The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, with Taylor Romero, Co-Founder of Spruce Labs
I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor Romero,Head of Company for Spruce Labs, Inc. Spruce Labs is the Store of the Future Company Sprucebot, the first ever guest experience bot. A digital assistant focused on driving loyalty through amazingly personalized, in-store experiences.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was about 2014. My wife and I both worked in technology at the time. She at a digital agency downtown and myself doing iPhone app development as a freelancer.
So get this, we’re walking down the path by Cherry Creek in Denver and mid-conversation my wife turns to me and says, “You know what Tay? After seeing how much you like technology, I’ve decided I don’t like technology.”
I def didn’t see that coming, so I asked her what she wanted to do.
“Open a boutique,” was her response.
And thus began the most incredible journey of our lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It was summer of 2016 and Techstars was doing their first ever Retail Accelerator in partnership with Target. I decided to fill out an application. Why not, right?
Well, part of the application was a request to attach a 60 second video that described your product. The issues was, we didn’t have a product. It was more like a technology enhanced retail experience. Actually, it’s way easier if you just watch the video we shot and produced:
Also, about this same time, I see a post one of my friends, Maha, shared on FB about TEDxMileHigh holding their first auditions. I clicked the link, filled out the app, and totally forgot about it.
Then, something crazy happened. Not only did Techstars call back, but so did TEDxMileHigh!
My wife and I then collectively decided that it would be in our best interest to stop filling out applications to things.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ok, don’t hate me for not answering, but all the mistakes that come to mind are too fresh to be funny yet. You know what I mean?
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that really differentiates us is that, as a technology company, we admit that the technology is not what makes the physical retail experience special. This results in us not having a bias for information technology. Here’s what I mean;
I was talking to an advisor and he suggested that if we could get people walking down the sidewalk to feel a sense of urgency to book, we could increase our bookings!
“Well yeah, duh.” I said, “but how?”
“By showing them exactly how many open chairs you have at any given time.”
Hmm…. Interesting right? We could take a sign, maybe an LED, connect it to the internet and have it real time report the open chair count.
I mean, we already have a menu board that tells wait times, so this would be no sweat.
How long till the next cut? Menu Board of the Future!
This post is part of a tech+design series by Andy, the chalk artist, and myself. You can ready Andy's post here. Oh…
Guess what we ended up settling on? Magnets!
See them here, about 20 seconds in:
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?
Burn out tends to happen for me when the potential reward is over-shadowed by the effort. You know, when you get the “this isn’t worth it” feeling? That one can get you.
Also, I need diversity in what I do. So, it helps I get to bounce around and talk to a lot of talented people doing a lot of different things, from code to design and strategy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Oh boy, I have so many stories. Really, it all can be summed up in the advice I give all new founders:
At Spruce, the shop, my wife and I were a team. Now, with Spruce Labs, I have Ryan and Randy. Without these people, I would be nowhere.
Unfortunately, me focusing on the technology means that Becca has to run the shop without me. It’s not that she can’t do it, she’s super BA, it’s just better to do it with someone.
I also want to call out the fine print here is that you and your cofounders must have compatible work ethics. I mean to say, if you work 9 to 5, they work 9 to 5. If you work nights and weekends, they work nights and weekends.
Don’t be in a situation where some people are working nights and weekends while others are working 9 to 5. At least, not in a startup, it’s too small for that imbalance.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes! Yes! Yes! I can’t say too much, only that Ulta Beauty saw what we were doing at Spruce and asked us to join forces with them.
Very shortly we will be able to share all the details.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would feel like an imposter to say I am “successful.” I will say that the gang and I are working really hard to do something that’ll change retail forever. It’s pretty fulfilling.
Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?
· There will be a total divergence between convenience and experiential based retailers.
· C-stores (convenient stores) will be about removing humans and making everything, well, convenient.
· Experiential stores will be about bringing back the human touch.
· There will also be technology, but it will be a facilitator versus the focus of the experience (Handshake Checkout https://vimeo.com/196923365).
· Unless it’s an arcade ;)
· There will always be places that sit in-between, but they will become more rare.
· Also, admittedly, I’m worried about the rising costs of running a business. By rising, I mean, already really high. I’m worried it’ll mean less independent boutiques and shops. I hope I’m wrong.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A person of great influence? You must be talking about someone else! How about this, since I’m actually trying to start a movement (#theguestfirstmovement), if I’m able to pull it off, I’ll give you the best answer to this question you’ve ever had!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow the good stuff here:
And we have a podcast starting soon, called The Guest First Movement. It’s focused on physical retail of all sizes and the challenges we face going into the next century. If you own or operate a brick and mortar retailer, this is the podcast for you! There will be amazing interviews, fun rants, and deep discussions into the state of retail, the internet, and how it’s all coming together.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!