Matthew Barnabe, co-owner of Barnabe’s Independent Grocer in Perth with a tablet computer running on the store’s new WiFi provided by Storm Internet Services
Perth ON February 27, 2013 – 26 million of 34 million Canadians use cellphones, and just over half of the nation’s smartphone users admit they sleep with their Internet link next to them and check it before brushing their teeth each morning. Digital trends like these inspired Matthew and his co-owner wife Cressida Barnabe to install free WiFi access in their Perth, Ontario grocery store. And along Dave Chiswell, CEO of Storm Internet Services Inc., they wonder why more big-box proprietors in Eastern Ontario aren’t following their lead.
A mid-size 35,000 sq. ft. store, Barnabe’s Independent Grocer is located along Highway 7, the main traffic artery inside the Lanark County tourist region. Because they represent an annual 50 per cent sales spike during cottage season, Barnabe tunes into the needs of his seasonal customers. He noticed that more and more of them were suffering from acute “nomophobia” – a state of stress caused by having no access to or being unable to use one’s smartphone or other mobile device such as a tablet computer
Storm Internet Services Inc. is an Ottawa-based wireless Internet expert with regional offices in Perth and Chesterville. Chiswell says the company regularly slays nomophobia at a growing number of campgrounds, marinas, cultural festivals and hockey arenas where cellular service isn’t available but Internet anxiety is no longer an option.
“While we offer more traditional wired DSL and Fibre services to residential and business customers across the Ottawa Valley, we’ve been developing our wireless expertise since the late 90s to serve rural Internet demand,” says Chiswell. “We’re now at a WiFi tipping point. Inquiries for large-scale wireless deployments have quadrupled over the past year, and big box retail is the next frontier. What’s become an expected service at coffee shops and fast food outlets is now a consumer expectation everywhere people shop. Barnabe’s Independent Grocer is definitely on trend, and a pioneer in Eastern Ontario.”
“There’s no cell signal in many parts of our region, yet a huge percentage of our summer visitors are in the habit of using the Internet before they get out of bed,” says Barnabe. “So when those people go to one of the many remote lakes or resorts in our area, they tell me it takes two days tops before they start to go insane for lack of some kind of Internet connection.”
“Cressida and I decided to help them out and offer free WiFi in our store. Customers can also access it just outside our building if we’re closed or they want to check a few emails before coming in. We see it as necessary as our dry-cleaning or BBQ tank services – it’s all about offering ultimate convenience that makes your store a destination.”
Barnabe points out that his is the last large-format grocery store in a sparsely populated area between Perth and Peterborough, more than 140 kilometers to the West, where cellular coverage is spotty. This is causing more cases of nomophobia as smartphones, tablets and WiFi reading devices become even more popular with summertime visitors to the Perth and Lanark County.
“Shop local” is the mantra of any small-town grocer, so Barnabe was pleased to call on the Perth office of Storm Internet Services Inc. Serving both residential customers and businesses of all sizes in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, Storm provides high-speed access across 8,000 square kilometers of the Ottawa Valley. The company’s WiFi expertise also extends to high tech companies seeking high-speed intra-office WiFi connections and outdoor events like the Ottawa Bluesfest where Internet access is deemed necessary by organizers, rock stars and fans that need to communicate over a large multi-stage venue attended by thousands.
For a start-up cost of $3,000, two Storm technicians worked through the night to install and test four WiFi access points and a modem that provide coverage throughout Barnabe’s Independent Grocer. “They did a great job,” says Barnabe. “When we came in the next morning we could access the Internet from anywhere in the store, and frankly I get higher speeds at work than I do from my rural residential wireless system at home. Our monthly charge from Storm is very competitive with a Bell or Rogers, and Storm’s service couldn’t be more helpful.”
Barnabe’s WiFi is public, with no bandwidth or password restrictions. He has seen children happily streaming movies on iPod touch devices while their parents shop. But he gets more excited by people who use his store’s new Internet service to text home for a special ingredient, consult a YouTube chef to find out which cut of meat to purchase, or check out an online recipe site when discovering an exotic fruit or vegetable.
“People also go to our Facebook page and add their Likes,” says the affable grocer. “That’s cool. And I see how we might also use the WiFi to promote in-store online specials. The more we think about it the more creative we’ll become with in-store e-retailing.”
As enthusiastic as he is, Barnabe is also slightly amazed at how ahead of the curve his store is with its new WiFi capability from Storm Internet Services. “Loblaws, where I worked for 15 years before opening my own store in 2009, has WiFi in its downtown Toronto flagship store at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, but it’s by no means a universal thing in most grocery outlets or other large-format retailers even in urban areas.”
“Whenever I go to a big box store in the Ottawa Valley I check to see if they’ve got WiFi yet, and I can honestly say we’re one of, if not the first to do it. I’m proud of that, because I know our customers see it as a valuable service. Whether it’s helping them shop for the perfect summer meal or to get over a cottage-week case of Internet deprivation, we’ve got them covered.”