280 billion dollars a year. And in 2017, the data that we have 8% of that transaction occurred online. The conservative commentators are saying it might be 10% for 2018, but there’s maybe some more bullish commentary coming out it could be even more. It could be even up to 15%. So, that said, all the traditional retailers, and also traditional bricks and mortar landlords, which we are, an erosion of 10% to 15% of your market is absolutely compelling. So, we want to do everything we can to help our retailers to be successful in that unified commerce so they can maintain paying their rent, essentially, in our centers.

John Rougeux: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. We mentioned this term earlier, but you’re calling it the … The strategy called a “Connected urban customer strategy.” And I think you’ve got six pillars that underline this strategy to solving these problems. So, can you … I don’t know if you guys have a formal definition for that strategy, but if so, can you walk us through that? Or if not, just give us the high level overview.

Tim Weale: Yeah, yeah. Definitely, definitely. To address those top five … We’ll call it the top five jobs to be done … We needed to come up with a strategy that was appropriate to our customers and consumers that encompassed a lot of how we deal with technology, in general, because there’s so much cool tech out there, and you could spend so much money on so many great things, and platforms, and initiatives, but if it doesn’t solve your customer problems, it’s just an absolute waste of time and money. So, we use our connected urban customer strategy as our filter to determine whether we use something that will go towards solving those customer problems.

Tim Weale: As you mentioned, there’s six key things, and they are external partnerships, retailer partnerships, data analytics, products, urban mobility solutions, and voice activation. So, we’ve highlighted those as the things that define that strategy based on tech mega trends, what the consumers want, and what we have learnt from having data and WiFi networks and the like deployed in our retailer centers.

Tim Weale: … and WiFi networks and the like deployed in our retail centers. So I guess the first one, external partnerships, we’re a diversified landlord. We’re not a data science group, we’re not software developers. We’re not an online retailer. We’re none of those. We’re a traditional, bricks and mortar retail landlord.

Tim Weale: So for us it’s really important to form partnerships with the likes of, well, SkyFi is obviously a big one that we work with quite a lot. But also the likes of the Microsoft’s AWS and other large groups. That’s been really, really important to us to develop products. And also some old-tech firms through the Asian region. It’s been really important for us to leverage partnerships where there’s a benefit for both of us on the line.

Tim Weale: Retail in partnerships is really key…

John Rougeux: So just so to recap that first one, ’cause I think this is really important, we hear about this a lot. You guys recognize the fact that you have certain competencies, certain things that you do really well, but you also recognize the fact that while there’s expertise out there that you need to add to your team, trying to do that internally through direct hires or building technology from scratch, that’s not always the right approach. People out there are doing this and you can gain access to the expertise, gain access to the technology so much faster by finding the right partnerships, filtered through this lens of identifying problems that you can solve and then finding the right partnerships to address that.

Tim Weale: Yeah, absolutely, because for us we like the idea of great diversification, so external partners, they see things across the marketplace that we don’t necessarily see. And if we brought that capability internally and tried to own it and wrap that capability around us and hold it tight, we would probably lose the competitive advantage there because all of them will just turn into us, essentially, so we like it that external partners are out there, and they talk to different landlords, see different trends, have different insights to what we do.

Tim Weale: That’s really critical, and also too we don’t necessarily have the budget to become a tech company, and nor do we want to, we know what we do, and we know what we do well, and that’s creating great experiences in shopping centers, and a place for people to come to, and that’s where we need to focus on our strengths, and leverage our external partners to help us in other areas.

John Rougeux: Right, ’cause when you bring things in house there’s certainly instances where that’s appropriate, but you’re kind of making the bet that you can do it better, faster, cheaper, than a partner. So certainly when you’re trying to get something quickly, and as rapidly as things are changing, that’s…partnerships are a quick way to bring those capabilities on board without the sum costs.

John Rougeux: So let’s talk about the second one, I think retail partnerships was the next one on the list.

Tim Weale: Yeah, so retail partnerships is a really interesting one, as I mentioned before with that real change of retailers looking to leverage that balance of online and offline. We wanted to see our retailers be successful and we will help them and encourage them to be that in any way that we can.

