Digital signage company has secret weapon: 24/7 service

| Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012

Industry Weapon Inc. builds software to make it easy to switch messages, pictures and videos on a multi-screen digital sign system, even for someone with limited computer skills.

But the Dormont startup had trouble making sales -- at first. Competitors touted similar products for the growing digital signage industry as simple to use, even if they really weren't, CEO David Wible said.

To prove its claim, Industry Weapon tried a bold and potentially nightmarish move. "About four years ago, we decided we were going to provide customer support -- live, 24/7 -- for free for all of our customers," Wible said.

"If our system wasn't simple and easy to use, we would have bankrupted the company. To this day, it's probably one of the best things we've ever done."

Industry Weapon has more than 1,000 customers, including major retailers, universities, hotels, casinos and law enforcement agencies that flash messages on hundreds of screens or send them to computers, Internet protocol phones or cell phones. The company, which works with major technology companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corp., is looking for more employees and headquarters space.

More than 250 screens inside two buildings at the Parx Casino, near Philadelphia, are controlled with Industry Weapon's CommandCenterHD platform.

The high-definition displays show promotions for the casino's rewards point system, car and trip giveaways and featured entrees at dining spots in the complex, said Brian Wilson, director of multimedia. He and four other Parx employees run the year-old system and create the content.

"With the number of screens we have, and because we're constantly adding promotions and making changes, if we had to go through and do this manually, we'd need a few more full-time people," Wilson said.

At Shippensburg University, every department uses CommandCenterHD to write and post messages on 41 screens campuswide, said Jamie Rhine, academic lab and systems manager.

Chartwells Co., which runs the food service, rotates menus several times a day on displays in university dining halls, for example. Campus public safety or communications officials can override content on the system to send emergency messages.

Before, campus officials mostly used e-mail to communicate with the 8,500 students.

"But a lot of students get so many e-mails that they start ignoring them," Rhine said. With digital signs, "You can combine graphics or videos with the information you display" to make it eye-catching. Each of the campus screens has a Cisco digital media player on the back, he said, and Industry Weapon charges about $500 for a three-year subscription for each unit.

Wible worked at steel machining and electronic commerce companies before starting Industry Weapon in 2003.

Craig Hanna and Wil Chufo, his partners, joined four years later from a company that Hanna founded called Adroit Concepts of Wexford. A mutual acquaintance introduced Wible and Hanna, recognizing that the ventures were similar, Hanna said. The companies merged in April 2007.

At first, they built e-commerce websites and kiosk software for customers. "The biggest challenges were identifying what the industry needed," Hanna said.

Soon afterward, a Cisco employee told Wible about a digital signage technology that Cisco's non-technical customers were having trouble figuring out.

"All of a sudden, we're in the digital signage industry," Wible said. "We're building this simple platform that helps marketing, merchandising or communications folks use the technology that -- we didn't know for years -- the (information technology) people really controlled because it was so complex."

Industry Weapon sells CommandCenterHD through 180 resellers, and directly, to customers in eight countries. In addition to around-the-clock tech support, the company runs "Free Content Fridays" weekly that give customers access to graphics and video to run on systems that correspond to seasons or holidays.

CommandCenterHD links 80 screens with digital media players at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, a 313-room hotel with 80,000 square feet of meeting space that opened about a year ago. The screens show event schedules and other information, said Charlene Overturf, marketing coordinator, who likes Industry Weapon's open system, which can run from remote devices.

If a digital photo reel set to play at a wedding doesn't work, for example, "I can check it from home and see what's wrong," she said.

Additional Information:

Industry Weapon Inc.

Location: Dormont

Business: Creates easy-to-use software that controls digital signs and sends messages to networked computers, Internet protocol phone systems, cell phones and other devices.

Executives: David Wible, CEO; Craig Hanna, chief operating officer; Wil Chufo, chief technology officer. They are owners; the company has other investors.

Employees: 20.

Revenue: Not disclosed

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