We are back visiting Virtual Worlds for the second episode in a row! In this episode we chat to Ben Roberts, Nathan Maclean, Jamie Gibbs & Murray Varey from Virtual Worlds about them and what’s next, whilst also discussing the KBB Industry.
Host: Darren House
Produced By: Freddie Dalton & Darren House
Copyright: Inside The House
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Darren: Welcome to Inside the House podcast, Episode Number 8, again at Virtual Worlds. Hope you enjoyed the last one. It was a little bit different discussion. We enjoyed ourselves there, as you’ll see from the video we put on YouTube of us actually using the 4D experience. This particular episode, we’ve got a slightly different group of the panel discussing more about bathroom industry, and also Virtual Worlds and how they’ve come to be the leading software in bathroom design. You’ll find some of the things they’ve tried, some of the things that haven’t worked, so this is, again, very interesting. A different set of the team, here. Ben Roberts, who’s the National Sales Manager, and you’ve also got Nathan, the Managing Director of Virtual Worlds, Logicom. So, we hope you enjoy this one. Again, follow us on social media, follow us on the website and YouTube. Like the videos, and catch up soon.
Thank you for being here today at Virtual Worlds. Just today we’ve got Ben, Nathan, Jamie and Murray. At least we got all the names right, in the right order.
Nathan: That’s all good.
Darren: Yeah, that’s all good. So, just quickly, just want to get a quick overview of yourself, Ben. Where you … what did you want to be when you were younger, and then how you ended up in this career?
Ben: I suppose I wanted to be an actor. So, I suppose, today I’ve made it.
Darren: Yeah, you are there.
Ben: Yeah, I’m there. Mine’s actually quite a short story because I’m basically a one-company man. So, if you want to go back a bit further, I was a kitchen porter, and then I worked for McDonald’s for a couple of years. I went to … I was, actually, I was National Employee of the Quarter at McDonald’s, so that obviously won me a lot of gift tokens.
Darren: Have you got the certificate up in your office?
Ben: I’ve got all sorts of stuff, yeah. I’ve got loads of photos –
Nathan: He’s photocopied them, they’re all over the office.
Ben: Yeah, they are, or they were. And then I did a few years at uni doing Management Studies in Sheffield. After that … I mean, that was pretty much all about McDonald’s, as well, so.
Darren: What did you want to be when you were younger? When you were 12, 13, 14, what did you want to be? Did you want to be a fireman?
Ben: Just an actor.
Darren: Just an actor?
Ben: I was runner-up in the Milkybar Kid when I was, like, six years old, so that was my thing.
Darren: So, you were definitely going to be destined for that?
Ben: I was destined to be an actor. And then I think I got a bit bored with it. It all seemed to be … at school, it all seemed to be very dance-led and movement-led and, you know. I was a big, lumbering centre back as a footballer, so I couldn’t get one leg over another when I was asked to dance, so I sort of chucked it short. And then a few years later, basically after I’d, sort of, finished trying to become a football coach and went over to the States and things after uni, I’d heard about this company, Logicom, I’d been to all the big Logicom family BBQs because my dad was Lead Programmer at Virtual Worlds when it first started. I eventually, sort of, said, all right, I’m going to have to get a real job, and there was an opening as an Area Sales Manager, so I joined.
Darren: Yeah, super.
Ben: Never looked back.
Darren: Yeah. How long you been here, now?
Ben: This is year 11. So, yeah, 11 years in December.
Darren: Oh, very good. Very good. And yourself, Nathan?
Nathan: Hi. Well, as a kid, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. I was very, very confused. I know what mum wanted me to be, she wanted me to be a pianist or a doctor. And I become a plumber. Much to my mum’s disappointment at the time, I think. But that came about from that stressful time at school when you’ve got to make a decision, and I just had no idea. I really didn’t. I didn’t really take to schoolwork, at all. And the best advice I got at school was, leave when you’re 15, before the smart people hit the market. And after that, that was it. Actually, that was really good for me, so-
Darren: I think my dad did the same, to be fair.
Nathan: And on leaving school, that’s when I really started to excel, at college. Doing something I was really interested in, so I understood the practicality and what I was working towards. Yeah, and that’s been me, really, at the age of 15 in the KBB industry, doing plumbing. Set up my own company, eventually, when I was 19. Moved to New Zealand, started up another company and sold that. Went on to Bathroom Showroom, became an importer and supplying in showrooms as well, at the same time, and then software. That’s what I’m doing today, heading this team, and it’s a fantastic position to be in. You know, really leading the industry in what we’re specialising.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. I mean, one thing that’s interesting feedback for yourself, as well, we were chatting to the guys earlier and they said that the culture here is very much a fun culture.
Nathan: Yeah, thanks.
Darren: It’s a family, fun culture –
Nathan: I think it’s really important … there are times when, out of a good situation, it gets stressful, because we’re so busy, and that’s a good stress to have. And it’s great how the team will rally around each other and, of course, when stress gets to a certain level, the best way of sorting that is a good laugh at something or another. But we’ve all … we’re all having a laugh, aren’t we? But we’re very professional at the same time. So, we have the laugher but, when it comes down to business, we’re very professional.
Darren: Yeah, the guys were saying earlier that they tend to get a good vibe and a good mix within their little teams, it’s a nice little culture. And they said it comes from the top, sort of, down, so. It was quite –
Nathan: That’s good.
Ben: What I think is interesting about that, as well, is that the last few years, as we’ve sort of started to move into the virtual reality side of things, we’re sort of very aware of the fun nature of the technology that we’re using. And we’ve tried to incorporate a bit of showmanship, haven’t we? Into the things that we do. So, for example, when we were looking at the KBB show last year, we were thinking, well, we’re going to be presenting live to big groups of people, and we’ve got to try and engage them. So, a lot of what we were doing in preparation was trying to think about, you know, how you talk to an audience and how you get audience participation. We worked through all sorts of little rituals and routines, didn’t we? Most of which, on the day, we abandoned.
Ben: But we had all sorts of props –
Darren: Wouldn’t it be quite good to, like, when you’re doing a demo, open the fridge and there’s Superman stood inside it, or something like that, you know? They’re the sorts of things that get people to have a laugh and engage and break the barrier, isn’t it? It’s that [unintelligible 00:06:21].
Murray: Games, as well.
Ben: Yeah, games.
Darren: Yeah, we have [heard of] games. And Jamie, the same for yourself?
Jamie: Yeah. I left school after my A-levels, so I was 18. I done a couple of months, actually, at McDonald’s. Not quite as long a stint as Ben did –
Darren: But did you get any certificates? That’s the question.
Jamie: No, that’s the main reason I was there for a month. I didn’t get any certification, so –
Murray: [Your CV’s up, again], so.
Jamie: – so we left. But I mean, when I was much younger, I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver. That was the aim at that age, a very high expectation. But I didn’t quite get there. But no, I left and actually stumbled into working with my dad, who owns an engineering company here in Northampton. And the idea there was to, sort of, save up and go to uni, but I didn’t actually go in the end. I decided that I wanted to try and make a go of it without uni, and just work up the ladder as a career. And I stayed at my dad’s for a little while, but my interest was always in the IT side more than the … probably hands-on side. And then, yeah, an opportunity came up here. I had my interview with Nathan, here, who … I remember the phone call. He said to me, ‘I’m going to give you a shot this time, so make it count.’ But it went … the interview went well, I feel, and Nathan, I think, felt the same. And then we started –
Nathan: Yeah. You’re still here.
