Ron Bowers reflects on the high points of kiosk industry history and its future opportunities as he passes the baton

Ron Bowers reflects on the high points of kiosk industry history and its future opportunities as he passes the baton

Ron Bowers shares highlights of his career in self-service technology. Photo courtesy of Frank Mayer and Associates Inc.

Ron Bowers, the senior vice president of new business development at Frank Mayer and Associates Inc., will retire at the end of this month after nearly 35 years with the company. He has been at the forefront of progress over the years, distinguishing himself as a knowledge source and a mentor.

The announcement of Bowers' retirement brought an avalanche of thanks from the many individuals who have worked with him.

Since joining Frank Mayer and Associates as a sales coordinator in 1983, Bowers has worked on self-service projects with numerous brands, including Irving Oil, Eagle Foods, Miller Brewing, MacGregor, Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez, Nicklaus Golf and John Deere. He also discovered opportunities such as SoloHealth, Sig Sauer, Behr Paint, Garmin and Dave & Buster's.

Among his numerous industry awards, he has received the KioskCom, Display of the Year, the FamilyMeds Medical Kiosk, and the honor of being inducted into the Kiosk Hall of Fame in 2013.

Kiosk Marketplace recently asked Bowers to share some of his best memories of the industry and his insights on its future opportunities as he passes his baton to others. Following are excerpts from this interview.

Kiosk Marketplace: What were your earliest interests and career aspirations?

Bowers: Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I wanted to be a scientist. Books were my gateway to that interest; I was always collecting and reading books about science and its history. I was fascinated by stories of people like Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Technology is not the primary influencer. Consumer experience is the influencer. If the experience is convenient, intuitive and entertaining, it will create the needed call to action, trial, acceptance and loyalty.

Kiosk Marketplace: What motivated you to pursue a career in the retail and self-service industries? 

Bowers: My first part-time job in college was working in wine and spirits shops in the Milwaukee area. The pay was poor, but I was fascinated with the stories and the history of wine and food, and how the different brands were marketed to consumers. This motivated me to sign up for marketing courses in college.

Kiosk Marketplace: How did you happen to apply for a role at Frank Mayer and Associates? 

Bowers: My sister-in-law was the executive secretary for the senior vice president of sales for the company in its Chicago office. A family friend of mine was the vice president of marketing. Frank Mayer and Associates was expanding their marketing department, and I was hired to work out of the Grafton office as a sales coordinator, a new position that was a training ground for account executives. 

Kiosk Marketplace: Who were your role models early in your career, and why were they your role models?

Bowers: I can think of six.

Allen Buchholz was a true motivator at Frank Mayer and Associates and great at networking with our client base.

Alan McGivern was the best creative director in the industry and he brought the top industry talent to the company.

Alex Richardson was the innovator of our self-service software and hardware innovation. He was a true friend from the early 1980s and a big motivator and mentor to me.

Doug Peter of St. Clair Interactive was a software genius and a retail interactive merchandising innovator. He understood the relationship of technology and experiences for the consumer.

Craig Martin of Reality Interactive was a friend and mentor in retail self-service experience. He worked on some of the most influential kiosk programs over 30 years. 

Kiosk Marketplace: How do you remember the kiosk industry in the 1980s?

Bowers: That period saw the beginning of the consumer's fascination with the technology experience. It was a time of growth for interactive merchandising that brought convenience and novelty to retail. At its best, it provided solutions that satisfied consumers' expectations, retailers' needs and brands' identities. At its worst, it was the perpetuation of technology for technology's sake. But in all paradigm shifts, we learned from the mistakes of those who grow our industry.

The new consumer wants a personalized experience at retail that will rival the experience of a sales-assisted experience that is directed by their personal preferences. 

Kiosk Marketplace: What impact did ATMs have on the kiosk industry in the 1980s?

