Sportsman's Warehouse - Video
Innovative Video: Cutting-edge video conferencing technology at Sportsman’s Warehouse makes remote-employee training both efficient and affordable
Sportsman’s Warehouse: the name conjures up images of rifles, kayaks, tents…and state-of-the-art video conferencing systems?
If it doesn’t, it should—this rapidly growing outdoor retailer recently invested in an
innovative Tandberg video conferencing system that allows the company (and its vendors) to train and educate employees in 64 store locations nationwide directly from its Midvale, Utah, headquarters.
The cutting-edge conferencing system was no small investment, but thanks to a longstanding relationship with Mountain States Networking, Sportsman’s knew where to turn for help planning and implementing the system.
Sportsman’s had previously worked with Mountain States on a company-wide upgrade to a Cisco IP phone system. Once employees saw how useful the video conferencing feature on their store managers’ phones was, wheels started turning. According to Sportsman’s IT Manager Brent Dillon, the thought was “Wouldn’t it be nice for HR not to have to go out and do training for new employees? Why not just bring it in here?” Sportsman’s had a clear vision of what they wanted: a robust video-conferencing system at company headquarters capable of broadcasting to and receiving signals from all retail locations in the country. Cisco and Tandberg competed for the contract, putting Mountain States (which represents both vendors) in a bit of a tricky situation.
“Mountain States did what was right,” Dillon says. “They said ‘we’re going to recommend what’s best for the customer, regardless of what it does with our partners.’ They were very upfront with everybody.”
Sportsman’s Warehouse ultimately decided on a Tandberg solution, and they worked with Mountain States engineer Josh Watkins to create a customized solution. At first, the IT team couldn’t decide whether to set up a stand-alone video conferencing network or to join it with their existing network. “Josh gave us the best of both worlds,” Dillon says. “ He said ‘yeah, let’s do them separate, but we can create a trunk from one system to the other, and that bridge will allow them to communicate.’ Josh was here through the whole thing to tie everything together.”
The results, frankly, are stunning. A spacious conference room with a 100-person seating capacity, two 14-foot screens, a media control center, and multiple cameras capable of broadcasting from anywhere in the room. There’s even a special close-up camera and table configured for detailed product demonstrations or document viewing.
The network was designed so that “any of the end points can be the source for the video. Let’s say a district manager wants to do a conference with his stores—we can set that up so those are the only stores in the conference. We can run 30 consecutive conferences,” says Dillon.
Just six months after launching the new system, Sportsman’s has seen the potential for huge long-term savings. Via the new video conferencing system, this privately owned company has hosted its shareholders’ meeting, HR training, vendor training, and managers’ meeting (which eliminated the airfare, hotel, and catering costs of bringing all the store managers to Utah). For the shareholders’ meeting, Dillon says, “We had all of our board in here in this room with all of the shareholders throughout the whole company in conferences.”
In a company that values well-trained and highly informed employees, the system has wide-ranging benefits and uses. As Dillon reports, “If something comes out that we need to do training on immediately, they’ll just do a video conference. Schedule it the day before, have all the office managers on the other end, and go over the changes. Huge time savings.”
One of the most innovative uses of the video conferencing system was actually the brainchild of Sportsman’s CEO, Stu Utgaard. The concept is simple—charge vendors a reasonable sum to use the system for product training—but the results are staggering. In just two months, Sportsman’s brought in more than $50,000 from vendor use fees alone.
The vendors benefit from the arrangement as well. Instead of flying to each retail location, the vendor flies into Salt Lake City and performs one training, which is broadcast company-wide from the video conferencing room. Some vendors, according to Dillon, have been so impressed with the idea that they’ve flown their executives to Midvale just to see the video room with their own eyes.
With a system this robust, one might expect the setup to be complex. But thanks to extensive planning and a solid partnership with Mountain States, Sportsman’s was able to avoid last-minute hiccups. When it came time to install the cameras, the IT team decided to simply ship them directly to the stores with a diagram for how the cameras were to be cabled to the in-store televisions.
To prepare, Ryan Vincent, Network Administrator, scanned all the serial numbers and the MAC addresses for each camera and imported them. Total time? “It took me probably 30 minutes to grab all the MAC addresses and then it took about 10 or 15 minutes to import them,” says Vincent. Then the Sportsman’s IT team was able to remotely configure the router in each store so that the cameras were plug-and-go ready. Dillon describes the process as “very quick and smooth,” not to mention cost-effective: the alternative would have been deploying IT personnel from headquarters to 64 different stores in 29 states.
Beyond the time and budgetary savings, corporate officers have discovered other unexpected perks. Mike Van Orden, TITLE HERE, says staff members watch vendor DVDs on the giant screens and larger-than-life sound system. “We’ve got satellite hooked up in here too,” says Van Orden, “so if we’re playing a Sportsman’s Warehouse commercial that we want to see for the first time, we come in here and watch the channel we’re advertising on.” Employee morale is also up, perhaps due to rumors of movie screenings and blooper reels (from the store security cameras) shown on the side-by-side, oversize screens.
Sportsman’s Warehouse prides itself on doing things the right way the first time around and investing in the best technology available. As Dillon says, “we could have done it a lot cheaper, but everybody agreed that wasn’t the way to go. Let’s do it the best way there is to do it.”
Sportsman’s Warehouse had a vision of conducting real-time employee training, “face to face” shareholders’ meetings, and vendor demonstrations via video. So they brought in a partner, Mountain States Networking, that had expertise, imagination, and, according to Dillon, “engineers who are top notch, not only in the state, but nation wide.” For a nation-wide company like Sportsman’s Warehouse, it’s a partnership that just makes sense.