Jamie: Still here, and that was seven years ago.
Darren: Wow, yeah, exactly.
Nathan: [Good] you stand out.
Jamie: Yeah. So, I’ve been … I’ve done a bit of traveling in Australia and things like that in that time –
Murray: Boomerang Jamie.
Darren: Yeah, the –
Murray: He’s gone and come back again.
Darren: Has he?
Jamie: Yeah, the guys … sort of, what you were saying a moment ago about this sort of family environment, one thing I’ll say is, with Nathan and the team, really good at … you know, I wanted to do something a bit different and get some experience of travelling under my belt and, yeah. They basically said go and come back when you’re ready, and that’s what I did. So, yeah, very good.
Darren: Very commendable business.
Jamie: Still here. Yeah.
Darren: But that’s good for experience and, hopefully, you come back stronger and better and you’ve learned and evolved, anyway –
Jamie: Yeah, exactly.
Darren: – as a person, so you bring other things … you may have seen other things from different industries, and that’s always …
Ben: I think you even got roped into some training in Australia while you were over there, didn’t you?
Jamie: I think there were talks about it might happening, but –
Ben: We didn’t manage to tie you down.
Jamie: No, nobody –
Nathan: And he was missing us too much, he [was aching to] get back.
Ben: He didn’t have a mouse in his backpack.
Darren: And then, Murray, same for you.
Murray: Yeah. When I was younger, I was going to play in the NBA. That was my –
Murray: Yeah, absolutely.
Darren: Did you really?
Murray: Yeah, yeah. But I was too short and too slow and just not very good.
Darren: Not very good.
Murray: Didn’t really … it wasn’t going anywhere. So, yeah. I went to university to do Computer Science, because that’s what I was good at, at school. And I thought, hey, you know. Left that, got some jobs around here but, like Ben, I also have a family connection, in that my father is the founder of the company.
Murray: So, about seven years ago he said, ‘We’ve got a slot opening up. We need a programmer and I think you’d be a good fit for the job.’ So, here I am.
Nathan: And he was right.
Darren: And he was right.
Murray: I like to think so, and I think … yeah.
Darren: Cool. That’s really good. So, just to dive into the product, then. So, what makes … in your guys’ opinion, it’s open to the floor, really. But what makes your product the best in the class, you know, compared to the competition? That’s always an interesting one, when I speak to brands and manufacturers.
Darren: How do you feel about it?
Nathan: Well, from my perspective, it’s the fact that we brainstorm and create, develop solutions for the KBB industry inhouse. So, we understand the sector, and it’s about identifying problems and being about solutions. So, you know, there are other companies, but they buy-in technology. I think there’s something different, where you’re at the very beginning of its inception … you know, the whole thought process, and seeing that development continue in something that you believe in.
Darren: And you also understand it better if you do that, right?
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely.
Darren: If you just take something on or inherit a bit of software or whatever it may be, you –
Nathan: Yeah. So, owning it, being your baby, it’s something you’re really passionate about and that you believe in. [There’s] a difference about bringing something to market that you absolutely believe in. You know why it’s been created, you know what job it’s going to do, yeah. Starting that way, it’s going to be very successful.
Darren: Yeah, okay.
Murray: You were really the user, weren’t you? Of the –
Nathan: Yeah, it sounds like it.
Murray: – initially. That’s … you’re a fan.
Nathan: Yeah. So, I started off by buying the software and … I can’t remember what year it was. But I remember –
Darren: Did Ben [unintelligible 00:11:07]?
Joe: No, he wouldn’t be here if [unintelligible 00:11:11].
Nathan: No. I was in New Zealand and I was looking for some CAD software, because I used to do everything by hand drawings. My team did, as well. And I actually went ahead with a programme. I had a 28-day, money-back guarantee. On day 27, I sent it back because somebody told me about Virtual Worlds. One of the … it was actually the Ideal Standard importer in New Zealand. And I saw this programme and I remember how I felt when I saw it. I was just amazed. Now, I saw this programme at a time when all software was doing wireframe, crunching the image down to produce some sort of perspective coloured drawing. It took ages. Now, Virtual Worlds was doing this in real time, opening, closing doors. I just felt like somebody had travelled to the future, found this programme and brought it back to me. So, yeah, I was in awe of it. It was really remarkable. And it became one of the key components of my business that helped it grow. So, I believe it from within, having made the investment and saw it benefit my business, yeah.
Darren: Yeah. I mean, it makes a point of difference, doesn’t it? You know, there’s … every business has got a similar goal in many ways, from a bathroom showroom perspective. You know, to try and sell the product to a consumer, and make some money at the same time. But if you can give that added value, or you can … because a lot of people struggle to understand what it’s going to look like.
Darren: You know, you do it every day. You go, yeah, I can position that toilet there, I can position this shower here, and then you … I can visualise it in my head, roughly, how it’s going to look. Whereas the consumer, because they’re not used to it, they’ll struggle with that. Do you think that’s the value of the product?
Nathan: Yeah. So, the key thing is having the same image in the designer’s mind and in the customer’s mind. And it’s amazing. Even when you’ve got sometimes rendered images, even, that’s still … there could be a misinterpretation of the space so, you know. Hence 4D technology, 4D theatre, eliminates any misinterpretation completely.
Darren: Yeah. That’s a good point.
Ben: I think it’s like you said. You know, the communication is what we see our jobs as. We want to make sure that … you know, for most people, when they’re buying a kitchen and bathroom, it happens once in their lives, doesn’t it? And obviously, from us being in the industry … and most of the people listening to this podcast, as well, you’ll know that you guys have an understanding of things because you do it day-in-day-out. Whereas, like you say, a consumer, they walk into a showroom … they probably see some products online and they’re looking for inspiration there, and they probably get some ideas from other people’s houses, but that’s basically their grounding in the industry, and they have to become experts very quickly. So, our job is to make it as easy for them as possible to understand. Which makes … you know, retailers find it a lot easier process to just get across what they’re trying to imagine and trying to explain to the customer. And also, things like working out the impracticalities of what might be really passionate consumer ideas, but it’s … you know. I want this sort of thing and then, you know, the people in the industry who actually understand it, they need a way of explaining to them why that won’t work, and what a better way of doing it would be.
Darren: Letting the customer down gently and shattering their dreams –
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
Darren: – by showing them in real time that it’s not going to work.
Ben: That’s right. But I do have a better option for you up my sleeve.
Darren: Of course, yeah.
Murray: I think, you know, one thing that makes us stand out … it’s something that we’ve always been very proud of, is the fact that you can visualise those changes in the 3D or whatever, where some of the other systems have been primarily 2D. So, coming back to what the guy said, here, it’s about making sure the end consumer, who can’t visualise a 2D symbol of a unit and the finish on it, is presented with it without any question of what it’s going to look like. And from my side, in terms of … [use it to come back to] communication. I think something that we might do slightly differently is the communication internally, between, say, the support and training department and the development team, and back up to Nathan, as well, is it’s not … there’s no divide internally of, you know. The development is, sort of –
Nathan: It’s all one.
