It’s a sight most North Americans have grown accustomed to: vacant city storefronts. But FrontRunner Technologies founder and chief executive officer Nathan Elliott sees opportunity ahead for retail and consumers — as well as an uncharted “window front” future sheathed with imagery and “real-time” interactive capabilities.
“We at FrontRunner are public space pioneers,” claimed Elliott, who stumbled onto the idea for the Canadian company two years ago while sitting at a traffic light in Regina, Saskatchewan.
From his car window, Elliott could see how many storefronts situated in the city’s downtown core were empty. That moment inspired Elliott to “light up the world” by putting projection mapping of immersive digital content and technology to the test.
“Today there is a plague of empty retail spaces in cities across North America. Pop-ups have done a certain amount to fix this problem and landlords and brokers always want tenants. But most cities have no solutions to reinvent these spaces in shopping centers, airports and undergrounds,” Elliott told WWD.
FrontRunner aims to elevate “the traditional storefront to give consumers a true experience,” said Elliott, whose company aims to introduce its innovative FireFly technology across North America. Through its proprietary WindowFront Matrix, FrontRunner’s FireFly Illumination System can drive high-definition video content into darkened storefronts and windows of existing retail outlets.
“There’s a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t feel to this content because it can move so quickly,” said Elliott, whose company went live on Oct. 30 with its first New York address brokered by Cushman & Wakefield at 1440 Broadway, followed by the Nov. 1 launch of Adidas’ women-centric ad campaign at the activewear brand’s Toronto flagship.
FireFly enables art, film, music, sports and monthlong ad campaigns to populate these spaces and do so with a technology that operates day and night, requires little equipment and can be set up in less than one hour. Its analytic tool software can anonymously track shoppers’ flow outside window locations to provide data to retailers and commercial real estate landlords.
“FireFly was designed to be lightweight, organic and able to withstand the rigors of industry expectations,” said Elliott, whose start-up recently obtained a trademark on the phrase “Window Shopping,” which, through its interactive integration, can turn any window front into one large-scale iPad.
All this is intriguing to industry insiders.
“When I heard Nathan’s concept I thought, ‘why didn’t I think of this myself?,’” said Brandon Gorman, vice president of retail services at commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield (Toronto), who believes FrontRunner could change the industry from the brokerage, retail and landlord’s perspective.
“I live in New York and nothing is sadder than seeing long stretches of vacant property. That creates a sense of walking through this barren environment and nobody wants that,” said Jonathan Schulhof, founder and ceo of New York’s Loom Media, a company formed in partnership with WPP and which counts Chanel and Tiffany & Co. among its clients.
That sentiment is echoed by Barry Frey, ceo of the Digital Place Based Advertising Association in New York.
“I travel extensively and I’ve always been conscious of how empty spaces look,” said Frey, whose organization leads the Digital Out of Home industry. In fact, FrontRunner’s ad campaign was unveiled at the DPAA Summit in New York as part of its 2018 program.
Moreover, one of the biggest differentiators today is customer experience, according to Susan Allen, president and ceo of the Commercial Real Estate Industry Association BOMA Toronto.
“I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and probably the biggest thing everyone wants to do is drive content continuously through commercial spaces, as well as mixed office and retail buildings. It’s been challenging. But Nathan’s model combined many elements that landlords alone could not do,” said Allen. “It will be interesting to see where this goes. But the creative and financial potential in this is huge.”
Lastly, for retailers like Toronto’s luxury men’s wear boutique Area + 001, FrontRunner offered a way to get ahead of trailblazing technology.’
“Nathan’s ideas fit our progressive fashion brand,” said Area + 001 commercial director Jakub Szczepaniak. He and partner Sergio Senatore enlisted FrontRunner to project content from their windows during their two-week renovation and for two weeks following the store’s launch.
Elliott is targeting New York and Los Angeles, with rollouts to come in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle in 2019.