Bowers: ATMs certainly played an important role in the kiosk industry. The biggest roadblock was to educate and inspire the public to try the new concept. We had to convince the public that it was secure, easy to use and convenient. In the early 1980s, there were personnel that manned the ATMs as "ambassadors" to help consumers interact with the units.

There was a negative aspect to the enclosure where the ATMs were located that would be called today, the "Darth Vader effect." The banks put the units in a secure corridor that made some people afraid to walk into the area as if they were walking to the "dark side."

Over time, openness and security became a part of the bank design, and inside and outside versions of ATMs created the convenience that consumers wanted. The ease of use created the model used for all self-service kiosks in the future: convenience, security and intuitive interaction.

Kiosk Marketplace: What project do you view as the most successful self-service deployment you have ever seen?

Bowers: I am impressed with the Adidas Shoe Interactive self-service display. It has the ability to pick up a shoe and connect to video screen information about the shoe and place the shoe back for the next experience. It is simple, intuitive and flawless.

A kiosk is defined by the consumer experience. It is a combination of technology innovation and seamless and intuitive consumer interaction. The kiosk experience is branded, and has a natural "call to action."

Technology is not the primary influencer. Consumer experience is the influencer. If the experience is convenient, intuitive and entertaining, it will create the needed call to action, trial, acceptance and loyalty.

Kiosk Marketplace: What has changed the most about the kiosk industry in the last 10 years?

Bowers: The best retailers, brand marketers and kiosk designers are embracing the experience of the interaction. The marketing strategy is interlaced in the design of the kiosk solution. Retailers are designing promotions around a total experience, starting online, continuing in store, on the shelf and at the point of purchase.

Kiosk Marketplace: What do you see as the kiosk industry's biggest challenges?

Bowers: The lack of consistent Wi-Fi at retail and the lack of consistent power access at retail are two of the biggest challenges. Another big challenge is the lack of kiosk integration with the total marketing and merchandising strategy for both retailers and brand marketers.

The best retailers, brand marketers and kiosk designers are embracing the experience of the interaction.

Kiosk Marketplace: Everyone knows you as someone who is optimistic about the kiosk industry's future. Why are you so optimistic?

Bowers: That's because I realize that through the combination of new technology innovations that allow the development of convenient, intuitive and experience motivated solutions, innovative marketers and retailers will be investing in the connected consumer.

The new consumer wants a personalized experience at retail that will rival the experience of a sales-assisted experience that is directed by their personal preferences. 

Kiosk Marketplace: What do you see as the most promising customer verticals for kiosks today?

Bowers: The most promising verticals are retail, hospitality, transportation, health care, education and government.

Kiosk Marketplace: What do you see as the most promising new technologies for the kiosk industry?

Bowers: I can think of six: 1) microprocessor integration in products and IoT integration; 2) 5G connectivity; 3) new age battery components; 4) personalization solutions; 5) new touchscreen technology and design and manufacturing materials that will allow for stealth design and configuration; and 6) asset mining and real-time utilization of kiosk data for retail and brand marketers.

Kiosk Marketplace: What mistake(s) do companies usually make when planning to introduce a self-service kiosk?

Bowers: Not giving themselves enough time for the testing of software and the user experience. Another mistake is not having the right design for the environment the solution will be placed in. Last but not least is not recognizing the kiosk solution's contribution to the company's whole market strategy when evaluating its ROI. 

Kiosk Marketplace: What are the key trade events that people interested in learning about self-service technologies should be attending?

Bowers: The ICX Summit, DSE, InfoComm and the National Retail Federation show.

Kiosk Marketplace: What is the most exciting thing happening in the self-service world today?

Bowers: The use of data to refine the consumer experience and make it more personal.

Kiosk Marketplace: What are your plans for your retirement?

Bowers: Reading, writing, supporting our industry, and of course, making time for my wife, children and grandchildren who certainly deserve it.


Topics: Customer Experience, DVD Kiosks, Kiosk Branding, Kiosk Design, Kiosk Enclosures, Manufacturers, Retail

Companies: Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.


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