Kenny Olson, the Founder and CEO of Raleigh-based DART Innovation, said that his startup sets out to help retailers take the best elements of digital commerce and translate those into the physical store.
Although the world is becoming more technologically focused, Olson said that brick-and-mortar retail is still at an inflection point. That’s why in 2016, he created DART—which stands for Digital Advertising and Retail Technology—to help retailers and brands evolve and leverage technology.
Olson said that they are focusing on the industry verticals of grocery, drug, home improvement and mass retail stores.
“Our mission really is empowering the aisle with digital,” he said. “It delivers a better experience for shoppers, a better experience for retailers and for brands,” he said.
Before DART, Olson worked at Proctor and Gamble, where he specialized in shopper marketing and worked with big retailers to create plans that allow shoppers to buy more while having an improved shopping experience. He said that he wanted to use technology to allow data and targeted communication to enhance physical shopping.
In the beginning, Olson said that DART was a part-time venture, but after recognizing the need for the work, he decided to go all-in.
Through its portfolio of smart digital signage, DART can help retailers and brands connect with shoppers in a better way.
Olson said they have sensors that detect where the shoppers are in the store, how long they have been in a location and how many other shoppers are doing the same thing. He also said that they have cameras that help keep track of shelf conditions such as what stock and pricing is like.
DART has a variety of solutions to help engage shoppers and show product messaging, such as vertical video banners which allow shoppers to see messaging on both sides of the aisle, and a shelf screen and freeze-frame system that displays the messaging right next to the product.
The messaging on DART’s displays can be optimized in real time with A/B testing and anonymous viewing analytics. Also, the “Magic Eye on Shelf Availability Solution” can be used to show exactly what is happening with products on a shelf, curing “shelf blindness”—the traditional inability of retailers to know what’s happening once their products are on the shelf.
Olson also said that they use privacy-compliant sensors to detect signals from cell phones and determine how many people have walked by a location.
“We really give retailers and brands a better window into what is going on in the store,” he said.
The communication on the screens is relevant to shoppers, according to Olson. He said that these displays have multiple functions. For example, he said the screens at the front of the store may focus on what products have deals, while showcasing important information to shoppers like loyalty programs. He also noted that the category-based messaging focuses more on outlining the benefits of exact products in stores.
“It’s no longer a question that digital is going to come to the physical brick and mortar retail store,” Olson said. “It’s not a question of if and when, the answers to those is yes and now.”
Olson said DART has developed relationships with major brands and retailers, including a Fortune 50 retailer with over 2,000 stores. He said that this retailer has decided to make DART the platform for store-wide digital communication and that they are currently in a phased roll-out process with them that will be transformational.
DART also recently received investment when it was added to the Triangle Tweener Fund portfolio. Olson said that over the years, Scot Wingo—the Spiffy CEO and serial entrepreneur who is also a General Partner for the Triangle Tweener Fund—has been a mentor to him.
“We’re excited to be a part of that and what they’re helping catalyze here in the Triangle,” he said.
Olson also said that since they have begun, they have built a strong team with backgrounds in technology and operations. He said that DART has an amazing work culture that allows everyone to work hard but have fun doing so.