Big Macs and Big Data

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 13, 2013

I started my first job at the impressionable young age of fourteen.

Before the ink had dried on my work permit, I entered the workforce through the swinging saloon doors of a Roy Rogers fast food restaurant.

Part of my job involved taking orders from drive-through customers over a bulky pair of headphones, and communicating with them through a metal-stemmed microphone attached to the counter next to the cash register.

The basic fast food drive-through experience hasn’t changed in the 20 plus years since I donned a red-and-brown apron and matching baseball cap. Awkward teenage voices still crackle orders through metallic-sounding speakers, but technology has crept in.

Now at most drive through places, your order is presented on a digital screen. In some franchises, the menu itself is even a digital display with videos and dynamic content.

Inside fast food joints and Quick-Service Restaurants (QSR), printed menus are gradually being replaced by bright flatscreen monitors. Before we know it, these displays will be fully interactive.

In October, I wrote about the ways Web retail is trying to kill brick-and-mortar retail. Affordable, reliable same-day shipping will put many brick-and-mortar outlets at a disadvantage to their Web-based competitors.

But there are a number of retail areas that are resistant to the effects of the Web. These include fuel, automotive, and food services. Digital signage and rich interactive marketing help these fields evolve and stay on top of the game. These technologies can vastly increase customer engagement.

Market research from IHS in September said restaurants are using digital signs as gateways to big data. By integrating real-time data and predictive analysis into a seemingly simple digital sign, customers are being more efficiently targeted. As these signs intelligently cater to a shopper’s interest, the shopper dwells longer, has an improved experience, and ultimately spends more money.

Here’s a tip.

Because digital signage and shopper engagement systems present a growing investment opportunity, a small American company called Wireless Ronin Technologies (OTC: RNIN) piqued my interest this week as its shares took a dip.

Currently, shares are trading at just $.50, and their aggregated projected price is between $6.68 – $7.64.

Wireless Ronin Technologies makes digital signage, interactive kiosks, and retail marketing solutions for automotive sales, food service, and general retail. It’s still an early-stage company that hasn’t yet reached profitability, but it looks promising. Here’s why:

Gradually Improving Portfolio of Customers – Wireless Ronin began with an exclusive agreement to provide the digital signage platform for more than 1500 Delphi Display Systems units. Delphi provides drive-thru screens for McDonalds, A&W, Carl’s Jr/Hardees, Checkers, and more, and also makes the over-pump TV screens that are found at an increasing number of gas stations across the country.

The company then added Denny’s, Benefax, and Fiat. This year, Polaris Industries Inc. took on Ronin Wireless to provide interactive kiosks for its Indian Motorcycle dealerships based upon a promising new piece of software…

Strong new product offering-– In September, the company released the next version of its proprietary software platform, RoninCast.

This version includes a feature called “play it now” which lets customers interact with signs with their own smartphone. This breaks the gap between passive observation and active engagement and represents a strong move in step with the industry as a whole.

What’s more, the company says this new version of its software can be deployed on lower-cost media players. This should make it more attractive to licensees, and decrease the cost of Ronin’s own hardware solutions.


Operational expenses are on a downward trend – While its expenses still exceed its revenue, Wireless Ronin is gradually lowering its costs, approximately 10% year over year.

Whether the company will swing to profitability is in question at this point, because its gross margins are contingent upon the type of new customers the company scores.

The company’s hardware solutions, for example, typically provide a lower margin than its software licensing and service businesses.

For the third quarter 2013, the company had a gross margin of 50% and 32% of its revenue came from hosting and support services, which was an increase over last year.

Ideally, the company would add more high-draw support and service customers and continue to drop its operating expenses.

Positioning — One of the three industries Wireless Ronin caters to – general retail –  is in a serious post-digital transition phase. As the outlook for brick and mortar retailers weakens, the adoption of digital signage and kiosks actually increases.

This was recently shown in a case study of retail banks in the EU and US who adopted digital signage in hopes of increasing revenue. In that case study, it was shown that two-thirds of the participating banks saw their pilot programs as having either positive or neutral impact, and renewed their programs despite having no real way to measure a return on the investment.

In short, Ronin offers desirable marketing solutions to industries actively seeking new engagement techniques even if there’s no proven ROI! 

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