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SML Group Plans Additional Solution Innovation Center and Pop-Ups to Fuel Growth

The Hong Kong-based company is furthering its efforts to bring its technology to customers by way of innovation centers and pop-ups that help brands and retailers put the technology in their hands and strategize their own deployments.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 22, 2016

Retail and supply chain technology company SML plans to open its sixth RFID Solution Innovation Center in 2017, and to further its pop-up store deployments, as part of a companywide effort to get education about its RFID products and solutions into the hands of customers, wherever they may be. The firm opened a center in Texas in August of this year, followed by another in China in October, and a third this month in Germany.

The new centers and pop-ups follow several years of expansion in SML's education efforts to help retailers and brands understand radio frequency identification and how they could use the technology. The effort is yielding good results, says Dean Frew, SML's chief technology officer and VP of RFID solutions. "We've seen increased interest from retailers and brand owners," he states. "They've been very interested in seeing ways that RFID can change the way they do business." In addition, the number of pilots has tripled since last year.

SML's RFID Solution Innovation Center in Germany
SML, based in Hong Kong, has experienced dramatic growth in its RFID business, Frew reports, adding, "As the market grows, we're growing with it." The company's expansion in the retail market is illustrated not only by the innovation centers and pop-up stores, but also by a 10 percent acquisition by Invengo. That sale serves to infuse more cash into SML as it grows its tag product and solution deployments, while also providing access to production facilities. Invengo's 10 percent purchase (see Invengo Acquires 10 Percent Stake in SML) helps SML reach more potential customers in China. It also provides the company with more manufacturing space, based on Invengo's Chinese tag manufacturing sites near Chinese customers that may be installing RFID technology for supply chain management as goods are produced and shipped from their plants. The investment by Invengo, however, does not affect SML's partnerships with other technology companies, such as reader manufacturers.

The growth in RFID use for retailers and brand owners has made 2016 a good year for companies like SML. The company aims to take that momentum a step further, however, with its strategy of bringing the technology close to its existing and potential customers. The innovation centers are designed so that companies can see RFID in use, from the point of manufacture at a factory to the point of sale at a store.

SML's Dean Frew
During the past two years, SML Group has opened innovation centers in Corby, England; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Plano, Texas; and Mettmann, Germany. Last month, the firm opened another center in Shanghai, China, and another site in southern China is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2017.

The innovation centers are intended to allow potential users to see, touch and use RFID technology before committing to a pilot or deployment. Each center includes a label and RFID inlay design section, an area for testing inlay performance and a full mock-up of back-room storage and store-front readers, creating a sample supply chain. The company allows users to sample its Clarity software and other SML products.

Not everyone has access to the centers, however, so the company is providing pop-up stores that it will bring to major metropolitan areas in a variety of countries. The company launched one pop-up store in New York to coincide with this year's RFID in Retail and Apparel conference and exhibition on Oct. 5-6 (see SML to Host RFID Pop-Up Retail Store in Conjunction With RFID Journal's RFID in Retail and Apparel Event), and has since hosted another pop-up store in London. The events are by invitation only, and are targeted to retailers and brand owners. The location of the next pop-up has not yet been decided, the company indicates.

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