Murray: – modelled by the user feedback, and that’s how we always try and do it.
Darren: Definitely, I was going to touch on that with yourself, Jamie. Is that when you get the feedback from the customer? Because, obviously, customers may be phoning up, trying to do a change in concept. I remember when [I was trying to use] Virtual Worlds many years ago, and one of the biggest challenges we used to have … and it’s probably a lot better today, is that … is cut roofs, with shower doors and showers enclosures. So, trying to cut a shower door into a roof was actually quite challenging on some of the early parts of the software many, many years ago. And that was quite different to represent to a consumer. And also, putting a model inside there to say, ‘This is your head room you’ve got left,’ and the consumer, ‘Oh, yeah, it’ll be fine.’ ‘You won’t, you’ll be ducking down like this, and you … no, you can’t have a fixed head, it’s not going to fit.’ You know? ‘But I want a fixed head.’ ‘Well, it’s not going to work in your roof space,’ you know? And trying to visual all that. But when you get those challenges with consumers … so, customers of yours trying to make their customers [ideas] into reality, how do you feed that back to the team? How does that work?
Jamie: One thing that we’ve done, we’ve now got a lot more avenues of people giving us feedback. So, you know, now we’ve introduced things that … people can right-click on a unit and tell us about either a potential problem, or even a request for something new. We also capitalise on any calls that we get through the line. We always log them into tickets and then we’ll do analysis on where the most questions are asked, in what parts of the system. So, be it tiling or cutting, or something like that. And then we try and use that analysis based on general … almost general feeling in the department, as well. You know, you get an idea of what a lot of the questions are that are asked, because you’re answering them all the time. So, they’re developments or areas that we would sit down and look at how we’re going to improve in that section. You know, we said about the cutting, there. In the last couple of years, now, we’ve revamped how the cutting works completely. It used to be you have to go to different menus, depending what order you did things in –
Darren: That’s correct. Yeah. Cut one out in front of the other, and –
Jamie: Yeah, you don’t –
Darren: – I’d always get it wrong. Cut the unit out in front of the [unintelligible 00:17:21] –
Jamie: Yeah, in front of the … yeah –
Nathan: We used to get it wrong.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Darren: I can never … put the basin in the unit and then cut the [unintelligible 00:17:27] basin but, yeah.
Jamie: And now, you know, it doesn’t matter. You just right-click, cut, and it does what it’s supposed to do, and those sorts of things. Yeah, we try and capitalise on any of the feedback we do get. Even if it’s … you know, we have had times where it’s just, it is a single user that is struggling with something that maybe not many people do a lot. And even then, in a fairly short period, we’ve put a change in to make it easier. We don’t … we do it on number of calls on a particular topic but, also, sometimes you just get something that … a new user has come for training for the first time and they just happen to say, ‘That seems a little bit not as intuitive as it could be’ And, you know, we’re looking at it from a perspective of we do it every day. You get used to some of the things that we do everyday and then you just think, actually, you’re right. We could just add a little extra message on something and make things a lot easier, so.
Murray: I think that happens quite a lot, doesn’t it? People using it for the first time just pick up on things that the rest of us are just … almost blind to, because we’re so used to the system. Yeah.
Jamie: And regularly … if I’m training anybody, I’m regularly making notes. Sometimes even … you find things when you’re training things and you think, actually, we could probably do that a slightly different way.
Darren: Well, it moves on, doesn’t it?
Jamie: You’ve got to review it.
Nathan: And being able to do that, because we’ve made a series of other changes that are disconnected to … this, now, is an open possibility –
Jamie: Yes, exactly.
Nathan: – whereas we were blind to it before, because we’ve not been able to do that before.
Darren: No. well, it’s an evolution of the software, isn’t it?
Darren: At one point you couldn’t do it but, now you’ve made these changes, now, actually, that’s quite a simple change. Now it’ll make everyone’s life a bit easier.
Jamie: Exactly, yeah.
Darren: It’s like, I’ve always been a firm believer. If you had never used a computer before and you went to a Mac or PC for the first time … this is just me, I think a Mac would be easier to use. I personally think it’s more intuitive from the first get-go, if you’ve never used one before. But then, if you have used Mac or PC, I don’t know if you use the two, but the mouse, location for closing windows in different places, all those sorts of little things, those little changes … but I think they’re more intuitive the other way. Does that make sense?
Ben: Yeah. It’s only intuitive if you’ve got, you know, no basis or frame of reference.
Darren: Yeah. And that’s what I’m saying. So, for you guys, someone who’s using it all the time, they know to right-click. But if someone says, ‘Oh, I think I just double-tap on there,’ you know, ‘Well, we can make that double-tap. You know, make it easier for you.’
Ben: Yeah, well, we’ve done that. I mean, we used to have … back in the early days, Virtual Worlds used to have different tools. But if you wanted to open and close a door, you had to go to a different tool and do that. And now you can double-click on it and it does the same thing. So, we’ve certainly done that over the years, is just improve those things, as well.
Darren: That’s good.
Nathan: Yeah. It’s important for us to connect with our customers, you know, get this information. So, the other method that we have is the roadshows that we do. So, we’ve done a series of roadshows over a couple of years, isn’t it? And it’s fantastic, you know, being able to listen to people as we do the training exercises, sometimes, at the roadshows. So, we’re getting feedback then, as well, but we’re also able to ask our customers, what’s important for them in future? What changes would they like to see? And with our one price development, what would they like to see it do next?
Darren: Yeah. Well, that was actually one of the next questions, is where is this going to go? So, I would say that you guys are probably one of the, if not the lead, in the industry, with the likes of augmented reality and 4D and taking it [back] … so, if we just cover that before we go on past that for a second … but so, with 4D, how do you guys as a business see that evolving the kitchen and bathroom retail showroom as it is today, when someone adopts that? Where is that?
Nathan: So, we’ll see it becoming an absolute industry standard. Everyone is going to have VR. It’s the ‘try before you buy’. It’s … you’re asking people to make a big investment in the most expensive rooms in the home. They’re not going to want to leave anything to chance. And, as VR becomes more … people are more aware of it and they understand the benefits that it’s providing, it’s the only acceptable way of buying these rooms. So, in the short-term, we’re going to see VR become more realistic, so the audio-visual aspects of it becoming more crisp. We’re already a long way with all the reflective qualities that we’ve got in 4D theatre. Materials like linen and leather, they all look very realistic. I think next stages … I mean, we’re already experimenting with haptics. That’s where you’re using force feedback to [fuel services] … and then, beyond that, we’re looking at the actual technology for linking multiple physical spaces to converge in one virtual space … sorry, I’m losing my voice.
Darren: Don’t worry, that’s fine.
Nathan: I’ve got this head cold, and … so, we’re very interested to see where this development of having multiple physical spaces linked in one virtual space opens up new business opportunities for all of our customers.
Darren: One thing I was going to say about that was, with the showrooms today, I think they’ve always done too much of what they’ve always done, and they’re not changing enough. And I think that’s the failing of the high street that we’re seeing in retail today and, if they’re not careful, my belief is they’re going to get left behind, big time.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely.
