How an outdoor furniture and lifestyle brand is taking the 3D and AR tech route to reimagine commerce and growth
Home and leisure retail specialists John Watkins Group Limited acquired Pepe Garden in 2020 - a brand that designs and manufactures an exclusive range of quality wooden garden furniture. The move was part of a bigger strategy of transforming the company via technology. Here’s a snapshot of the digital makeover, in the words of owner and group CEO John Watkins himself.
Tapping into new markets
We have been able to leverage our existing customer service, and logistics teams to support Pepe's growth. In addition, Pepe's products complement our existing outdoor cooking equipment offerings and helps us to diversify our product line. This allows us to tap into new market segments and attract a wider range of customers. It also provides us with an opportunity to cross-promote our brands and increase brand awareness for both Pepe and Bradley Smoker. Overall, the acquisition of Pepe has been a good move that has helped us to grow.
Embracing e-commerce technologies
Our goal was to modernize the company and make it more mobile. Care was needed not to completely change the feel of the company. We were mindful of our existing customer demographic: an older predominantly female audience, with above average disposal income and quality conscious. We occupy a reasonably high-end position in the market, and it was important that we did not degrade the brand by suddenly splashing it everywhere over the Internet. However improving our visibility online has been crucial and we have addressed this through improved SEO, along with Google Shopping and paid advertising. This year we will be launching a Pepe Garden store within the Amazon platform. A Shopify back-end powers our POS systems and integrates with our stock control system. It is also integrated into our e-newsletter mailing list and social platforms.
It was one of those moments where the smiles on our faces really did light up as if we had discovered a bouncy castle for the first time. I thought, “I can't believe we can do this; this is a gamechanger.”
Hopping onto the 3D and AR bandwagon
3D and AR represents something that is part of that evolutionary path of trying to get ahead this time, instead of playing catch up. I'm trying to position us a little ahead of the curve. When we knew about Enhance, what took me was just how much fun it was to have these 3D pictures and to be able to spin the pictures around. Then, when we tried the “see in your space” feature, we were running around the office shouting “Hey, let's do this!” It was one of those moments where the smiles on our faces really did light up as if we had discovered a bouncy castle for the first time. I thought, “I can't believe we can do this; this is a gamechanger.”
Once we'd seen it, I got one of my team to do some measurements and work with Enhance, and the results were everything that I expected. The implementation is so easy – it's just a case of picking up the embed code. I have enough HTML experience in the back of my mind that I was able to adjust the embedded code to change the size to drop it into our website for a better fit. The load times are satisfactory considering that most people these days have a fast connection. We've built it into product offerings on the batch of products that we started with.
As time has passed, I can think of more ways in which we will use it.
Helping customers make more informed purchasing decisions with tech such as 3D and AR
The thing about furniture is that one can give people dimensions, and you can show pictures, but there's always a lot of questions regarding how it's going to fit into a space. Will it be too big, or too wide? Sometimes this is a sort of more general thing like what is it going to look like. Sometimes it's a very specific thing about the amount of available space. This could be a problem for some people.
We've also got this lovely chat function Shopify Chat on the website which is another aspect of the new technology. In ecommerce, chat has a benefit because it allows for more time to give a more considered answer to questions. We can really see how beneficial having chatbots on the website are. With our other brand, Bradley Smoker we do have an online shop system, but we use a different chat function called Intercom. And that is really very sophisticated. It enables us to offer the chat service in multi-language because there is a button to press to do the translation works incredibly well.
We've also got integration with our CRM to keep the history of any contact we've had with anybody. If somebody says “I'm really not sure”, we can show them where the dimensions are, or we can send them the dimensions.
We can also show them where they can get the QR code so they can use AR and see the item in their space. With 3D and AR, we can instantly let them to see it in their garden and then via the chat ask them how they got on with it.
The feedback from customers has been very good. They love it!
A set of Pepe Garden's products. See it in 3D and augmented reality on their website.
Reimagining face-to-face sales with 3D and AR
We can now show that 3D and AR technology is available on the phone in case customers say, “I'm not really sure whether it's going to fit when I get home.” We can now tell them that when they get home, they can scan the QR code and see it in their own space.
Multiplying ‘use-case’ possibilities with 3D asset creation and AR
Yes, digital prototyping. We are going to design products in CAD, flip them around on our screens and look at them from an aesthetic point of view. We will then show them to our customers in AR, and hopefully get positive feedback on them before spending any money on the manufacturing process whatsoever.
Unlocking new commerce opportunities with 3D and AR
One of the other things I found it useful for is just recently we've decided to put our products on Amazon. There's a certain number of buyers who only shop on Amazon, and do not go to Google or anywhere else. And even if people don't buy products on Amazon, we can still raise brand awareness via Amazon.
As you know, most of the pictures on an Amazon product listing are on white backgrounds, and it helps the whole sales process to have several pictures. I'm currently using Enhance’s 3D and AR solution to screen capture 3D images to JPEG that I can use for Amazon.
Previously if I wanted to get a beautifully lit picture of one of my products, I would have to put it in a studio with studio lighting to do that, and I just don't have that facility here at our offices and warehouse. The fact is that when it's been created through CAD, I can get a 3D render of a picture which is beautifully lit and consistent. No blemishes, no fingerprints or muddy marks on the products. It's amazing. If a product goes out of stock or is discontinued, I don’t need to get another photographer and do another photoshoot – I just load another 3D file and do it all again. The more you think about the possibilities of how you can use this in the production process of visual assets, it's just a no brainer to be using it.
I believe that by embracing new technologies like 3D and AR, we will not only keep up with the industry, but be at the forefront of it.
QUO VADIS? What does the future of 3D and AR hold for businesses?
I was at the forefront of the web services industry during its early days. At Aurora Web Services, we were pioneering a technology that few understood at the time. Being a part of these revolutionary developments has given me a unique perspective on new technologies. I believe that by embracing new technologies like 3D and AR, we will not only keep up with the industry, but be at the forefront of it. Someone will be the first to bring garden furniture to the metaverse and why not us?