February 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

High-tech selling of high-tech clothes

Mark`s Work Warehouse is deploying a network of web-based video displays in stores to explain high-tech clothing to shoppers.

Mark`s Work Warehouse, a chain of more than 300 stores in Canada, hangs its reputation on selling innovative products like fiberglass-reinforced work boots. Lighter than their steel-toe counterparts, they’re more comfortable to walk in and offer extra benefits, like not activating metal detectors at airports, says Kevin Mathiesen, material manager for store design. “Our strategy is to have comfortable clothes that work,” he says.

But Mark`s, a unit of Canadian Tire, faces the challenge of convincing customers that its products are truly different from the competition’s. Is there really a fiberglass toe in that boot?

Marks sees part of the answer in a network of web-based video displays deployed in all of its stores. The kiosks, from New York-based Digital View Inc., show videos that promote the retailer’s innovative products and illustrate in detail how they’re designed to perform. The impact on sales has exceeded expectations, Mathiesen says.

The technology in the display units fits with the retailer’s focus on innovation, he adds. While headquarters staff can access the web to control and monitor what’s playing on the displays at all times-setting schedules for showing promotional messages or more technical product descriptions, for example-the units also let store managers insert employee training cartridges after selling hours.

But the biggest focus is on customer service. If a customer sees a promotional message about fiberglass boots and wants to learn how they’re constructed, he can push a button on the display screen to activate the appropriate video.

Mark`s has already cut down its product videos from as much as 90 seconds to 30 seconds or less. “After 15-30 seconds, most people lose interest and walk away,” Mathiesen says. But if someone wants to see more, they can just push another button, he adds.

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