Darren: And I like the comment that it’s going to be a staple part of any kitchen-bathroom showroom, 4D theatre. But surely … to me, that’s a benefit to them, as well. That’s what I can’t work out. To me, surely it’s a benefit. Because you might have three or four physical displays … a big showroom might have 20, 30 displays, but you don’t need 20 or 30 displays, now. Because you might have three or four to show the brand off and show the product, and then what you can actually do is sell off the back of that. Because we all know from the showroom … I’m sure we’ve had showroom experience, you know. You put something on, you won’t sell that one. You’re going to be selling off the back of it. So, if you show a nice one, show some different textures and products, and then use the 4D to sell whatever the consumer physically wants, or what’s best for them.
Ben: So, when we launched about four years ago, that was, sort of, a big … that was the big turning point for us, in terms of developing virtual reality. We’d been waiting for the hardware to catch up and become available, and there were two big companies that started to drive the hardware side. It was HTC and Oculus Rift, who Facebook now own. They spent 2 billion to buy and then another 2 billion on legal fees, because it was developed on another company’s time. So, we knew they were investing big in the industry and we had just been waiting for the right platform. Because Virtual Worlds has always been virtual reality software, but it’s been … you’ve had to look at it through a desktop.
And what the technology evolution gave us the opportunity to do was say, now we’ve got the medium by which you can actually become part of the design and bring the customer into their design. Which was a huge difference in the process. But what showrooms were saying to us when we first launched was, thank you, because the industry has been looking for something different and we need a way to market ourselves … we hear a lot of … you know, a lot of people … and you mentioned, before, about people feeling the threat of online sales. The benefit that we see to these guys in retail showrooms is to be able to give the customer a reason to come instore and have an instore experience. So, even at that stage, when we were first launching the technology, the retailer benefit was, we’ve got something different we can offer. But as Nathan’s saying, the actual practical side of 4D is that, you know, people may … and people listening to this podcast will, I’m sure, think this. You may think there is a gimmicky side to using technology in this way. And when we talk about virtual reality and 4D, people who haven’t experienced it will often think, yeah, yeah, yeah, fine. You can use that if you want. It’s not for us.
Nathan: So easy to dismiss.
Ben: Easy to dismiss, yeah.
Darren: Oh, we’ll do it how we’ve always done it.
Ben: Exactly, yeah.
Darren: It works for us now, yeah.
Ben: It works for us now, I can … in fact, the first thing I used to get when I was first selling software was, ‘I can sell bathrooms off the back of a fag packet. I don’t need software to sell.’ Now, you might not need software to sell, but what we’re trying to do is help you sell more. And the big part about virtual reality is, the moment you put the headset on and you experience our 4D, you completely get it. Because now you’re … you can put yourself in the customer’s shoes and you can think, yeah, I would be mad to buy off plans and pictures if I actually had the chance to go and explore it before I buy it.
Nathan: In the same way you wouldn’t buy a family home without having first gone into the space to view it. Can you imagine being sat down at a computer to buy your family home, and you’re being told how many electrical points there are going to be in the lounge, how high the ceiling’s going to be … it’s a lot of information overkill, where it’s going to go over the top of the customer’s head. Buying a car where you’ve been shown, well, this is the steering wheel over here and the seats are over here, and here’s a sketch of what the car will look like … you’re just going to feel a bit uncomfortable about … are you visualising all these components together in the way it’s going to come? So, yeah, 4D theatre, it is going to be the standard, absolutely.
Darren: I think that’s a good point. But then manufacturers will need to change their thought process. At the minute, because a lot of manufacturers are saying, ‘Well, you need to have six displays on to get terms,’ or whatever it may be. Well, in the future, if you’re going to have a situation where, actually, you can reduce the size of your showroom to make it more cost-viable, anyway, you can have a better experience because you’ve got 4D. So, you don’t need to have three displays or four displays of this brand, this brand, this brand, because [unintelligible 00:27:14]. It’s all about … all we’re actually interested in is selling the product. All the brand really wants is for you to sell their product. So, to me, surely that will need to change in the industry before that can really take hold. And, you know, if you could reduce the size of a showroom from having 20 displays, at a huge cost and uptake, to three, one from each brand you display, you work with –
Nathan: There’s a comment that absolutely every retailer would agree with, and that is, ‘If it’s not on display, it’s harder to sell.’ And the fact is, you can … it doesn’t matter how large your showroom is, you can never display everything. So, Virtual Words 4D theatre has been created to complement the showroom. It’s not there to replace the displays, it’s there to complement them. So, an example of … say you’ve got a kitchen showroom with four displays in there. We’re recommending that you remove one of them and install 4D theatre as a digital display. People can touch and feel the physical displays, then experience those same displays in virtual reality and see the ranges change. The finishes, worktops, and really get an idea that, ‘Wow, this is so similar to the kitchen that I’ve just experienced,’ the physical one and the kitchen. And they understand that the same’s true of their future kitchen. What they’re experiencing in 4D theatre is going to be an accurate representation of what the kitchen’s going to be. But in 4D theatre, you’ve got the benefit of informed decision-making. That’s where you can see the worktop colours change, the door fronts finish, appliances change, and you’re making your decision based on what you can see works best for you.
Darren: Definitely, yeah. That’s good.
Nathan: And it’s all about peace of mind for the customer.
Ben: The point is that this technology that we’re using for the 4D, it’s not industry-specifically-developed technology, you know. It’s a universal-based technology that the different games consoles are going to be utilising, and loads of other industries are, as well. And I think that generally means that … it is on social media and everyone does know about virtual reality, and that means that the end consumer’s expectations are already raised, you know. This stuff is out there and, to see that somebody offers that and this is a unique experience, it’s … you know, something that everybody, basically, will need to get onboard with this. It’s the same as when computers first came about and, you know, there was that famous thing that everyone said they’d only last, was it a year or two, they said? And computers won’t be a thing? You know, now look were we are. It’s the same with all the technology growth that we have. The way that the world is going to develop means that people will have to be much more open to the idea of these things.
Murray: It is … as an experience, as well, putting the headset on, you have to experience … watching someone else do it is not good enough. You actually have to try it yourself. Because, you know, I was one of the doubters, at first. I was one of the people saying, ‘Oh, it’s a gimmick, it’s a gimmick. It’s not going to go anywhere.’ And then I actually tried it and you see the range change in front of your eyes and, you know, the … yeah. You see the surfaces change, the doors change, it’s just … it’s so powerful, isn’t it? To see that.
Jamie: As a presenter of that demonstration, if you like, you can see the person that’s in virtual reality change, as well. You know, you can see their change before they go in and while they’re there, and then afterwards, but also the comments they make. I mean, these guys, you’ve done a lot more of the presentations and that with it, but some of the comments they make are … they’re already in a buying mode. They’re already in the mode of … and then they’re naturally saying, ‘Well, I don’t like that finish,’ or, ‘That doesn’t seem like it’s the right height.’ You know, and they don’t need to try and envisage anything. It’s there in front of them, and they just feel natural there, so.
Nathan: Yeah. It’s fascinating, if you look at the storyboard of how 4D theatre’s changed. So, in 2015 when we launched 4D … so, we’ve got two different offers out there. We had 4D theatre in mind for the future, but the technology wasn’t there. And it would’ve been irresponsible for us, even if it was, to try and get showrooms to rip out displays and put in 4D theatre, without it actually having been proven in the marketplace.
