Iris Nova—a company that uses text messages to make purchases—and Avery Dennison, a leader in intelligent label solutions, have partnered up to improve the way you buy a beverage. Avery Dennison’s newest radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is being implemented in Iris Nova products, improving on an already thriving company.
Iris Nova’s first specialty beverage brand Dirty Lemon launched in 2015 and allows customers to communicate, order and pay via text message for the beverages. They’ve been able to include this method at The Drug Store, its cashier-less retail shop in TriBeCa. I was able to speak to founder and CEO Zak Normandin about how this new partnership creates a better future for the company.
Grit Daily: So what made you decide to incorporate RFID technology into the company? I know there’s Bluetooth and WiFi but what made you go with RFID and how is it different from everything else?
Zak Normandin: I think the intention in incorporating RFID was to remotely manage inventory and basically only go into accounts when we needed to. So we looked at a lot of different tech that we could use to accomplish that and RFID seemed like the best way to do it. So we retrofitted our drug store fridge with RFID tech which allows us throughout the course of a day to look at what inventory levels are; we can cross-reference those inventory levels with sales that have occurred through that fridge.
ZN: It’s ultimately more of an operational efficiency that we are relying on human sales reps to accomplish for us. Each label is unique to the product it’s being put on and that allows us to have almost 100 percent accuracy on the inventory that’s being managed through the fridges we have RFID installed on.
Grit Daily: Avery Dennison decided to partner up with you guys; what plans do you have with what they’re offering you? How does their technology improve upon what you already had when you started?
ZN: It just goes back to inventory management. Avery Dennison is a label company, so we’re using Avery Dennison RFID tags for all the products. It’s been more accurate inventory, complete reconciliation of sales to inventory and bottle or can movement. And when you look at distribution in the food and beverage space, these types of things have historically been accomplished through physical inventory of a refrigerator.
ZN: It’s just a waste of a sales rep’s time to have to walk into a location only to find out that there’s plenty of inventory in the refrigerator. I think a lot of what we’ve done has the potential to really change the way that inventory is managed in a grocery environment or in a food and beverage environment because this I think can be used as a model to really optimize and make the process of inventory management and replenishment much more efficient and effective.
Grit Daily: So would you say there’s more human error with an actual person checking physically versus technology?
ZN: Oh without question, yeah. When you have a sales rep that has to count individual bottles — I mean we see this in our warehouses too — at times we’re off by 10, 15, 20 or whatever. When you’re counting hundreds of units, there’s bound to be errors. So I think accuracy is a huge solution to what’s being provided.
Grit Daily: Yeah that’s like when you go to a clothing store there can be a shirt on the other side of the store, and while you’re trying to count everything not all of it is ordered properly. At least with refrigerators, you can see everything, they’re all there, and I would definitely agree it’s a lot easier to be able to account for everything. So are there any plans for expansion especially now that Avery Dennison is behind Dirty Lemon?
ZN: So we do have plans to expand our platform beyond beverage. As far as RFID specifically, I think the opportunity exists primarily in beverage just because of the reasons we discussed. Other categories that we get into that are non-beverage would likely not be wholesale or retail-type accounts. It would be primarily for fulfillment and using our SMS commerce platform. So we could definitely apply the Iris Nova platform to other categories, but I think as it relates to our exposure in wholesale and retail locations. I think that’s specific to beverage for now and that’s the only place we’re using the RFID tech.
Grit Daily: I know the Drug Store has a whole bar and lounge aspect to it as well, Is there any possibility of trying to incorporate the tech into that? I know it’s more in-person because it’s a bar and you’d have to order directly from someone. I don’t know how it would work but do you have any plans whatsoever?
ZN: We’re not inventorying alcohol or anything like that and for that there’s other technology. I know there’s tech right now that someone’s working to ultrasound bottles so you can look at more accurate liquid levels or inventory in alcoholic products that are behind a bar. Shrink is a really big issue in retail and having better control of that is something that ideally prevents loss and shrink. But no, no plans immediately to incorporate any RFID tech into our hospitality experience at the Drug Store.
Grit Daily: I know you guys are planning on expanding to other big cities like LA or Chicago. Are there maybe specific stores you potentially would like to expand to?
ZN: We’re launching Dirty Lemon in Walmart next month. Walmart we were really attracted to because I think they’re thinking about a lot of these things – the same things that we’re thinking about- and they’re really open to trying new things. So we’d like to use some of our more high-profile retail partners to be able to test out things like this, and we know just based on experience that that’s a little bit more complicated than doing it in places that are a little bit smaller in scale. To be able to track real-time movement is something that I think would be an amazing value-added resource for brands, and something that through continuing to explore this, that we may have the potential to push with retailers on a much larger scale.
Grit Daily: Are there other ways you plan on pushing the brand further? I know Avery Dennison but you work with bigger brands like Coca Cola and other music and entertainment companies, so how would they be able to help?
ZN: So Coca Cola’s our largest outside investor, and we’ve been partners with them for a little bit over a year now. Coca Cola distributes products the same way that we do. The optimization of that process is something that at Coca Cola’s scale could result in dramatic cost savings for the company.
ZN: I think the reason why we exist at the scale we do currently is to be able to test out new technology like this, and I know that this is one of the big reasons why Coke is attracted to the company. We can try things out on a small scale and then they can evaluate the success of an initiative that we’re working on, obviously at a much different scale than they are, and then determine if that’s something that would be a good fit for their global network. So I think there’s a ton of potential longer-term to utilize some of these new technologies with companies like Coca Cola or other large investors in entertainment and music and sports that could benefit from the learning we’re gathering from RFID into our retail experiences.
ZN: All of that goes back to the product too — all these places sell beverages just like we do, and if there’s a way to elevate the experience for consumers and make the management of selling a product more efficient, then I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to explore those different things. We’re like a testing ground for a lot of these companies to explore some of these ideas that would be really challenging for them to explore at their current scales.