In the August 2022 edition of Hardware Retailing, retailers were introduced to three different technologies that can improve employee efficiency and customer service. One of those retailers, Adam Gunnett from Busy Beaver Hardware, shared about the operation’s autonomous robot. Below, learn more about Gunnett, how the robot has led to happier employees and other technologies being used in Busy Beaver Hardware stores to take operations to the next level.
Every night at Busy Beaver Hardware’s Delmont, Pennsylvania, and Irwin, Pennsylvania, locations, an autonomous robot roams the store, looking for misplaced and missing products.
Gunnett, director of information technology (IT) and marketing, heads up the robot project for the operation, which has 25 stores in three states. Gunnett grew up in the dot-com boom and was a webmaster by junior high. After earning a degree in information sciences from Penn State, he held several network administration and IT jobs before landing at Busy Beaver.
He quickly put his IT knowledge and experience to work, replacing every piece of computer hardware and implementing a new point-of-sale system within his first six months on the job.
“When I did my initial walk-through, I saw a lot of potential to start things from scratch, so it’s been a busy six years,” Gunnett says.
One of Gunnett’s biggest projects so far has been the autonomous robot. As the home of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh has become a hotbed for startups and other technology companies, and Gunnett has had the opportunity to interact with some of those businesses. Busy Beaver’s owner challenged Gunnett to make the new Delmont store the most technologically advanced store out there, and he researched some of the local companies who could make it possible.
“I”m always looking at the tasks we do on a daily basis that could be made better with automation,” he says. “I saw there were technologies out there that could drastically reduce the time it takes to do what we call our yellow dot process, which is scanning the outs, and increase our accuracy.”
Gunnett chose Badger Technology to partner with for the autonomous robot, which started the process by coming into both the Delmont and Irwin stores and mapping out the floorplans and programming those blueprints into the robot. The company then brought the robot, which is equipped with several high-definition cameras and LED lights, to each store and made final tweaks on the path the robot follows.
“Once it was fine-tuned, it started doing a nightly scan of all the shelves, and it’s able to identify blank holes or the wrong product in a spot,” Gunnett says. “It can also identify wrong prices, so if an item is labeled $3.99 when it should be $4.99 it can tell us.”
Gunnett and the staff have access to a dashboard with the robot’s report from each night, which they use to fill in empty spaces, correct wrong prices and move products to where they belong.
“When we see an empty peg board, we can check if the product is back in the warehouse or if it’s empty because we’re waiting on a shipment, or if we need to take some other action on it,” he says.
The robot is currently being used in only two stores, but Gunnett says the plan is to add a robot to the majority of the Busy Beaver locations within the next five years.
Gunnett estimates the robot saves about 80 hours of employee time each week, completing its work in two hours each night. Along with increasing efficiencies, the robot has also improved employee morale.
“The robot isn’t replacing anyone’s job, but it’s doing the menial tasks so they are free to focus more on helping customers,” he says.
As the robot program has been rolled out, Gunnett says one challenge has been fine-tuning the program to best fit the company’s needs. Badger Technologies has been working with Busy Beaver to figure out the best solutions. When they first rolled out the robot, Gunnett took the data from the dashboard Badger Technologies provided and built his own custom reports to make the data more user-friendly for employees.
“We were able to work with our vendor to get the information we need customized and built into their portal, resulting in a more polished product,” Gunnett says. “We kind of pushed our partner a little bit out of their comfort zone and got them to adapt to our needs.”
Gunnett says the goal of any technology solution is improving customer service.
“When people shop local, they’re giving us a chance, they are willing to maybe pay a little bit more or have to hop in their car to drive to us,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re taking care of them when they get there, and technology helps us accomplish that goal.”
Other ways Busy Beaver is using technology:
Electronic Shelf Labels
The Delmont location of Busy Beaver Hardware is entirely electronic shelf labels (ESL), one of the first home improvement stores in the U.S. to be fully ESL.
“ESL allows us to easily change out prices and save our employees time and effort,” Gunnett says. “We average almost 1,200 price changes a week, so it means printing and putting out that many labels. At our Delmont store, those changes are pretty much done instantaneously.”
The Delmont store is also equipped with a SenseSource people counter, which counts people as they come into the store. It uses a 3D camera to determine the heights of people so it doesn’t count children or animals, and it can also determine groups of people entering together, so it counts couples as one visit instead of two. The people counter is aiding staff to determine conversion percentage.
At the exit of the Delmont location, customers can provide brief feedback about their visit on the Feedback Now machine.
“It’s basically a voting stand where they register if they were satisfied with their visit, whether we had the items they needed and more,” Gunnett says. “We’re trying to collect as much data as we can to improve the customer experience.”
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