Wes Nicol Relates How Videri’s Streamlined On-Premise Screen Solution Generates Consistent 30% Sales Bumps
April 12, 2023 by Dave Haynes
If you’ve spent any time in bars and pubs – not me, but I’ve been told – there have always been signs of walls promoting beverage brands. They were neon, or backlit plastic, and they were there to perhaps be the last thing someone sees before a server asks, “What’ll you have?”
Imagine if you could do that instead with digital displays that were changeable and had the kinds of motion graphics or video that drew eyeballs and influenced decisions.
That’s what a New York-based company called Videri offers up. Very quietly, guided by a whale client it can’t talk about publicly, Videri has almost 100,000 networked displays operating around the globe – driving brand awareness and delivering a consistent 30% sales lift, month to month, on promoted products. That means an ROI on the investment for the brands who put them in that’s measured in months, not years.
The big reasons why it works? It’s a turnkey solution based on super-thin, super-light custom-manufactured all-in-one flat panels that a beverage brand’s field staffers can install and activate in a matter of minutes. If they can hang a picture on a wall, they can put these in.
I had a great chat with Wes Nicol, who came on as CEO about a year ago and is busily bringing Videri out of a somewhat stealthy period, and making some broader marketplace noise.
Wes, thank you for joining me. Can you give me the rundown on what Videri is all about?
Wes Nicol: Hey, Dave, thanks for having me. I am excited to be on the podcast. I’ve been a longtime listener, first-time interviewee. But yeah, the history of Videri, it’s been around for about ten years, in 2013, we started with digital out-of-home, ruggedized products working with Outfront, which was CBS Outdoor at the time, and then subsequent to that, maybe a few years later, developed a series of thinner indoor displays, Videri Canvas that we built hand in hand actually with one of our large customers And then continue to expand that globally.
We’re typically more of a white-label shop. You don’t really hear much about vi I think when we talked before you mentioned, “I have never heard of you guys.” That was probably on purpose. We can talk about that later but we have a complete end-to-end solution: we build hardware, CMS & device management software, and I’m happy to get into the details.
I had heard vaguely of you in the past, I think one of the jobs that Videri was doing, you mentioned Outfront was on the MTA in New York?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, exactly. So anything that you see on the MTA is our product.
Oh, okay. Now, do you still do that sort of work, or was the move to these thin canvas displays something of a pivot for the company?
Wes Nicol: We’re still doing that. We are still actively deploying right now at the MTA, and there’s gonna be a refresh cycle that we’re hoping to participate in. But I think strategically we want to become more of a software company and there’s a lot of green space in the indoor product. As you know obviously in the industry, there’s a lot of opportunity there. So that’s kinda where we’re focusing most of our efforts right now.
You have been very quiet. I would say almost stealthy, but in the past year, you started to make some noise in the market, right?
Wes Nicol: Yeah I’m new to the company, so I joined about a year ago…
So you’re the noisy guy?
Wes Nicol: Exactly, and I’m Canadian. So typically we’re pretty humble folks, but it’s funny. We were at the ISE show. I think we saw you there at your event, at the actual show itself, people are saying, “Hey, we’ve been trying to find you guys like. We’ve seen this product somewhere, we just didn’t know who made it”, and there’s nothing written on the actual display that actually says, Videri on it. You have to kinda pull it off the wall, look at some serial numbers and do some Googling to figure it out.
And that’s been great because some of our partners love that. They love the fact they got something really special and unique, and we’re going to continue to do that kinda white-label approach. But when you see your list of the top display manufacturers in digital signage, we’re nowhere near where I think we should be based on deployments, and that’s cause we’re not really being captured.
We’re in a lot of cinema projects. We’re in many of the top beverage brands obviously we’re in QSRs, and there are tons of retailers that you probably wouldn’t even realize that it has Videri.
I have this interesting story that I relate of my experience at DSE, going back to November, and being just like dead tired on my feet and some guy from a company called Videri asked if I could come to their hospitality suite at The Aria, and I didn’t wanna go. I was just so tired, but it was right next to the hotel where I was staying, so I figured, okay, I’ll go and I met him and we went up the elevator and then walked down a hallway that was, I swear, three miles long to the end unit in this hospitality suite and said hello to some people and they brought me over to the product and it was three skinny monitors on a buffet or whatever you wanna call the thing, and I was thinking to myself, really, I did all this to see some skinny desktop monitors and I thought, please god, get me out of here. But then your guy started to explain to me what was going on and I thought, oh, wait a minute. This is actually interesting and how I’ve since described it to others is it does a bunch of things, you can explain all that.