Nathan: So, when we look at video footage of our development for 4D theatre, we’ve got so much but we just can’t show anymore. And it’s been a series of coming up with an idea, trialling something out, thinking ‘this is absolutely fantastic’, and then relooking at it and going, how can we make this better? So, we had … originally, we had customers being put straight into the bathroom, straight into the kitchen, and we realised that this does need to be more theatre. There needs to be this opening intro sequence which is, kind of, programming the person’s mind to be in this buying mode. So, there’s psychology involved in all this, as well. Subtle things are being communicated. And the experience that they’re gaining … and, actually, this is something that we’re looking more into. It’s the neuroscience, the psychology and the benefits that VR are delivering with all this. So, it’s quite a science, actually. And with 4D theatre, one of the first things that we did early on was we want to get rid of these controllers. You know, to be in VR and you’ve got controllers in your hand –
Nathan: – and they were speaking about gloves. And I thought, I don’t want any gloves, because it’s the hygiene thing and different sizes and charging them up. So, we’re merging two different technologies together. So, we’ve got proper hand tracking, where it’s using the heat signal of your hands. And you know, just by having hands in the room, you’re simplifying the operation. It’s more natural. And we have people, now, they speak about the experience. They say, ‘Oh, it was absolutely fantastic. I was inside my kitchen. I can touch and feel it.’ We’ve got loads of comments like that –
Nathan: – where we think, well, you weren’t able to feel anything. But they have a sense as if they have.
Darren: Yeah, of course. Yeah, well, your brain’s probably [mapped it], so.
Nathan: Yeah. So, we’ve done some early research and we’ve trialled haptics, where you put sensors on the fingers. We’ve put that on hold just now because we’re actually finding that the sensation was more distracting than it was adding to the experience.
Nathan: People’s imagination of having touched things was stronger than a signal being sent to the finger, where you’re actually touching a top but then your hand can go through it. So, sometimes less is more.
Darren: Let your brain have the imagination.
Darren: Cool. So, just … obviously we talked a lot about the 4D theatre and how it can work, and one of the things that I felt was a sales tool was that the 4D theatre can actually help upsell and increase the value. The basket value, as well, from an online perspective. But, you know, showrooms have always struggled to sell tiles to a certain degree, accessories, the whole package. So, for me, the 4D theatre is an excellent sales tool. We talked about, with the other guys earlier, the good, better, best. So, if the consumer’s got a good idea in their head of what they want, you can quickly flick into a better-best upsell –
Nathan: Yeah. It’s very powerful.
Darren: It’s very powerful. You know, ‘You spend an extra £1,000 and you can get this.’ ‘Oh, you know, I like that worktop a lot,’ or, ‘That’s really what I wanted, but’ … and you, as a salesman, you probably knew that earlier, but they were being a bit more conservative. But when you show someone that, that’s more powerful than telling anyone, ‘This worktop’s going to look’ … or, ‘The tiles’ … ‘I want the beige tiles but they’re an extra £40/square meter,’ or whatever. When you show it in their kitchen, ‘Oh, do you know what? That makes such a difference. I want to spend … we’ll sacrifice the holiday this year because we’re now going to go and get the £40 tiles.’
Nathan: Spending that bit more money now will give you years of pleasure, day-in-day-out. So, it’s even more powerful when you give it to them and then you take it away, again, to show them back to what the budget’s allowing for.
Nathan: And that –
Murray: It’s that before and after thing, isn’t it?
Darren: Definitely. Well, there’s a guy, Richard Shotton, who knows a lot about psychology, and he wrote a book called The Choice Factory. And in that book, he covers lots of different subjects. But a lot of this dates back to, sort of, like, research from 100 years ago, plus, where they were doing a lot of psychology experiments. And one of the big, powerful ones, which we all know about but we very rarely seem to use in business, is the middle. Going for the middle product. And it shows a big science study about, if you actually move the goalpost of that middle product one level up, what you actually end up doing is you actually increase the value of that product. So, if normally the middle was a £1, move it up a stage to a £2 one, and you’ll actually find that’ll make a big difference. And I think that’s where 4D theatre and 4D and augmented reality in the future, and these sorts of things, can really make a big powerful impact. Because now, for a physical showroom and an online, which I’ll cover in a second, could really upsell their products, big time.
Nathan: If you allow the customer to experience a higher-priced option, you’re actually in an environment where you can have a proper, solid discussion about the benefits of it. If you’re pointing to something in the showroom or in a brochure which is disconnected from the designers, it’s not as easy.
Ben: There’s no emotional attachment, is there?
Darren: And that emotion is –
Nathan: Bringing reality to it.
Ben: Yeah, and we see this all the time. We’ve been very lucky that, from the start … because of what we’re doing, we’ve had a lot of invitations to go to things like exhibitions and opening events and things, and add something to people’s offering. And get people onto the stands or to come along and experience these things, and what that’s given us is huge insight into what end consumers want. Because we supply to the industry, you can be a little bit detached from those guys, but they’re ultimately the ones that we need to be talking to. And it’s really helped with our understanding of that thought process. And when you watch someone inside their kitchen or bathroom, having it presented to them for the first time, they’ve gone through all of the emotions, which are expectation and anticipation. Then, the design as … well, as drawn around them, becomes real. They then get to explore, and you just see them fall in love with their new room and their new home. And it’s such a powerful thing, and seeing them start to laugh and giggle and chuckle and –
Nathan: That’s really rewarding for us. So, when we’re doing presentations and we’re getting that result, we know that our customers who present and sell bathrooms and kitchens in 4D theatre will be getting the same thing. It’s one thing that’s common. You can’t see their eyes when they’ve got the headset on, but they’re all wearing a big smile, and they’re really exclaiming their excitement and wonder at it all. So, that will buoy up the salesperson to feel more … just enjoy their job more. And a positive salesperson’s going to get a better result, as well. So, it, sort of, feeds off itself.
Darren: It would be interesting to know if you’ve got any stats … I’m sure you’ll get them in the future, but over the fact of, like … you know, someone installing 4D, return on investment –
Nathan: We’ve got stats, yeah.
Darren: I’m sure you have … and return on investment, to how much that is. And also, the customer experience on the aftersales and … that’s one thing that I felt was a good feature. Because when I was designing bathrooms, consumers would give you their idea. You may have used originals or used the original Virtual Worlds, do a 3D plan, show it to them etc. And then you take that a bit further when they get there and it’s already installed and it’s working. And if something is not as they expected, the kitchen is probably more to the point where … ‘Do you know what? The bin thing here, why did I go for the bin thing here? You know, because actually I didn’t want that. I went for it because’ … when they can experience it, you’ve now taken that away.
And as you said earlier, I don’t know that people will only purchase one. I think, as we go … as people are more and more into their things in life and they want to spend money on things for their environment at home, I think we’ll see that time of people buying a kitchen every 12, 15 years, I think that will come down to maybe every six. I think in the future, I think it will … things have already started to come down, but I think it will definitely come down. Because fashion is changing, we’re into fashion so, rip it out, put a new one in. But you know, people’s expectations. ‘I’ve been to the showroom, they did me a really good job but, you know what? I’m frustrated with these things that weren’t there before.’ And now, with 4D, you can take that obstruction away.
