MarTech Interview with Arsen Avakian, Co-founder and CEO of Cooler Screens

Arsen Avakian highlights use cases of digital media opportunities driving growth and introduces us to the product features of the Cooler Media Platform.

Brands can tell their story digitally, which creates an opportunity for better measurement so they know what’s working and what’s not.

1. Can you tell us more about yourself and your career before Cooler Screens?
My background is in technology and computer science. I moved to the United States from Armenia in 1996 on a Fulbright scholarship. I led the business development and corporate ventures group of i2 Technologies, the pioneer and global leader in supply chain management software solutions, for four years.

I fell into the beverage industry out of a passion for tea, founding and launching Argo Tea in 2003. It started as a retail site and cafe, then evolved into CPG products and distribution. From my experience with Argo Tea, I got a better understanding of retail, and creating customer experiences to meet their expectations and enhance their shopping journey.

2. Could you tell us more about Cooler Screens and what was the inspiration behind starting this company?
In late 2017, I set out to solve a problem that I was personally familiar with as the founder of a CPG brand: closing the experience gap between consumers, retailers and brands. When I visited stores, I noticed the frustration across the value chain of traditional retail. I thought, what if we could bring the best of online shopping capabilities into stores to empower shoppers to get the information they want and need in order to feel confident making choices which best fit their budget, diets, and preferences?

Consumer experience was below expectations, they were missing transparency and relevant information to make informed decisions. Retailers struggled with operations like merchandising and inventory management. Brands had little visibility into the results of their advertising spend and no way to influence purchasing at the point of sale, in person.

I founded Cooler Screens on the core idea that consumers deserve a better in-store experience. I was at the intersection of two industries – CPG and tech – and recognized issues that I might not have otherwise. Standing in the aisles of grocery and retail stores, I wondered how could Argo Tea compete against the Arizonas and Liptons, and I watched customers pulling out their phones to learn more about products in the cooler. The lightbulb moment was realizing we could digitally augment physical retail to provide a better consumer experience.

3. How is your company providing a new digital retail media opportunity in stores that is driving tremendous growth and consumer delight?
We, as consumers, love access to information, so we provide that to them at the moment of truth – while they’re considering what to buy – with access to nutritional information, promotions and, coming soon, product ratings.

Brands can tell their story digitally, which creates an opportunity for better measurement so they know what’s working and what’s not.

And retailers can increase their same store sales in a way they never could before. The average incremental sales lift we’ve seen so far is 5-7%.

4. Cooler Platform mentions itself as the world’s largest in-store digital retail media platform. Can you elaborate on the same?
Cooler Screens has nationwide scale reaching over 94M in consumer traffic per month across 10,000 screens over 700 stores in 31 DMAs. Retail partners include Walgreens, Kroger, CVS, Get Go and Chevron. Over 180 of the top consumer product brands have joined the Cooler Screens’ brand network including Kraft Heinz, Hersheys and Monster Energy.

5. Can you elaborate on Cooler Screens’ technology?
Unlike any other solution that has come before it, the Cooler Screens platform captures the power of the latest digital technology including IoT, cloud, edge computing, artificial intelligence and high-resolution displays to transform brick-and-mortar retail.

6. The Cooler Media Platform allows for instant digital execution of planogram updates, product promotions, and price changes. Can you shed some light on this platform?
The Cooler Screens platform delivers a complete digital media and merchandising platform that serves the entire retail ecosystem including consumers, retailers and product brands. Our platform is comprised of four key components:

  1. Cooler Media — Cooler Media gives retailers and brands the ability to define smart, in-context promotions, design digital planograms, deliver flawless product displays and real-time pricing at the point of sale. With Cooler Media, retailers and brands can capitalize on the critical 3-5 seconds of consumer decision making in-store.
  2. Cooler Analytics — Our proprietary analytics engine delivers unprecedented insights into consumer behavior, promotion effectiveness, inventory, and compliance.
  3. Cooler Marketplace – Cooler Marketplace optimizes ad delivery with intelligent targeting and precise placement to ensure the right offering is delivered at the right time in right place to right customer.
  4. Cooler Edge – Built using the latest digital technology and directly integrated into the physical shopping environment, the Cooler Edge delivers our unparalleled consumer experience. Consumer privacy is central to the design of the Cooler Edge. The platform is “identity blind” so sensitive consumer data is never gathered, used or put at risk in any way. Using our secure API’s, retailers and brands can extend the capabilities of the Cooler Edge and integrate with custom applications.