But what I said was, if you think about bars and restaurants that you’ve been in that had a display on a wall for a beer brand or some other beverage brand and that used to be neon and then it became backlit plastic, printed out plastic. Now it’s digital, it’s skinny, it’s changeable, and it can go up in a matter of minutes and be fully managed on a network and affordable and there’s an ROI out of it.
Is that kind of a fair description of what you’re up to?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, absolutely. So that was the kind of the need of this large customer, which shall remain nameless, that worked with us, and the idea was like, you’ve gotta build something that’s gonna fit nicely into a bar, a restaurant that’s gonna fit in the environment. There are weird wall situations. It’s gotta be something that can fit in. Just like you’re hanging a picture effectively, and it’s gotta be easy to deploy, being like the sales rep that is working with that bar, the restaurant has to be able to be one that actually installs it. You don’t need a third-party installer to come in, roll a truck out and do it.
Cause that’s $150 an hour or something, right?
Wes Nicol: Exactly. Plus there are all the costs, so these people are already going there. They’re dropping off the beverages, they’re dropping off merchandise, they’re talking to their clients. They have to be able to deploy this in 15 minutes, that was the requirement, and so that spurred a whole bunch of things and thinking about how that is being used in that environment. It’s not a tv, right? So part of the importance of this is that we’re able to build this cause of what it doesn’t have, right? So there’s no need for a tuner, no need for speakers, no need for HDMI cables. We have media players embedded inside, a SOC running Android, and they’re really thin power cables because we’re not actually consuming a ton of power, and we need to be able to store a certain amount of content locally that is connected though it can be modified and centrally managed.
And so the way that works for the restaurant or bar owner is they can have customized cocktail lists, they can do menu boards that will benefit them, but the beverage brand in this case can showcase their products and maybe include that in a cocktail or do some branding exercises and that can all be centralized and managed.
This particular brand which shall remain nameless manages, I think over 40,000 locations globally in 80-something countries now with one person managing content with two interns, and they’re managing content globally, and part of that is as part of the installation, obviously, the sales rep is able to just screw it into the wall, there are two screws that you pop it on, plug it in and then they use this app to connect to the WiFi and then connect the network, and effectively they walk away, but they can, with the bar owner in this particular example, customize that content, do some stuff, and so the way we’ve had to create our CMS platform and device management platform, Is to enable hierarchy of permissions and it maps into this particular customer’s CRM system. I think you’re using SAP so if that rep is no longer part of the company, they lose their permissions to access those displays. But they can only access these 10 locations and they can work and the bar owner says, Hey, I wanna change this content. I wanna manage this or do something different. That rep can manage that. But the global programs, the programmatic marketing, it’s all done centrally from the headquarters, and so by building this product, we were able to then see other benefits, right?
“Oh wow. It’s really thin, it looks beautiful, that’s an advantage for events”, and so there’s been countless sort of offshoots from building this core product.
And was it a case of the European beverage brand, I know we’re dancing around this because you wanna make sure you’re not doing something that’s going to upset an apple cart, were they already doing screens in these kinds of environments and thinking this is too challenging, we need something different. Can you help?
Or were you already working with them and they said, this is a start, but we need to work with you to fine-tune something that really suits our needs?
Wes Nicol: This particular brand has always been very innovative. They’ve always been pushing the envelope in terms of on-premise marketing. When you’re consuming products on the premise, you’ve got, as you mentioned, like kinda the neon signs, those types of things. That’s been kinda standard. They are always the first ones, and so they were testing different digital signage options and they were never really getting what they’re looking for, and then they said, we kinda gotta build it ourselves, and luckily through the initial relationship the connection was made and we started building this and testing it and they said, ok, we’ll run a pilot, and we’ll see what it does. They ran it in a number of locations. Over a period of time, they said, this has to be a one-year ROI or less. That was like the requirements of the pilot.
