Last October, DHS Technologies, a company that manufactures sheltering systems and command and control units for the U.S. military, attended the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army in Washington, D.C.—a conference that draws nearly 30,000 people. At past meetings, the company was restricted by the small amount of display space provided on the show floor, which made it difficult to showcase its 42 shelter systems.
"[Traditionally] we would have one or two of our shelters, depending on the space. We would show videos, or just use marketing material and try our best to convey how big [the shelters are] or how they connect," said Brian Gallagher, advertising and promotions manager at DHS Technologies.
This year, however, was different. DHS purchased Kaon's V-Osk, a 37-inch, high-definition, touch-screen LCD equipped with technology that can virtually represent each of the company's products and allow users to interact with each of the shelter systems, which are technically called Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelters (DRASH).
"Our attendance in the booth was an average of 200 per day. Our main booth space at the show was 50-by-60 [feet]. This was enough space to show one large DRASH shelter, or two small DRASH shelters and one power generation shelter—a very small sampling of our full shelter and trailer product line," Gallagher said. "It's a logistical challenge to bring our shelters to the show. [With] V-Osk, we were able to show our potential customers the different models. … It gave the user an ability to see that complete setup with the touch of a finger—a virtual tour, as if they were there."
Gallagher said, the company was able to display full configurations on the V-Osk systems that would have required show space of up to 40,000 square feet.
Gavin Finn, CEO of Kaon, explained the problems unique to DHS and other companies with complicated products. "Their products are pretty large—they can be the size of several rooms," he said. "They have the problem of being in front of customers at different locations and not having the luxury of being able to open their truck and pull out their product; customers have to use their imagination. "
Not only was the touch-screen able to represent each of the different products in configurations unique to each customer, Kaon was able to place those products in representations of the environments where they would be used. "[We created] footprints of how command and control systems would look out in the field in Iraq or Afghanistan," Gallagher said. "People were able to see our full line of products and how they are deployed much better. They could see the interoperability and get a bigger picture deployed as if they were there. The designers gave it a background of a desert environment. It immersed the user into a situation where they would be familiar."
According to Finn, the immersive environment is not only useful for showing hard-to-display products, it also has a psychological impact on users. "Studies have shown that the ability to retain information is dramatically improved if a customer is directly involved in the process," he said. "If I show you a video of a product, the average person will retain about 28% of the information they're given in a two minute demonstration. If you are interacting [with the demonstration] your knowledge retention goes up to 63%."
Building the brand
And, because the 70 lb. V-Osk systems are designed to be portable, Gallagher said the company intends to fold them into future event booths. In fact, the displays have proven so successful, the company will be installing them in each of its field offices located outside U.S. military bases around the country.
"If a customer wanted to see … a full setup of 20 to 30 shelters, as an example, it could be done; but at what cost? It would be logistically challenging to set up that footprint just to show what his command post would look like," Gallagher said. "If the customer is interested in our shelters, we can show multiple configurations so they can fully grasp what they're purchasing.
"It's essentially catering to the needs of your customer. Our company's mantra is: Anybody can build a shelter anywhere. It's a small niche market, but we think of ourselves as a total solutions provider. [V-Osk allows us to show] a customer a solution rather then just the product. They see the product as a solution—a command post or a field hospital complete with lights, power generation units, etc."
Ultimately, Gallagher said, seeing the product as a solution in the environment it was intended to serve not only helps the customer visualize the product's applications but builds the company's brand.