Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

The DVD rental business is as low-frills as it gets, but in a USD 50 billion digital home entertainment market, there’s always room for reinvention. Here are two new businesses that have put on their creative thinking caps, and have revolutionized when, where and how consumers can rent DVDs. First, there’s Australian redroomdvd, a semi-automated DVD rental store, where the entertainment begins with the movie selection process. Customers are invited to step into a room filled with touch screen stations, where they can browse titles, read reviews, even take a peak at the trailers before swiping their membership cards and picking up their selections from the machine’s dispenser. What’s more, redroomdvd is open 24/7 and doesn’t charge late fees. Their philosophy: “At redroomdvd, you decide how little you want to pay for the latest DVDs. The quicker you return your movie, the less you pay!” They’re saving tons of aisle space, not to mention staff wages. Currently the only company in Australia using a semi-automated DVD rental store, redroomdvd’s two store operation in Sydney is set to expand into Sydney Central and Melbourne by the year’s end. Over in the USA, San Francisco-based DVD Station has further redefined the DVD rental market. Not only do consumers get to browse thousands of titles on touch screen displays at their stores, they can also pick up a DVD at one of DVD Station’s kiosks – watch it on their flight, train, etcetera (provided they have their own laptop or portable dvd player) – and return it at another kiosk when they land. All for as little as USD 1 a day. With the ubiquitous presence of DVD Station – now placed in airports, college bookshops, even drive thru cafes – customers can pick up and drop off a DVD just about anywhere. And to throw in some e-commerce, customers have the added luxury of reserving their selections, as well as managing their returns online. (more…) Making things easier for time-challenged and choice-fatigued consumers has been one of the holy grails of marketing for years. Combine that with the never ending quest for beauty, desirability and health (really, consumers can be so predictable!), and you could come up with a business idea like Florida’s Seasons 52: a sophisticated grill and wine bar that only serves dishes under 475 calories. As the name suggests, the menu is seasonal, shaken up slightly every week to make the best of available market produce. Aside from their fresh list of ingredients, Seasons 52 abides strictly by healthy cooking techniques like grilling and roasting over open-fire oak burning grills. The chain is part of Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest casual dining restaurant company. They are definitely onto something: two years after debuting in Orlando, Seasons 52 opened four more locations in South Florida this year.

Opportunities

Forget low calorie labels or approximate calorie intake; Seasons 52 removes guesswork – and guilt – from the dining experience. If you’re in catering or the restaurant business, you will no doubt do well copying this concept in your own country or city. However, the business opportunity here is much bigger: we’re talking the kind of focus, story telling and reduction of choice-anxiety that is applicable to virtually every B2C segment. What’s YOUR industry’s 475 calorie restaurant? Craving food-inspired innovation? Check out Amsterdam’s Food Facility, a temporary restaurant without a kitchen, hosted by Mediamatic. Diners at the venue go online to check out menus from existing take-out restaurants in the area, while a food advisor informs them about the quality of the food and estimated delivery times, and then places their order. A food DJ takes the order from the delivery person and does away with the packing materials, before the food advisor serves the food at one’s table. Mixing and matching is encouraged: negotiating with other guests makes it possible to have Tom Ka Ka as a starter, spareribs as a main course and tiramisu for dessert. Open Fridays and Saturdays until December 11th, this (not for profit) art concept gives a whole new meaning to being spaces, and should be the starting point for many a brainstorming session on what other hybrid entertainment concepts you can create, from separating production and consumption to marrying online and offline worlds. Remember Boston-based PlanetTran, the eco-livery car service? The idea is spreading, as New Yorkers can now call OZOcar (“New York’s first eco-luxury car service”), while it turns out LA has had EcoLimo for a while. OZOcar caters to a decidedly green-meets-ONLINE OXYGEN audience, offering not only hybrid cars, but an Apple iBook and high speed wireless connection in every car, too. Included in OZOcar’s fleet are the Toyota Prius, Lexus RX 400h, Toyota Highlander, and (as of next year) the Lexus GS 450h. Fares are competitive with less-clean services: a trip from Manhattan in the Prius is USD 60 to Newark Airport or JFK (EUR 50/GBP 35), and USD 45 to LaGuardia. LA’s EcoLimo is also quite aggressive in its rate setting: it runs at about USD 37 per hour plus gratuity, as opposed to USD 75 for a regular Town Car service. And living up to its name, EcoLimo is actually looking into stretching its hybrid cars by about 2 feet (source: Brentwood Magazine).

