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NZ company shows US kids how to have fun

Media Statement 9 August 2005

NZ company shows US kids how to have fun

Millions of children will soon be cruising US shopping aisles in high-tech entertainment carts manufactured by a New Zealand company which has clinched a major deal with the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart.

The Cabco Group carts are loaded with sophisticated technology, including movie screens, to keep children entertained – enabling parents to stay in store longer and spend more money.

Auckland based Cabco Group Ltd began negotiating with Wal-Mart two years ago and, with investment and support from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, has enhanced the electronic technology, adding monitoring devices and LCD movie screens to every cart. As a result, Cabco has just won a contract to supply 15,000 carts over the next three years to Wal-Mart’s 3,300 stores. It is also supplying carts to H.E. Butt (H.E.B.), which is one of the largest independently owned food retailers in United States.

Cabco predicts the Wal-Mart contract alone has the potential to produce sales of $50 million per annum.

The carts, which double as a shopping trolley, also have sophisticated technology that enables real-time monitoring back in New Zealand of every cart. This means any problems with the carts can be dealt with quickly as the inbuilt technology relays data via the Internet and also immediately texts the nearest service agent if things go wrong.

The Foundation’s Business Manager responsible for this area, Tom McLeod, says the new technology has the potential to grow Cabco into a significant exporter.

“Cabco is leading the world with its monitoring technology and is on track to becoming one of the most successful investments the government research and development funding agency has ever made,” says Mr McLeod. He considers it an outstanding project for a New Zealand company.

Statistics show each cart can add at least $15,000 in sales to supermarkets each year. While children are happily entertained in the carts, watching their favourite television characters, shoppers spend an extra 72 cents for every additional minute they stay in the store.

Cabco’s Managing Director, Doug Bartlett, describes it as simple, quirky technology at the cutting edge. The idea started with simple, plastic fun carts used in New Zealand supermarkets but he says the worldwide opportunity was recognised from day one.

“We had a naïve idea about what was needed to meet the requirements of the world’s largest retail company. It turns out the idea was only about 10 per cent of the project and we’ve made 330 changes to the original model to achieve this success.”

Customers pay $US1 for each cart ride. The money releases the brake and starts the entertainment system. The electronic carts are fully automated, with another major technological breakthrough being the induction power transfer system that uses energy transfer to recharge the batteries when the cart is returned to its base after each ride. The brake is automatically reapplied as it passes through the checkout and the cart is parked and ready for the next customer.

Another New Zealand company, Harvest Electronics, worked with Cabco on the new monitoring technology that helped in the US contract success after Tom McLeod put the two companies together.

“It’s an example of how we not only invest but work in partnership with a company to get the best outcome. Other companies can learn from Cabco’s example,” says Mr McLeod.

Harvest Electronics adapted its telemetry technology using radio signals to monitor remote equipment such as railway crossings and frost conditions on orchards and vineyards to suit the Cabco carts, using GPRS technology over a GSM system to feed back data almost instantly.

Harvest’s Peter Munn says it’s been a fun project, which he believes is a real winner. Not only does the Harvest equipment monitor aspects such as battery voltage, mains power, money jams and hire times but also reconciles the takings with the amount collected and banked from each cart. Peter Munn previously developed wireless monitoring products for Coca-Cola vending machines, working from his Wairarapa garage. He called on this experience for the Cabco project.

“Sometimes with remote, unattended equipment it is easy for staff to put up a notice saying ‘out of order’ but with this new technology it allows us to remotely see, down to the minute, any servicing problems and dispatch service agents before the store itself is aware of them.”

Reports during testing proves the popularity of the carts, with children reluctant to leave when it is time to go home and others insisting parents make return trips to stores that have carts available.

Mr Bartlett attributes Cabco’s success to its focus, determination and bringing in the right people for advice. His marketing and accounting background has proved vital since creating the original cart concept, which was franchised in New Zealand two and a half years ago and provides two million rides annually in New Zealand.

For further information contact

ENDS

The suite of Technology New Zealand investment schemes are part of the research investment portfolio managed on behalf of the Government by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Each year the Foundation invests $450 million in innovation and fostering the creation of new knowledge, through a range of funds and schemes. For more information visit: www.frst.govt.nz


GSM – Global System for Mobile Communications (digital/wireless technology)
GPRS – General Packet Radio Service (allows information to be sent and received across mobile telephone networks faster than other data transmission processes)
LCD – Liquid Crystal Display

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