Alberta technology is a perfect fit for international fashion retailers
International fashion retailers have found that technology from a Calgary company is a perfect fit for their businesses. The iMirror from NOBAL Technologies is in fitting rooms from New York City to Amsterdam.
The technology is the brainchild of NOBAL CEO Pieter Boekhoff. In 2011, he saw a concept video by Corning Glass and was inspired to create an interactive touch-screen mirror for a wide range of applications including the home, hotels, and retail. The challenge was finding the application that would be the foundation for a solid business.
Initial forays into iMirrors for homes and hotels didn’t pan out, but the retail application got a huge boost in 2013 with serious interest from a major athleisure brand. “The pivot to retail was a turning point for the company,” says NOBAL COO Thomas Battle. “After all the hard work, we finally had a showcase for the iMirror. We were able to build out the proof of concept and move forward.”
The iMirror is a touch-sensitive specialized mirror run by NOBAL’s proprietary operating system. A fitting room equipped with an iMirror brings e-commerce and online shopping into a bricks-and-mortar store. If the item isn’t right, you can use the iMirror to request different colours or sizes, and the salesperson brings them to the fitting room. If the items aren’t available, you can use the iMirror to have them shipped to your home. Similar to online shopping, the iMirror will suggest other clothes you might want to try. You can even check out from the fitting room.
The first deployment of the iMirror led to new business relationships such as one with PVH, which owns the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands. The iMirror has been launched in three of their stores in Europe. Four new retail deployments are expected later this year, including the Puma flagship store in New York City. A deal with a major retail conglomerate will soon bring the iMirror to Dubai.
“We’ve gone from two to 12 deployments and from two to 19 employees; we’re on target for $1.5 million in annual recurring revenue this year,” says Battle. “This scale of growth would not have been possible without help from Alberta Innovates. Although our team was technically sound – Pieter is a computer scientist and I have an MBA – we didn’t have sales expertise. Funding from Alberta Innovates for a Commercialization Associate allowed us to hire a sales director, which set us up for the explosive growth we’re experiencing now.”
Battle also credits Michael Kerr, Alberta Innovates Technology Development Advisor, with invaluable help and support from the earliest days of the company. Kerr says interacting with NOBAL has been a pleasure. “It’s really exciting to see them scaling up so quickly. They’ve used our linkages every step of the way.”
Battle says that NOBAL is gearing up for even more growth with a first round of Series A financing expected later this year. And they’re revisiting the hotel applications, where the iMirror acts as a virtual concierge for ordering room service, shows, dinner reservations, and even shopping. The company hopes to close a deal with a hotel chain later this year.