Tim Weale: You look at the likes of Adidas, and locally in Australia we have a group, sporting retailer called Rebel, and all their investment is going into the online space. While they’re not exiting out of bricks and mortar, but a lot of their development is going into online, so they can see that to be successful you need to be in that space, for both markets.

Tim Weale: What also is interesting, in Australia, there’s only 15% of the top 250 retailers represented in our market. We’ve had quite a few internationals come in, in recent times, meaning H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara as examples, and they’ve really shown the Australian market, especially in fashion, that there’s another way of doing business.

Tim Weale: Typically a lot of our retailers have had four seasons of clothing a year, whereas the internationals they come in and they can have up to 22 seasons of clothing a year. So we’ll look to partner with retailers and entities who want to come into the Australian market, and we’ll look to encourage that and help them do that, so there’s a windfall for both of us there.

John Rougeux: So real quick before we go onto the next one, have you started to see the relationship between commercial property and tenant change? Is it starting to move towards more of a mutually collaborative partnership, and if so what do you think is driving that?

Tim Weale: The consumer. 100% the consumer. So no longer is the conversation with retailers and ourselves a retailer vs. landlord, rent per square meter, black and white conversation anymore, it’s so much more collaborative now. And even the whole metrics of retail performance of a shopping center, being the productivity of styles per square meter, even that as a metric is becoming less relevant and more and more so we’re moving toward this understanding of consumer behavior in the center and applying a value to that consumer behavior.

Tim Weale: A lot of people might come into a store, look for your products, but then purchase online, so those sales aren’t necessarily attributed to the center. So that old metric of that reporting of those sales in a physical store is becoming while still the metric, is becoming less and less appropriate. So that’s that real change of metric with online coming, being such a strong part of their business models.

John Rougeux: Right, so even though these physical spaces aren’t necessarily conducting the transaction itself, they’re still adding value, so using that metric of sales per square foot isn’t…maybe it’s still valuable in some ways but it sounds like it’s decreasing in importance in some ways.

Tim Weale: That’s right, and where the value is, is that the customers coming into stores and their behavior in store, there’s more value attributed to that now as opposed to a simple black and white they made a transaction, how much was it?

John Rougeux: Right, right, and then that kind of segues into this third one, data analytics. Tell us a little bit about that one.

Tim Weale: That’s been a really exciting journey for us. When we started about three years ago, with our first deployment of retail wifi into two of our centers, as proof of concept in a way, and then we’ve expanded now through our entire portfolio. But what that has given us is an ability to understand consumer behavior like we’ve never been able to do before and also to, not only just as a one platform if you like, give us our intelligence like that, that we can use to make business decisions.

Tim Weale: It actually made us realize that in other areas of our business and other technologies we had deployed that we weren’t in a spot to really make a claim of accuracy against those. An example is people counting throughout our centers.

Tim Weale: So in Australia it’s quite common that retail landlords will do that to understand the traffic flow and the numbers of people within a center and with that we had various vendors across our portfolio, we had various technologies across our portfolio, and we had various ways of understanding the accuracy of those technologies that were deployed.

Tim Weale: So we’ve gone out and completely redefined that, deployed the one single technology across all our centers so that we’ve got that little baseline and understanding of accuracy, so that we can make good decisions and hand on heart know that they’re the right numbers. Whereas before it was probably a bit loose, but only because we started to get this greater appreciation of the value of having accurate data, did it change our mindset on a lot of things.

John Rougeux: So you’ve really invested in the quality of data that you’re getting across your portfolio.

Tim Weale: Yeah, that’s right, exactly. ‘Cause for us to stand up and make recommendations to our own board, or making representation to retailers, we really need that data to be accurate, so that we can like I said, hand on heart, be confident in what we’re saying is in fact real, tangible, and the truth. That is an accurate representation.