They significantly busted through that. It was a lot quicker, and they’ve seen a 30% increase consistently over four years and tens of thousands of displays consistently driving that because when you’re in that location, when you’re in that bar, you don’t go to a bar thinking, Hey, I want a gin and tonic. Yeah. You’re going in there I wanna go for a drink with some friends, right? And oh, what are we gonna have? What do you have here? What’s on the menu? Oh, that, okay, great. I’ll order that, and so it’s kinda that power of influencing people subtly in the background. We’re not like a big TV that’s showing a sports game, right? We’re something that’s in there as part of the environment that’s. So it was built for that purpose, for that kinda subtle influence of that decision at the point of sale and the deployment, in terms of the requirements of the hardware, they weren’t happy with buying TVs.
Like when I came to the company a year ago, I said, hey, TVs are a lot cheaper. We should just make TVs, and they’re like, absolutely not. We’ve built this for a reason, and so that really kinda made me understand the product a lot better.
So when you say 30%, that’s a 30% lift on sales of that item in that venue?
Wes Nicol: Yes. Consistently,
Wow, month over month. So that would pay for itself in I don’t know, six weeks or something, right?
Wes Nicol: It depends on the product and we’ve seen in other environments, like in a retail store, get a return on investment in two weeks, it’s crazy.
And that’s the thing I think about this whole industry. I’m coming from a different industry before, but coming into it, realizing like everyone I talk to about my job here at Videri goes wow, never thought of that. We could totally use that in my industry. And people from all different spaces, and I feel that in this market, there’s such a green field opportunity. There’s been the traditional stuff, QSR that’s been done, but there are so many different areas that I see this potentially going into and when you see these kinds of impacts, like if you’re at the point of sale and the customer doesn’t really know what to get, think cannabis and others, there’s a whole bunch of new industries that you just need a bit of guidance, right? I don’t know what I’m coming here to buy, but I want something, and just being able to explain to that customer in a digital way. We have the tools now. We didn’t have them before, and yeah, it’s really exciting.
I suspect that the kind of turnkey element of it is also very attractive in that if you want to do something in, let’s say a bar, you’re gonna have to buy a display, buy a media playout device, or maybe there’s SOC on it, but you’re gonna have to buy them out. There’s a whole bunch of parts involved, and then you’ve gotta identify software that you’re gonna work with. Is it compliant? On and on. So it can become complicated and expensive quickly, and the end users just say, you know what? Maybe later, but not right now.
And they’re just selling the dream, so to speak, as opposed to you, because you’ve got this client and some other clients who can actually say 30% consistent lift month on month, it’s like holy shit, where do I sign?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, exactly. Even as you were mentioning, I’m thinking about my TV in my apartment here in New York. I hung it up and I screwed it up a million times, right? And it’s heavy, and you’re trying to hold it up against the wall. These things are super lightweight. We stripped out everything, right? It’s just really down to the bare bones, but it does what you’re looking for it to do, and so you’re absolutely right. The idea is a very simple consumer-like experience in terms of out of the box, installation. We’re talking about a simple iOS app and you’ve gotta connect to the cloud and then you can manage that through the console, and we’re just about to launch a whole new refresh of the platform that is like super user-friendly that will make that possible, and I’m not able to announce a big partner that we’re launching other than this beverage brand that’s gonna make this a lot more accessible to the average SMB taking advantage of those key features.
Because you worked pretty closely and continued to work pretty closely with us particular beverage brand, did that restrict who else you could work with?
Wes Nicol: They frowned upon us going with their competitors directly. But not necessarily, no. There’s no kinda exclusivity there. But they are pushing to build a product specifically for them and they have got some unique features that they put in that we can’t use with others, but those are software features, so no, we’re open, we can work with others.
Does it become a challenge in the venues themselves where they say we’ve already got these Videri screens for this beverage brand, we’re tapped out, we don’t have more wall space, or we don’t want competing ones here, this is good enough?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, that’s the genius of this idea. It probably wasn’t even Videri’s idea to go and do this, but it was this beverage brand’s idea like, hey, this is a bit of a land grab, right? There’s only so much real estate in these locations, and if we can own that space it’s a win-win for the bar, restaurant, and brand but if we can go and get out there, and they have an aggressive plan to expand then they own that space kind of indefinitely since these things last for a while.