Nathan: Yeah. So, we eliminate that. We turn it to a positive, where people are experiencing their installed kitchen and they’re going, ‘I’m so glad I made the change to this. I’m glad I went with this option.’ So, they’re really … yeah, positive about the decisions that they’ve made, because they’ve seen the options. And if you’re going to make any mistakes, make them in virtual reality, not in the real world.
Darren: It’s more expensive changing reality, isn’t it? Changing kitchen units.
Darren: I’m just going to go over to Murray then for a minute. From, like … you see the technical side of it a little bit. Where do you see the challenges? Obviously, we talked about technology keeping up with us a little bit, but from a … I still can’t work out how you guys get … we talked about it earlier, how we can get a toilet from a catalogue into the full 4D theatre or augmented reality [from] a page. But challenges in the industry, what do you see? And how are you going to overcome what’s going to come next?
Murray: Well, a lot of the challenges, I think, are just getting people to actually put the headset on. I think that a lot of people out there, you know … okay, maybe gamers and stuff, they’re all into the VR, but most people coming into a … yeah, just somewhere off the street looking for a new kitchen or bathroom, they’ll never have tried a headset on. They’ll never have actually seen it in action. They’ll never … they won’t know the power and what it gives them. And it’s just that … yeah. Once we can … that’s the first hurdle, for me, is really spreading the word that this is a great thing, and that you don’t have to feel awkward putting your headset on. Because I think a lot of people feel quite embarrassed about it, because they think that they look, you know –
Darren: Well, they can’t see the people looking at them because –
Murray: Yeah, yeah, that’s it.
Darren: That’s the scary bit.
Darren: Everyone, now we can see each other. When I’ve got this, I can’t see what you guys are doing –
Murray: Yeah. They’ll do it, and then that’s –
Darren: – and that’s the scary bit.
Murray: – a real hurdle, yeah.
Nathan: On that point, so that comes down to us as a company to train the showrooms how to present in 4D. And you know, we learned pretty early on that this isn’t just a bit of software that you can sell and distribute and people are just going to turn up to a training day and learn technically how to use this. There’s extra training required on how to present … and it is a game changer. You’re no longer sitting down at a computer doing a consultation to a customer where it’s the designer feeding information to the customer. They’re being invited to step into the kitchen.
So, as we found from reviewing some retailers, they were still reverting back to how they’ve always presented. They were doing it on the computer to then ask, ‘Do you want to put the headset on and see it in 4D?’ It’s completely mental. Well, for us it is. I can understand why the retailers are still doing it, it’s their comfort zone. It’s hanging on to the end of the pool. So, its our job to let them take that brave step and have the tools and the capability and confidence to leave the computer out of the scene. We’re pushing the computer out of sight, out of mind, so it’s not required in the presentation at all. So, the difference is you’re inviting people into the showroom excited, telling them about what a pleasure you’ve had working on their project. And the simple question isn’t, ‘Would you like to put the headset on?’ It is as simple as, ‘Would you like to see your bathroom? Would you like to see your kitchen?’
Respondent: Go and experience your investment.
Nathan: The answer is going to be yes. ‘Come and step this way, we’ll just put it on.’ Now, against what people think, virtual reality, putting the headset on, it’s got no age barrier. We have some customers who say, ‘Oh, well, my customers are all, sort of, 60+. They’re not going to want to put the headset on.’ Whereas –
Ben: Everyone’s customers are 60+. They’re who buys.
Darren: It was amazing, as you said. I was at a show, a marketing-Internet-ecommerce show last year, and there was … I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but there was a lot of 4D gaming and there’s, like, an additional experience being on, like, a bobsleigh-type scenario. And there was this guy. He had two canes, he was definitely, sort of, in his 70s –
Nathan: Probably the same one.
Darren: – and he got on it and sat on it. And the joy … I’ve got a video of him on my phone. The joy of him sat on there … and he was going around, he was moving, he was making … he was, like, whoa! It was hilarious. But he experienced it and he loved it. He got off and absolutely loved it, so.
Nathan: Yeah. We’ve had 90-year-olds –
Darren: It’s probably the same guy.
Nathan: – walking through kitchens very confidently, yeah. All ages. They love it. And when you think about it, what is an older person going to understand best? Sat down at a computer being told what their kitchen, bathroom’s going to look like, and trying to imagine things? They’re probably not even clearly understanding what’s being shown on the screen. Compared to being in an environment that they’re familiar with, and that’s being inside a bathroom, being inside a kitchen. Everyone understands that.
Ben: And the thing … you know, these objections tend to come from retailers rather than from consumers.
Darren: The barrier is the retailer.
Ben: The barrier is the retailer.
Ben: So, the retailer will say to us, ‘My customers are of this age. My customers have beautiful hairstyles, they won’t put this headset on.’ They go-
Nathan: And make-up.
Ben: Yeah. These are all things … whereas, you talk to an end consumer and, like Nathan said, you know, the age is completely immaterial. I’ve had people say to me, ‘I’ve got vertigo, would you mind holding my arm while I walk around with the headset on?’ They want to do this because they want to understand their new room.
Nathan: That lady there has a special, sort of, spot for you there. That seems to be all right.
Ben: I’ve obviously got a way with certain generations.
Darren: Just talking about barriers and retailers … I know we’re moving away from the 4D just for a second, we’ll get back on it quite quickly, but barriers and retailers. They’re subjects of, like, people who’ve always done what they’ve always wanted to do, and they’ve always done it this way. And I think that’s the failure of the high street, as we mentioned earlier. And I actually see a value in the online and the 4D for online. So, just hear me out in my craziness, here. But, you know.
You come to an online store, a bathroom showroom, there’s a brochure site. And then you can basically go on there, you can look around the brochure and it’s like, upload your plan and you can get a design done. So, we design the bathroom and we send it to you and you look at it and you go, great, that’s great. But what’s wrong with us sending you, you know, today, cardboard, a Google cardboard box with an HTC system in it and you can have a 4D walk around in your own home? You know? So, we send it in the post to you, you look around. If you like it, you get to keep it or whatever, and you send it back. You take that a step further and you can go, well, do you know what? Do you want to design a bathroom? And you say … so, it’s not me designing it or you designing it, or you guys designing it. So, you turn around and say, ‘Do you want a bathroom designed by Kelly Hoppen?’ For instance, as an example. And then what you then do is you say … you get Kelly Hoppen, not her physically, to design it, but a team of designers. She signs off the designs or whatever, but you pay a premium for that. You know, and then what you’ve then got is, you’ve got ‘Hey, do you know what? My bathroom or kitchen was designed by x designer.’ And I see that as an option in the future.
And then, if a retailer was to do that quite well, they had a series of showrooms, you could even mix the two. So, you could get your bathroom … you upload it, because you’re doing your research. You upload it on a fag packet, as we mentioned earlier, to online. They then design it, they send it to you, approve of initial design. Then, you may then go to a 4D theatre somewhere in the country where you are and drop in, and then you can go and walk around your own bathroom in that 4D theatre.
Nathan: Yeah, good idea. [Unintelligible 00:47:08], then?
Murray: Yeah, [unintelligible 00:47:10].