Tim Weale: So it’s been really, really interesting, and even just defining relevance of retailers in our centers, our development team when they look to do remixing or changing a part of one of our assets, and essentially doing an upgrade to it. An example was we had a retailer, an electronics retailer here in Australia, in our center, and there was a bit of a feeling amongst some people in the group that that retailer might not have had relevance anymore, so we simply just looked at the data, saw that that retailer was actually really quite high in webpages that had been searched by people who had been logged on to our wifi in the center, and it was really high. It was right up the top. So that, instantly, having been able to rely on the data to make business decision, was really compelling and was like ‘wow they are actually relevant’ rather than just basing it on a gut feel. And it changed the whole mindset and the whole conversation of the meeting at the time.

John Rougeux: Yeah I think that’s a great example of how using data, not just to have interesting reports or graphs to create some eye candy, but you’re using direct to make business decisions and validate the tenet mix, I think that’s really powerful.

Tim Weale: And that sort of leads into the next one, the urban mobility solutions and that theme, it’s not about wheelchair accessibility per se, but what it is, it’s about the change of people in their behavior in hyper urban environments, and the technology that enables them to transit through there, and Uber is an obvious example, with pickups and drops and Uber Eats.

Tim Weale: Fedora, they’re in Australia, they’re a recent addition into our portfolio and with Fedora for food delivery, we had a deal with them that they would have a more favorable product offering to our retailers in the center, and in return we gave them dedicated parking bays for their scooters and bikes so that they could get in and out quicker.

Tim Weale: But an interesting one is a partnership, another external partnership that we have with Tesla. In our Broadway shopping center in Sydney, we have Australia’s first supercharging base that is outside of a Tesla service center. There’s eight bays there with supercharging capabilities for Tesla owners.

Tim Weale: So initially when we were discussing with them, we were talking through the deal, and we were curious how long do people stay connected, and the average time that a car was tethered to a Tesla supercharger was just over and hour, and that was real interesting to us, from the data analytics and the wifi deployed, we know that our average dwell time for a repeat customer at Broadway was forty-two minutes.

Tim Weale: So that really caught our attention, that this would attract people who potentially who potentially have high disposable income, given they’re spent a good sum of money on a really cool piece of technology, would be returning customers to our center. And that really sort of summed it up, well if we can do that, and that was one of our business problems, we want to increase dwell time in our centers.

Tim Weale: So that was just a simple use of data there to really justify. And that’s been a great success for both Tesla and also for us as a center as well.

John Rougeux: What I really like about this example, Tim, is you’re actually not looking at these solutions as silos, you kind of his on three there. So you talked about urban mobility solutions, so this is like how people access, the center, what other amenities or services access the center, like food delivery. So basically what’s the customer experience like of you know, getting up to the door of the center.

John Rougeux: But you hit on like data analytics, so looking at the time these cars spent charging, and you looked at, you didn’t mention this but it was a partnership as you so you combined external partnerships, you combined data analytics into the pill of urban mobility solutions, so really –

John Rougeux: … analytics, this other pillar of urban note mobility solutions. So really think holistically about these solving problems. And it sounds like if you’re just looking at these things ad hoc, you wouldn’t have thought so deeply and gotten such rich insights about what’s happening at the center.

Tim Weale: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. All these key themes, they’re all integrated. Absolutely. And now Tesla’s a retailer as well in our centers. They take space to sell their cars within our shopping centers now. So it’s all interlinked. We can’t look at it in silos. It’s so much more sophisticated now. And a lot of these that we’ve been talking about isn’t a discussion around traditional bricks and mortar leasing your shops. So that the role of retailer now, retail centers, is really changing. And changing quickly.

John Rougeux: So I think we have two more pillars. We’ve gone through four, we’ve got two left. Can you walk us through these last couple?

Tim Weale: Yeah. Sure thing, sure thing. So the next one is products, in inverted commas, and you might remember that the number one job to be done for a consumer was that they wanted to find the product that they want to buy. So we’ve learned from Millennials, in the ages of 20 to 35 years of age and with the Gen Z coming through, the people know the product that they want to buy. So they’re coming into our centers not thinking, “I’m gonna buy a pair of running shoes today.” They come in, they know they want a pair of Nike Air Max. Or they know they want a pair of classic Kayanos. Or they come in and go, “I want a pair of Nudie jeans today.” That’s what they’re coming in. They know the product, ’cause they’re all tech savvy. Everyone is on Instagram and they know what their friends and families and influencers are wearing, and that’s what they want to buy, as well.