So that’s one of the models we’re looking at where the brand is being showcased in a third-party location and the brand owns the display and that’s unique and I think it’s gonna continue to play out in a few different areas. The other one we’re looking at, and we’re starting to see some real interest in that, is that the actual retailer owns the display and they have a closed network where they are already getting the brands to spend money on merchandising in the stores. Think about a Telco that’s launching a new Samsung Galaxy phone that is 23 or 25 or 57, whatever version it’s now, and they wanna buy space in that retail location, they can actually use these displays to, number one, pay for themselves immediately, but also be revenue generating for merchandising in that closed network. I’m not talking about connecting to an exchange or anything, I’m talking about a private closed network and we’ve seen a lot of it.
It’s just endemic advertising.
Wes Nicol: Yeah, exactly.
Yeah, I think wireless retailers are like the poster child for that. It is perfect because there are always new products and there are always new plans and features and everything else and the compliance issues of having the right posters up at the right time and all that are massive in that kind of environment, and if you could just all do it digitally, that would be great, but historically retailers tend to be very cheap, would be the impolite term for it, they don’t want to spend the money on that infrastructure, they’d rather have the brand come in and do that.
Are you seeing that shifting?
Wes Nicol: No. Retailers are under a ton of pressure, you know, 80% of the sales that happen in the US are actually in brick-and-mortar. I didn’t realize it was that high, so they’re under pressure. But I think the idea is that we have to find a way to displace ourselves. So you’ve gotta figure out an OPEX model, or maybe it’s a three-year term or something like that, and then you charge them monthly, but ok, it’s gonna cost you X, but you’re gonna make 3X back in a month, let’s do a trial for free for three months, see what happens, and they say, wow, like this is actually gonna be generating money from your marketing as opposed to, it’s not gonna be a cost set, it’s actually gonna be positive. It can show the results immediately.
So part of the issue for us is like we really need to be able to report that and tell that and really ideally getting access to the point of sale information and say, Hey, like when we’ve displayed this, we put this out there. We’ve been running these particular promotions, we’ve been focusing on X sneaker brand, and that sneaker brand increased dramatically and increased margins at this location by X and Y and really making it affordable and that’s the whole thing. I think in terms of the adoption of digital signage. You just have to make it easy to deploy, whether it’s a partner that does it or it’s in-house, if you’re able to make that happen, like this beverage brand, and I think others are able to do it, you still can have a partner come in and it’s inexpensive for them as well to kinda just deploy and manage. And so it has to be I think on a monthly basis and it has to drive that business return on investment, very quickly.
If you pay upfront for the hardware, these displays are expensive cause you’re buying the hardware, that’s when you’re in the year ROI but if you’re saying, I’m gonna advertise this over three years and it’s monthly, and we know that we’re seeing the return quickly, usually in month two or three you’ll find that it’s actually paying for itself.
Yeah. I wrote recently just the other day actually about a company that was starting down the path of AV as a service, the very high-end IT services and everything else related to that, and you’re starting to hear about deals that kind of roll in all the costs of a digital sign network into just like a subscription, a monthly fee, to do everything, not just the software, the hardware, the whole nine yards.
Is that something that you are doing now or looking at?
Wes Nicol: Absolutely, and we have partners that have been doing this for a long time. Here in the US, Velocity Managed Services they’re one of our partners.
Oh yeah. Out of Dayton or Toledo, or something like that?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, and they provide a monthly all-in package. They’ve been doing a lot of stuff with cinemas and other brands. I don’t know if I can mention the brands. I’m just going to be really careful. But yeah, so that’s already provided by them and they can also do a la carte: Do you want to have content management? Do you wanna have content development? We’ve got all the different services. They even do the installation as part of the monthly, so instead of paying upfront for installation, you can do it over a period of time. I think that’s a good model. I think that you can see more and more of that.
Yeah, because not every end-user client is going to have field reps bringing flats of drinks or whatever into a venue every three days or whatever it may be. With other ones, you’re going to have to have some sort of an install crew, even if the labor costs are relatively low because it’s quick.
Wes Nicol: Absolutely, and many companies don’t want to deal with that, right? They just say just give me a turnkey solution. I want a partner to manage this for me, I’ll pay for it, and that’s completely reasonable because the business case justifies it.
