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How The Container Store uses wearable tech to think outside the box

Al Sacco | March 7, 2014
The Container Store is piloting a wearable device that it hopes will replace the thousands of walkie talkies it uses for in-store communication. The wearable also lets the company track employees when they're at work, among other things, and could potentially revolutionize the way it uses technology for retail.

There are many reasons why The Container Store, a Coppell, Texas-based retailer of storage systems and accessories, has made Fortune Magazine's list of "100 Best Companies to Work For" the past 15 years.

Among those reasons: The company says its full-time staffers receive 263 hours of training during their first year, compared to the 7-hour retail industry average, and its salespeople reportedly make 50 to 100 percent more than the industry average.

The Container Store also looks for ways to empower, and inspire, its retail staff with technology, and it is currently testing some unique new wearable tech designed to improve communication within its stores.

Like a lot of retail companies, The Container Store uses walkie-talkies, but about nine months ago, the company took its first steps away from those two-way radios and started piloting the Theatro Wearable Computer in its Austin, Texas, store. This small gadget enables hands-free voice communication over Wi-Fi networks, among other things.

While The Container Store is only using the Theatro Wearable Computer in one store, the gadgets have already revolutionized the way its sales people communicate. John Thrailkill, The Container Store VP of store systems and business development, says the company has been so pleased with the results that it plans to roll out Theatro Wearable Computers across its entire lineup of stores in the coming years. Thrailkill also thinks The Container Store is just starting to realize the true potential of the device.

 The Theatro Wearable Computer for Retail

Theatro Wearable Computer Look and Feel

The Theatro Wearable Computer is roughly the size of a matchbox, but a bit thicker, and clips to a pocket, lapel or lanyard. It's made of durable plastic and weighs 1.25 ounces. It has a rechargeable (though not removable) battery that gets about nine hours of life, and it sits in an "egg-crate-like" charging tray when not in use.

The device uses a standard headphone jack to connect an earpiece or earbuds, for audio, so it's compatible with most headsets. The current Theatro Wearable does not support Bluetooth, however. The components would have added significant costs and complexity, because Bluetooth headsets need to be paired, connected and constantly charged, according to Chris Todd, Theatro CEO.

The Theatro Wearable Computer has a large rubber button on its face, which is used to initiate voice commands, along with three buttons on its side: Two for volume up and down, and another that Todd calls the "disturb everybody button" because it bypasses the voice commands and lets you speak to everyone in the store, not unlike a walkie talkie. That third button is customizable, but its default function is a broadcast feature. The device also has a LED that illuminates when the battery is low.

 

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