Tim Weale: So with that in mind, we ran a proof of concept of a product’s piece that we call Products Online. And we had an affiliation with vendors in our center, with retailers, and they would provide us with a feed of their product inventory every 24 hours, of what they had in the store. So knowing the behavior of a lot of research happening on our Broadway webpage site, we had a products page and you could type in there, “Nike Air Max” and it would bring up all the colors and shapes and sizes of Nike Air Max that were available in our center that day.

Tim Weale: So it would come up with what’s available from Nike themselves, Hype DC which is a street sort of shoe fashion retailer in Australia, Rebel Sport, Athlete’s Foot et cetera et cetera. So they’ll all be listed there and the proof of concept was really really good and it showed that behavior was quite compelling from our consumers, that if we did it for six months and the cart size that people were purchasing- as I said, you then had the choice of either buying it, being directed to the retailer’s e-commerce page, or contacting the store by email or phone.

Tim Weale: But the average cart size was about $113 Australian, whereas from research we’ve done, average cart size in the center, average purchase is probably only about 40 to 50 dollars. So it was quite eye-opening to see that this behavior was occurring without any marketing. It was there just so it would be organically found through Google that people would use this product’s searching piece.

Tim Weale: So we got another proof of concept in the wings now to really then drive those sales and that fulfillment to the stores in our center. While this Products Online piece was good for the retailer, it wasn’t actually driving traffic or sales performance to that store that is in the center, so that’s what we really want to strive to do is still maintain that relevance and that experience and driving footfall to the physical center to complete the transaction. It was really really interesting and it proved up a lot of theories that we’d been thinking about and a couple of hypotheses that we had.

Tim Weale: And the next one’s voice activation, it’s just such a huge tech mega trend coming our way and we see that Amazon Alexa now has over 300,000 different skills and is being trained and training so many more every week. It’s a huge mega trend, the Google Home is similar example and there’s many other similar products along there.

Tim Weale: So we’re looking how we can use that tech mega trend of voice activation within our shopping centers. So we’re looking at a couple of exciting things there, one of those is potentially voice activation of directory boards, so rather than just going up to a standard old directory board and typing in with your fingers what you want to- you know, you’re looking for shoes, it’ll bring up all the different shoe shops that you don’t want, that you could just simply with your voice ask the unit, “Where I can find a pair of Mike Air Max?,” and then it would tell you.

Tim Weale: So that’s pretty exciting. There’s more to come in that over the next 6 to 12 months. But yeah, it’s a mega trend that we can’t ignore and it just brings that value add and that additional experience into the centers and as more and more people use voice activation- I know my two and my four year old, they love using it because they can play the- the Alexa at home, they can play the Paw Patrol soundtrack theme song whenever they like, so it’s not something that’s going to go away any time soon.

John Rougeux: Right yes, it’s pretty similar in our household with our little ones. [crosstalk 00:31:43] Yeah, this generation is learning to interact with computers at a much younger age and along with that, they’re interacting to voice instead of either keyboard or mouse or even a touch screen.

Tim Weale: Yeah.

John Rougeux: And so I think you’re kind of preparing for the future in a way with these voice activations because this is how people are, especially like I said, kids are learning to interact with computers, that’s gonna be the expectation in other environments outside the home.

Tim Weale: Yeah, exactly. That’s right, and that’s what we need to be ready for, when that Generation Z, that one to 20 years of age who are now starting to enter into the spending age group and who are consumers, we need to be ready for that.

John Rougeux: Yeah, absolutely. So look, I want to just recap these six themes. You went in some great depth today and I want to make sure that we can keep these six top of mind. So we’ve got external partnerships, we’ve got retail partnerships, data analytics, urban mobility solutions, products and voice activation. The six themes of Tim’s connected urban customer strategy.