You guys provided the screens at my mixer in Barcelona and we had multiple screens with content cascading over multiple screens, shifting back and forth. So there were many matrixes of rectangles and squares and so on. You could do interesting stuff like that. But what we’ve been talking about mostly till now has been with what sounds like single displays that would go up and replace a backlit display or backlit printed signs that might have been there in the past. Are you doing much in the way of these multiple displays?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, that’s a whole other space, right? And this product is fantastic because of it, the name Videri means ‘to be seen’ and it’s an interesting play on words in terms of, like, how do you want to be seen? How do you want your brand to be seen if you’re at an event, if you’re launching a new product, how do you want that to be seen?
You want an elegant, beautiful display, but you also would love to see an array of displays that’s unique and different, right? You can do a wall, an LED wall, that’s one thing but if you want a unique layout that’s like Eye Catching, we built this orchestration software that really enables you to do that automatically. So you can pinch and zoom the entire video, and if you’re able to see the screen behind me right now, and I know we’re just on audio, but I have videos running across a number of displays in the back wall of my office that just automatically happens.
So when you’re looking at events, activations, and others, unfortunately, a lot of our stuff we can’t really share. We have some hidden places that I can share with certain customers, but yeah, so it could be like, you’re launching a new car, or you’re doing a new whiskey brand or trade shows. That’s a huge opportunity for us. People didn’t realize this existed, and since we’ve come out in the last few months here, we’re getting tons of inbound requests, and we’re going to an event in Kentucky that’s a booth-building event. So Booth builders are looking at this product, saying, this is super light, I can hang this anywhere. I don’t need special reinforcement. It’s very thin, and then I can do these mosaics, and we have a lot of examples of doing an entire huge stand of 50-60 displays, all orchestrated content and it’s kind of a unique way, and we’ve done some studies on that, and it really draws your attention because firstly it’s unique, but we purposely put gaps in between the displays by the way, that’s what we’ve learned as a best practice, at least an inch or two in between. So then your mind is drawn to it like you’re trying to fill in the gaps and it just draws your attention more. So that’s been kind of like one of the key best practices in terms of how we arrange these displays.
It’s interesting because the mantra in digital signage for 25 years has been to try to get to seamless and not have gaps or bezzles or anything else, but you’re saying that visually it works the other way.
Wes Nicol: Yeah, just to be unique, and to catch the eye. Like we’re an LED wall, and the LED walls are fantastic, right? They’re really cool for certain things, but we have a unique product that lets you stand out, do something different and draw people’s attention because you can do things that you couldn’t otherwise do.
Are you constrained by the creativity of that? If a creative person is listening to this, are they starting to think, okay, what does this file look like? What am I doing that’s different? Do I have to design something very custom? Or is it just a file, and it’ll run on here?
Wes Nicol: It all comes down to actually how you mount the displays. You’ve got three ways to do it. It has to be a square, portrait, or landscape, right? And you can’t have some weird triangle thing going on with displays because it looks kind of weird.
But yeah, in our creative studio platform, it shows like certain content will render well in that aspect ratio, and so if we work with you on an event and you’re saying, okay, we’ve got this wall that we’re going to be working with, we can say, okay, we can do a couple of portraits, we can do landscape, we can do whatever, and then the content has to match up to that. But generally, all the major formats of video, and then you can go back to still images, to video. We can schedule all and manage all the different slots.
So if it’s an interesting-looking matrix,, if you step back and look at it, you’re thinking in terms of it being a 16:9 rectangle as the overall canvas, even though it might not fill all of it or a square, or whatever.
Wes Nicol: Exactly.
Okay. So you’ve mentioned partners a few times. Are you mostly selling through partners, or do you sell direct, or a little bit of both?
Wes Nicol: This is kind of a miss, I think, over the company over the years is we haven’t really set this up properly, and we’re fixing that. But we have a lot of direct customers, and then we have a very small handful of resellers, a couple in the US and one in Israel. Having gone to this ISE show in Barcelona, realizing people want the product in Poland, they want the product in Spain, they want the product in the Middle East. So we set up a partner program that we just launched two or three weeks ago. We’re getting resellers and distributors that will give us the products in the country throughout EMEA. That’s like a big push right now. So the product can be sourced there.
