As Bryan Fairfield drove past before and during the transformation of the Nebraska Crossing Outlets project every day on his way to work, he saw possibilities.
Fairfield, who lives in Omaha, is the chief executive of Nanonation, a company based in Lincoln that focuses on digital and interactive signage.
So it was the Nanonation sales team that approached Nebraska Crossing developer Rod Yates of OTB Destination and officials at OBI Creative, a local agency in charge of the mall's marketing, after reading a World-Herald article last spring about a plan to create a digital experience at the Gretna mall.
Nanonation ended up providing digital maps of the mall; a video wall with an interactive, motion-sensing game; the signage on the mall's roof; and the flashy digital billboards along Interstate 80.
“They've done a better job than a lot of retailers have, and certainly better than any overall property group that we've seen, in really bringing together traditional and New Age shopping techniques,” Fairfield said of Nebraska Crossing.
Yates said he was looking for a company that could take the digital signage and tie it all together with software that would push deals, games and other promotions.
“They basically provided a turnkey solution for us to ... put a seamless message together and tie it together,” Yates said.
And the fact that Nanonation is a Nebraska company didn't hurt, he said. “They do work with all kinds of retailers. ... It was great having a local expert here to help us do all of that.”
Coming soon: Digital signs at the mall's entrances that will direct shoppers to available parking, expected to launch in early December, Yates said. Also on the way is a new interactive game for the video wall, which will be available after January.
“As people come back to the mall throughout the year it won't be the exact same experience they're seeing” on the video wall, said Zach Rustad, the Nanonation account executive for the Nebraska Crossing project.
The company started 13 years ago providing Internet access and entertainment in the bar and restaurant industry. A few years after its founding, Nanonation shifted its focus to digital signage and interactive displays in the retail sector. The company has grown in the past year and a half by about 40 percent, Fairfield said, and expects to continue to grow, adding two to four employees per year to its current staff of about 40.
The mall is one of the few local projects Nanonation has worked on. Most of the firm's clients are national brands, such as Barney's New York, Louis Vuitton North America, Hershey, Harley Davidson, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Build-A-Bear.
Other local projects include digital signage in Pinnacle Bank branch locations and, in the past, digital displays in Borsheims' flagship store.
“Most of our clients don't live around here,” Fairfield said. “We spend most of our time selling ... and working with our clients outside of Nebraska. We just happen to be based here.”
That sometimes draws raised eyebrows from those on the coasts. One New York City client was, initially, unimpressed. “'What in the hell are you bringing somebody from Nebraska here to talk to us about technology for?'” the client reportedly said.
“So we do get that sometimes ... we did end up winning that business,” Fairfield said, adding: “Our people have a good standard of living here, great schools, a great environment. We like to be here and enjoy being based in Nebraska.”
At Pinnacle Bank, Nanonation provided all of the displays seen in all branch lobbies, said the bank's regional director of marketing, Amy Guenther. The final displays were installed six years ago, and now the bank is looking at updating and possibly adding interactive features to them, Guenther said.
“They kind of helped bring it to life in what we were really envisioning,” Guenther said. Like Yates, Pinnacle also valued Nanonation's Nebraska roots.
“We really, really valued the fact that they were local. That was a big determining factor with us,” Guenther said. “The services they could provide were right up there with what we could obtain nationally, anyway, so it was perfect.”
Fairfield said employees at Nanonation enjoy working on the rare local projects. Nebraska Crossing's proximity to Lincoln has allowed employees to see the products in action. “It's fun for a lot of our software developers and designers to be able to see and to show their families some of the things that we work on on a regular basis.”
The closeness of the project also has allowed employees to receive feedback — sometimes just by watching shoppers interact with the signage and video wall — and make changes accordingly.
As the focus shifts to the redevelopment of Omaha's Crossroads Mall — the most recent plans call for a business, shopping and entertainment center with a public park in the middle — Yates said he sees an ongoing relationship with the business, and Nanonation is eager to take part.
“They know their stuff,” Yates said. “I can see them being involved in our asset on an ongoing basis to evolve the content (at Nebraska Crossing), but certainly would be a provider I'd want to use at Crossroads.”
Said Fairfield: “Yes, we're absolutely hoping to be a part of that.”