Darren: But this is the future, and you can … you know, it’s an idea. But someone might do it, someone might not. It may be too expensive to get over the line. But the concept is the fact that I think it can have both sides of the coin. And you know, a lot of manufacturers now are doing their own showrooms. So, there’s no reason why we, online, couldn’t design an Ideal Standard one. And you go to the 4D theatre at the Ideal Standard showroom in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and they load it up and they just look at it. Yeah, it’s great. Sign it off, pay the money, off you go.
Darren: Just ideas, but … how do you see that concept, of the two?
Nathan: Good concepts. I mean, we don’t know what the future is going to bring, so what we’re targeted to do is to make showrooms successful. And we’re very pro-the showroom, pro-the designer, as well. And designing kitchens and bathrooms, you’re creating new lifestyles for people, so it needs a personal touch. So, you can’t just design a bathroom or a kitchen, you need to get into your customer’s head and find out, what are the drivers for this change? Why are you looking for a new kitchen, new bathroom? Now, there might be … for example, somebody that’s looking to renovate a home to sell it and make money, their taste shouldn’t even come into it. They should be the designer, researching street value there and –
Darren: What’s fashionable today, what’s going to help value this house?
Nathan: Yeah, that’s it. Compared to someone who’s got a new baby or ageing parents moving in. Well, you know, whatever the change is. So, that needs investigation. That needs somebody to ask some questions and to understand, and ask questions that a customer’s probably not going to expect to be asked. That’s really showing interest in the customer. So, that comes, for me, that’s … a person needs to do that. I mean, artificial intelligence, you know, at some stage in the future it might get that good, but it’s going to be a very long, long time. It’s going to be that personal touch. So, the technologies that we develop, you know, it’s tool evolution. So, Virtual Worlds, we see it as the evolution of the pen. Where, to be in the hands of a professional who’s using the tool to create the designs to … yeah. So, that’s why we’re focused on the showroom and the designer.
Darren: Perfect. And then, augmented reality is something that is coming … it’s been out for a little while, but it’s really coming to fruition with some of the updates that the likes of Apple have done to the engine in the background. Making it more realistic and making it have fixed points so it actually works, if that makes any sense. So, where do … that’s a modern way of doing a brochure, in my opinion. What’s your –
Nathan: It’s exactly.
Ben: I think there are two … for the benefit of listeners who don’t know, there are two distinct forms of technology at this point in time. And they may well merge in the future a lot more readily, there may become other avenues for seeing these things. But at the moment, virtual reality is when you create something that is completely … the entire environment is virtual. So, everything you see is fictional and made-up or, you know, a virtual idea –
Nathan: The real world has nothing to offer, at all.
Ben: Yeah. Whereas, augmented reality … so, AR is when you are bringing things into the real world to enhance it. So, you can see the real world around you, but then you choose to bring in other things. And that, in a game environment, might be zombies coming out of walls, breaking things apart. In the KBB industry, it might be picking products to try out at home. And, like you say, maybe from a virtual brochure or a website. So, you are saying, ‘I like this product, I would like to see what it looks like in my world.’
And that is, for us, that is a really obvious way of … for the brochure side, bringing the brochure to life and saying, ‘I can see it on the page but I’d like to see it in front of me.’ And that might be a customer sitting at home with the brochure on the coffee table, still using a paper brochure. It might be from a website, browsing on the iPad and seeing it that way. Or, it might be from a whole virtual brochure experience, that they’re going through a journey and they’re making their selections based on what they’re seeing. It could also, though, be in the showroom. So, it could be that, in the showroom, you are walking around and you’re looking at the fixed displays and you want to say, ‘Well, I can use AR. Because I want to see that same furniture unit, but I might want to see it in the 1200 rather than the 800. I might want to see it in black and gold rather than the white gloss that’s there as standard.’ So –
Nathan: Or, equally, you might want to move it onto another display and see how it looks beside –
Ben: Exactly. ‘I want to try that tap on that furniture unit,’ so.
Darren: And that goes back to what we were talking about earlier, is that the showroom could be limitless without having to have all those [different] options.
Nathan: Yeah. We want to make the showrooms into super-versatile digital spaces, as well, where you’re blending real product with virtual product. The two work really well together.
Darren: Yeah. Well, a lot of people have done that already in different industries. IKEA, obviously, is probably a big, famous one who’s done it. Who’s invested … put millions of pounds in changing their catalogue into augmented reality. That works really well for things like lamps and table lamps and tables and chairs, and bringing it into your lounge. You know, paint companies, like Dulux, have done the same sort of scenario with painting the walls. Changing to pink, grey, yellow, green, whatever. You can do that. And I think that’s going to change dramatically in people’s homes with furnishings, curtains, whatever, in the future.
Nathan: So, the big, big difference between us and IKEA when it comes to an augmented reality app is, IKEA have their range. So, they’ve got in their app where you’re browsing for products. This is a consumer app that needs to be very simple to use. But Virtual Worlds, we’ve got hundreds of companies, some of them with 30,000 products. Now, an end consumer’s not going to browse through or know what they’re going to want in a catalogue app.
So, with our augmented reality, the first development is very, very different to anything else that’s out there. It’s based … you know, if we’re talking about choosing a manufacturer’s product, the nicest way for a consumer to decide on a brand that they’ve got is usually if they do have a catalogue in their hand, in today’s terms. And so, they’ve already chosen the brand, so that’s one nice pick. They’re flipping through the pages, reading up, buying into what products they’re going to have. And then it’s just a case of scanning that page and trying the furniture in their room.
So, it’s a beautiful way of navigating product selection. And the great thing there, and this was the whole thinking behind it, simplicity of use. But it’s right now, it’s problem solving. So, a manufacturer has these brochures, spends a fortune producing them … what happens to them? They’ve got no idea how they’re working for them in the real world. So, now we’re making these brochures trackable. So, we can count, like a website, how many hits is it getting? Which page is the most popular? What product is getting the most attention in the marketplace? And for the end consumer, it’s the peace of mind. Does it fit? Does it fit in my house?
Darren: Yeah, it’s a great example. We demoed it in my office … did you [demo it for] me? And we put a bath in the office and we put a unit in there, and tapped the unit and the drawers open. And they’re real-world, practical problems that a consumer will have at home –
Darren: – because they are of the kind who’s not necessarily going to go to a showroom and have the whole thing designed, because they’re going to sell the property or whatever it may be. And there are some times … if the drawer opens, is it going to hit the shower door? Is it going to hit he door? Can we open the door, still? And you can do that with the augmented reality, and that’s what I felt was a good thing for us as a business, as well. To have that option for a consumer to stick it in their room and go, ‘Do you know what? Yeah, that’ll fit.’ You know, because that, sometimes they don’t understand. So, yeah, it’s good. It’s a good point. And then smart homes and the future. It’s something that I’m quite passionate about –
Darren: – again. You know, where do you guys … we talked a little bit about it in the previous group, but where do you guys see the race with Alexa, Google and Apple?
Nathan: Do we all use … have we –
Nathan: I’ve got Alexa.
Jamie: I’ve got Alexa and I use Siri on my phone.
Ben: I’ve got Alexa, yeah.
Murray: I’ve got none of them, yeah. Siri, as well. So –
Nathan: Yeah, I’ve got Alexa, so yeah.