Opportunities

LA, New York, Boston: that leaves thousands of cities around the globe up for grabs for this service. Be quick though, as OZOcar has plans to expand to other cities in the US and abroad (next stop is London). Not in automotive? There are plenty of other opportunities left. Many consumers are environmentally aware, but entrepreneurs looking to cash in on this need to make it as convenient as possible for their customers to convert to greener behaviour. What other existing new technologies can you turn into a regular, consumer-focused service? Forget 15 minutes of fame, My Style So Qute (MYSQ) proves that 30 seconds can be long enough. As one’s claim to fame becomes an increasingly high priority, entrepreneurs are giving consumers the floor or, in this case, the booth. Building on the success of the Purikura machine (an oversized photo booth that took Japan by storm in the mid 1990’s, and can be spotted in just about every arcade in the country – inside the booth, kids get in front of the camera, strut their stuff, and then dress up their snaps on-screen with nifty designs), Ututu’s MYSQ is an interactive video booth which can shoot up to 30 seconds of “cute style” performances for up to three people at a time, at a cost of JPY 500 (EUR 3.65 / USD 4.50 / GBP 2.50). The clever technology – built-in floor sensors and a MYSQ ring worn on one’s hand – tracks the subject’s movement and creates cool visual effects. When the 30 second shoot is over, the system creates a movie file and a QR (bar) code flashes on-screen. Scanning the code with a camera phone instantly downloads the movie, ready to be displayed on one’s mobile phone, or better, dozens of cell phones belonging to friends, colleagues and family.

Opportunities

MYSQ is not available as a commercial product just yet; it’s being used as a demo at KDDI Design Studio‘s five story ‘fun house’ in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. However, Ututu is actively looking for distribution partners, and with next generation (video) cameraphones now spreading rapidly in Europe and even the States, this is one of those ideas that may justify a return flight to Tokyo Narita International Airport to do some meet & greets! Not every new business idea needs to be complicated. And not every business idea has to be for-profit! Check out Dutch Donny Cards, a super simple yet very smart way to entice consumers to donate to a good cause of their choice. Donny Cards resemble prepaid phone cards, bar code included, colorfully depicting a good cause. A clear explanation of the cause and/or project can be found on the back of the card. Currently displayed in a handful of gas stations and supermarkets in The Netherlands, the cards are easily added to other purchases by altruistic consumers. After the cards are scanned at the cash register, the EUR 2 donation is simply added to the bill, and the merchant credits the beneficiary. Launching charities are Dutch Red Cross, Amnesty International and Novib/Oxfam.

Opportunities

Donny Cards’ main strength is that they make it easy and fun for consumers to be generous in bite-sized portions. Think of it as SACHET MARKETING for a good cause. The strong visuals add to the appeal. Even donating money needs to be an experience in today’s economy 😉 There isn’t a single industry that’s immune to innovation. Taking this very literally is German Single Tapete (‘singles wallpaper’), which sells photographic wallpaper, featuring photos of whoever/whatever. Customers upload an image via the company’s website, which is then processed and produced as numbered rolls of removable and reusable wallpaper. The company also offers a choice of patterns and even photos of pre-selected ‘singles’ (see ‘Paul’ and ‘Priscilla’ above), creating a modern twist on the trompe l’oeil. A 3m x 2.33m wall will set customers back about EUR 275 (USD 322/GBP 186). GRAVANITY-style wallpaper is one thing, but how about GENERATION C wallpaper? London based Pepper-mint sells MagScapes, the world’s first magnetic wallpaper, which is exactly like regular wallpaper, except for the fact that magnets stick to it. How it works: a coating technology is applied to make the wallpaper behave like metal, so that magnets will adhere to its surface. The coating is patent protected and produced exclusively by a US-based global coating company. (more…) Earlier this year, we reported on Text a House – a nifty Dutch sms service that works with real estate agents to instantly provide text information to potential home owners on their cellphones, based on unique sms codes on ‘for rent’ and ‘for sale’ signs. No surprise then that consumers, who are in a READY TO KNOW state of mind AND always prefer visuals over texts, are taking well to Brisbane-based Real Estate Depot (RED). RED delivers promotional images of real estate directly to a potential customer’s mobile phone, in two steps (very similar to the Dutch Text a House process). First, the real estate agent creates a mobile message on REDPhone’s website, which processes a PIXCODE for each property. This is the number that potential customers will sms/text to receive a propertie’s pictures and text. Second, this number is published by the real estate agency on properties, in magazines, on street front signage, etcetera. The key for passersby is to spot the PIXCODE, send an sms, and instantly receive up to six colour photographs of the property, along with descriptive text and contact details. RED charges real estate agents a set-up fee of AUD 195 (USD 145 / EUR 124 / GBP 84) to create an account, with their logo, photo and contact details, which are automatically pre-loaded into each message. While they’re online, consumers rely on Google to bring them instant answers. It’s not going to take long before they expect the same instant knowledge gratification to be available in the offline world. And not just when it comes to real estate: REDPhone is already branching out into MMS services for the retail and restaurant industries, with plans to expand to Europe soon. Talk to them now, or start your own ready to know or even better NEED to know services! Oh, and make sure you partner with one of the big wireless service providers in your country: they should be drooling over paid MMS services that consumers actually appreciate! 😉 Spotted by: Keith Ahern