7. How has the pandemic changed people’s perception of Cooler Screens or how has it changed your pitch for Cooler Screens to advertisers?
Consumers are looking for more ways to have a contactless experience in- store. The pandemic has also prompted consumers to take more control of their health increasing the need for more health-related messaging to consumers. Cooler Screens enables companies to accomplish both of these goals.

8. Could you give a sneak peek into the recent developments at Cooler Screens?
We recently rolled out nutritional badges that detail important nutritional information such as calories, sugar, fat, and sodium which can help consumers spot products that meet their dietary needs without having to read the fine print on product labels. We have also incorporated QR codes for consumers to interact with brand messaging and take action. And, it’s not live yet but we’re working on adding product ratings for brands to further differentiate themselves on the shelves.

9. What are Cooler Screens’ plans for expansion and growth? Where do you see it in the coming years?
Cooler Screens technology has always and will continue to focus on opportunities to add additional value to the consumer experience. We are re-imagining the consumer experience in other areas of retail stores, for example, endcaps and check out coolers as the consumers’ journey takes them throughout the store. And we are piloting screens in in-store pharmacies and clinics. There is significant demand for consumers to learn about the health choices they are making, for example what is the difference between Advil or Aleve or understanding if a product is covered by health savings accounts. Our vision is to expand Cooler Screens across all areas of the store and modernize physical retail to be digitally enabled, but still preserve its essence, which is a physical place where humans come to connect, to try, to touch, to feel and obtain the immediate satisfaction of grabbing a product versus waiting by the mailbox.

10. What is the most significant piece of advice you would want to give to company leaders?
Embrace the mongrel. One of our advisors has called Cooler Screens a “mongrel” in that we are a combination of things that have come before but also a completely new solution. And mongrels are a new source of unexpected innovation. Because we are this new kind of company, we can do unexpected things. For example, Cooler Screens can drive immediate sales and build brand equity simultaneously. These are two ideas, two silos, that have often been considered separate marketing activities. Now they are together. No longer a zero sum game. Leaders are often faced with these types of mongrel ideas bubbling up from their teams. They need to see them for what they are—unfamiliar perhaps, but ultimately indispensable.

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Arsen Avakian, Co-founder and CEO, Cooler Screens
Arsen is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cooler Screens. Prior to Cooler Screens, Arsen founded Argo Tea in 2003. He built it into one of the most respected CPG tea brands and the largest tea café chain globally. Before founding Argo Tea, Arsen led the business development and corporate ventures group of i2 Technologies, the pioneer and global leader in supply chain management software solutions.
His prior entrepreneurial experience includes starting up Bluemeteor, an internet software outsourcing company, and working in management consulting.
Arsen has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from the Engineering University of Armenia and moved to Chicago in 1996 as a Fulbright Scholar to complete his graduate business studies. His civic engagements include membership in The Council of Regents of Loyola University of Chicago and The Society of Fellows of the Culinary Institute of America. Arsen has been a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) since 2013. He is a 2016 inductee of the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, 2015 Pride of America Honoree of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Great Immigrants List, and 2010 Crain's 40 Under 40 Honoree.

Cooler Screens is transforming retail cooler surfaces into IoT-enabled screens. Our media platform reimagines the brick-and-mortar shopping experience for consumers in the cooler and freezer aisle while delivering new marketing opportunities and smart merchandising for brands and retailers.

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