Nathan: I still feel a little bit embarrassed sometimes speaking to my computer, which I generally don’t do in an open office –
Ben: That’s because you always put on that silly voice.
Darren: Your posh voice?
Ben: Yeah, it’s a posh voice.
Darren: ‘Excuse me, do you mind?’
Murray: ‘Computer? Computer?’
Nathan: And the phone… but the fact is, when you do, you get a much quicker, more effective result, because it’s just so easy, isn’t it? You just tell it what you want.
Jamie: Yeah. I think that’s the thing, it’s the ease of use, isn’t it?
Nathan: It’s so good.
Jamie: You don’t have to think about it. You just –
Murray: Sell it to me, now. Come on.
Jamie: It’s like –
Murray: If somebody doesn’t have one –
Nathan: Anything you want, you just ask for it. Like a webpage, a bit of information, buy something –
Jamie: Yeah. It’s like, me asking how to get to the train station. I could ask you that while I’m wandering around making a cup of tea. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to go and do something else.
Murray: How much tea do you make, though? Is that all you’re doing?
Darren: But it’s that… it’s this funny little thing, is that we’re all creatures of habit, and the most popular use of Alexa is about setting a timer. So, you do a little bit of stats and the most popular phrase is, ‘Please set a timer for x.’ And a lot of the stuff today that it’s being used for is functional things, like turn your lights on, turn your lights off and that. And a lot of people are doing a lot of … spending a lot of time in understanding what consumers are actually going to use it for. And train times, weather, news updates, those sorts of things, today, are quite interesting. But, you know, are you going to say, ‘Please send me my chips from the fish and chip shop?’
Jamie: That’s all confidence, that is. You know, it’s steps. It’s baby steps, isn’t it? And if you … initially, you like the idea of the technology, but you will probably only start to ask the functional tasks of it, to begin with. But then, as you get more confident, you do start to elaborate and you do start to do things that are a little more complicated. Just because you get used to the medium, don’t you?
Nathan: I’ve got one, ‘start my day’. So, it fades the lights up, fades the newsfeed, tells me how long it’s going to take me to get to work and tells me what the weather is. Brilliant. Oh, and it also tells me to have a great day.
Darren: And that’s quite useful, though, isn’t it? It’s actually quite useful, because that’s some of the functionality you may have done in the past on your phone.
Darren: Get up in the morning … unfortunately, we’re really stuck to our phones, nowadays. And you get up in the morning, check the weather to see what’s going on, check your traffic. I mean, mine pops up automatically in the morning. And you might see what else is going on.
Nathan: Or you decide you’re going to be naughty, you’re going to have dinner in front of the TV on a tray. So, you’re walking through your home. You say, ‘Alexa, turn on the lounge lights.’ You’re still walking there, have lights come on, and you tell it what you want to watch on the TV, and it’s ready for you.
Darren: Sit down and away you go. So, it has got … but it’s got functional uses, as well, in the bathroom and kitchen, from a disability point of view. I think there’s quite a big set of manufacturers working around disability and using these for that sort of area, for … like, please turn my shower on, set a temperature, turn the shower off. Moving objects around the house, things like stairlifts and things like that. Alexa, go down, go up, whatever it may be, and there’s that sort of functionality. And there’s also security functionality around it, as well. So, I think it’s going to be … we’re in very, very early stages.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah.
Darren: And we were talking about it earlier with your 4D theatre, you know. Today, the Samsung fridge, I think it is, or Siemens fridge, you can basically ask it when you’re at the shop what’s in the fridge. ‘How many eggs have I got?’ Well, if you’re in the kitchen, you can ask the same and it can turn the screen door to a TV of actually what’s inside your fridge, you know. And for you guys, I was asking earlier about a challenge for how you guys are going to represent that. But, in the future, you know, you’re going to ask the headset to show you what’s in the fridge, and you guys would’ve pre-put something in the fridge for it to show how it’s going to work. And –
Nathan: Yeah. So, home automation and 4D theatre, that’s happening.
Darren: Is it?
Nathan: We’ve already got all the voice commands, with ‘Virtual Worlds’ is the wake word. But we’ll be introducing Alexa in there and the Google assistant, and then connected appliances. So, people will be able to, in their kitchen, experience using these smart devices in VR.
Darren: Yeah, amazing.
Ben: I think what we’ve heard from the kitchen industry in particular about home automation and smart home is that it’s very difficult for retailers to sell it unless they sell it in a joined-up approach. So, you imagine all elements of the kitchen working together in the actual household and, if you’re just trying to sell certain aspects of home automation, like a smart appliance, for example, it doesn’t work sat on its own. You have to be able to say, you know, this is how the whole house is going to work. And if a kitchen fitter’s coming in at this point to rip everything out, he’s got a perfect window of opportunity there to go and install the smart home and take everything up to a different level. And that’s why you –
Darren: And it goes back to that budget, doesn’t it? Upselling the product, upselling … you’ve got to think of the lighting and all the additional products. It’s an amazing tool. I think it’s going to be as you said, I think you were spot on. One of the first things you said, there, was it’s going to be a staple part of every kitchen and bathroom showroom, and I think that’s definitely where it’s going to end up. Because you’re going to see the value of it. If, as a salesperson, you haven’t got it, you’re not going to be able to upsell the same as someone else.
Nathan: Well, with over 300 showrooms now using some form of our 4D, it’s already an industry standard, really.
Darren: Yeah, that’s good.
Nathan: And this is against a tide of conflicting information from competitors who publicly are saying VR is a waste of time, it’s a gimmick. That shows you the difference between a company that’s created something because they’ve identified issues that need to be resolved and they’ve chosen a technology that best does the job. That’s the difference. It’s the creating, believing, and having the vision and following it through.
Darren: Yeah, definitely.
Ben: And seeing any of the possible pitfalls. I mean, we’ve done development, a part of the R&D that just didn’t work, haven’t we?
Murray: Oh, wow, yeah.
Ben: We’ve done a lot. Being at the forefront of all the research and development is that we’re not just saying, ‘We’re just going to do that because that obviously works.’ We know why things don’t work at the same time as why they do.
Murray: We’ve gone through so many different versions –
Murray: – [of controls] for 4D.
Nathan: As pioneers, you’ve got nothing to copy. Now, bear in mind that we … we were releasing 4D before Oculus Rift was available. So, you know, there was absolutely nothing for us to look at. Maybe some ideas from sci-fi movies.
Darren: Yeah, yeah.
Nathan: I guess that would have an influence but, basically, it was a blank page. Thinking KBB, what would we like as a customer? What’s the experience that we’d like? What are the benefits of doing this? And it’s changed, changed, changed, so many times.
Darren: And you’re setting the standards, aren’t you? And that’s always a difficult thing, when you’re setting the standards and going down things and … like you said, you’ve put the haptics to the side for now, until either the technology changes or it’s required or … sometimes it’s just, you can be too early.
Darren: You know, people aren’t ready for the look and feel of what you’ve got so it’s like, do you know? You’re in advance of yourself by a couple of years, because people aren’t quite ready for the VR, yet, and then you’re just taking another sensation too far for them. That makes it scary sometimes, so.
Darren: I think that’s really good. Guys, it’s been excellent. Thank you very much, indeed.
Jamie: Thank you.
Ben: Thank you.