John Rougeux: Really good stuff Tim, I’ve got one last question for you before we wrap up today’s episode.

Tim Weale: Yeah?

John Rougeux: I would have to imagine that the development of these themes, the implementation of all this, building a data-first culture that probably involves a lot more than the efforts of just yourself, that’s really a team effort if I’m guessing correctly. So what was that like, what’s your advice for someone who’s thinking about these themes, they want to pursue something similar or at least take on a more robust approach in terms of connecting and understanding customers- how do they go about taking that from an idea to really building this into the culture of their own business?

Tim Weale: It has actually been really tough. It really has been. It hasn’t been an easy road and we’ve still got a long way to go. ‘Cause you can bring so many great things into a business but if your business units aren’t willing or don’t want to or don’t have the desire or the hunger to use these platforms and products and ideas, then they really just won’t.

Tim Weale: People get comfortable in the way they do what they do, and if they’ve been doing it for a while and they think that that’s success, then that’s how they’ll continue to do it. So we really had to prove the value to our business in a lot of these instances, and we’re starting to get some success now and some of those wins like I mentioned before with the relevance of retailers and understanding the online tidal wave that is right there and giving them insights of consumer behavior, of how popular Uber Eats now and the idea of restaurants not even wanting to have a restaurant front per se any more but having those meals fulfilled out of dark kitchens.

Tim Weale: So really, just highlighting to the businesses that this change is coming and it’s right here and right now and will just keep coming, and it’ll come faster and faster and faster. And that’s the big thing to do, thinking about do, is to remain agile. Like I wouldn’t be surprised our connected urban customer themes in 12 months’ time, it could look quite different because of the rate of change.

Tim Weale: We saw that with what our retailers wanted change within 12 months, so one piece of advice is really to bring people on on the journey. You can’t just go and do it yourself and run the flag up the hill and expect everyone else to follow you. You really want to instill that ownership into your teams, have the teams onboard, do short sprints, proof of concept or investigative sprints and insights into your consumers.

Tim Weale: And have the teams- have your retail teams, your center teams, even your support teams in your head offices get out to the centers, talk to customers, be involved, and then they start to see that it’s not just someone from head office saying, “This is what we’ve got to do,” that once they realize and have that own self realization that this is important, then you really get the commitment and people getting on board.

John Rougeux: So it’s not just about yourself and you being super passionate about it. It sounds like being iterative, setting up experiments, allowing others on your team to have some participation and ownership in these experiments allows them to kind of see the light if you will, and really understand the value at a much more innate level than you trying to tell them and convince them from the outside.

Tim Weale: Yeah, that’s a really good summary. Absolutely.

John Rougeux: Tim, lots of great advice today, I really appreciate you walking us through these six themes of the connected urban customer strategy. If someone wants to get in touch with you, ask a question, what’s the best way for them to get in touch?

Tim Weale: Yeah absolutely, John. They can either get in touch directly through you and I’m more than happy for you to forward on my details to them. That’s not a problem at all.

John Rougeux: All right well, we’ll certainly include your contact information in the show notes if someone wants to find you on LinkedIn or through some other means, but happy to forward anyone I run across over to you as well.

Tim Weale: Yeah, terrific.

John Rougeux: Well, good deal Tim, thanks so much for being with us. If you guys are still listening, I want to ask you for two small favors today. First of all, if you found this episode helpful, please head to iTunes and leave us a five star rating or even better, a short review. You know, when you rate the show, it helps us get more visibility but the important thing there is that that means great advice from experts like Tim gets shared with even more people, so please do that today when you have a moment.

John Rougeux: Secondly, if you have an idea for the show or a guest you’d like to propose, send us a note at That’s

John Rougeux: Okay, well that’s it for today’s episode of People And Places. I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii. Thanks again for being with us, we’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. You can get in-touch with Tim Weale at his LinkedIn profile.
  2. The book that Tim references by Clayton Christensen is called The Innovator’s Dilemma.
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