In the past, you’d have to get a shipment from New York and it would take forever to reach Saudi Arabia. Now we’re gonna have a local presence with local distributors. So we’re definitely actively signing up a ton of resellers and partners. There’s been a ton of demand at the show, I think I mentioned that people were just like, wow. where have you guys been? I’ve seen this. I’m from South Africa, I’ve been trying to find this product for years and no one would tell me where they got it. So that’s all that’s changing now, and we’re really actively recruiting partners.
You guys did the reference design, I assume working with your big client or clients, is the manufacturing done in China or somewhere in Asia?
Wes Nicol: That’s correct, done in China. We do all the design work. Our New York office is the sales and marketing, and finance. But we have all of our engineering is done in Canada, based in Montreal. So we have hardware and software engineering up there. So we design, we got mechanical engineering, we deal with radio stuff, and like a whole bunch of designing everything from the display. We’re actually building some other unique things I’ll talk about maybe a future podcast that is taking advantage of some of the skill sets up in Canada. But yeah, all that stuff gets designed, and we work for the entire process. We’re launching a whole series of products right now, and it’s QAd in Canada and then it goes back to the manufacturers in China.
Would that just be an evolution of what you already have or distinct?
Wes Nicol: It’s an evolution with some interesting new twists to it.
Wes Nicol: We can talk about it when you invite me back to get back on this show.
Now, what about a large retailer that’s already working with Brand X CMS software company. Can you integrate with them, or do they have to be like parallel activities that don’t cross one another?
Wes Nicol: We’re completely open. We just had a big meeting about that. We’re working with some other partners around integrating their CMS platforms. We’ve got killer device management. So I think our role, when we’re working with other partners, we want to be able to manage the provisioning and, making sure the device has the right software, we’re able to get a lot of really good insights in terms of CPU performance, memory, WiFi signal, temperature, all that stuff. We would continue to play that role, but we definitely integrate with any other CMS platform.
When you were at the show, we were sitting across from Appspace, and we went, hey, can we run your Android APK on this? And within 15 minutes, we had Appspace running on our displays at the booth in Barcelona. There are some gotchas to this. We have to do a little bit of modification, but it’s actually quite easy for us to start running some other CMS platforms.
Does that cannibalize your revenue?
Wes Nicol: I don’t know if you have my history, but I was at Blackberry, and we were talking about the fact that do we just stay focused on the hardware or do we open up our platform? And you remember Blackberry Messenger, and then they kept that unique to Blackberry because they thought that would help sell hardware, and you saw where that went.
So I understand that we need to work with other partners. We have to be an open platform. We were talking about a potential partner of ours that’s got I think a million displays that they’re managing, we’re not going to rip out existing deployments, right? We want to play nicely. Maybe they want our display. I see our device management platform being something that could be really valuable, and we’ll take a small piece for that, and I think that’s reasonable.
You mentioned that you’re in 40,000 locations with this particular client. What’s the overall footprint if you can tell me?
Wes Nicol: With all our install base? We’re around the six-figure number, but I can’t say exactly.
Okay. So north of a hundred thousand?
Wes Nicol: In that kind of range, yeah.
Wow. That’s a pretty big footprint for a company that very few people have heard of.
Wes Nicol: Yeah, I know. I have to get that fixed.
Wes Nicol: Yeah, it is. But I think there’s just so much more potential and we need to make people aware of this.
The structure of the company. Are you privately held or public?
Wes Nicol: We’re privately owned, primarily by a family office here in New York.
Oh, wow, and you’re able to just grow organically?
Wes Nicol: Yeah, for now, yeah. I mean there could be some potential acquisitions later on. But yeah, without going into too much detail, we completely revamped our whole software platform and refreshed our hardware platform, and invested in marketing. So there’s a lot of stuff going on right now that we’re just focused on kind of coming back out into the market. Once that plays out, then there could be some other things we can focus on. For now, we’ve got our hands very full.
I appreciate you taking half an hour for me.
Wes Nicol: Thank you. It’s great chatting with you and nice meeting you there in Barcelona, and excited to hopefully get back on here sometime. I need some more excuses to talk to you again.
Absolutely. Thanks again, Wes.