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Tommy Bahama: Innovating Retail with First-Class Wireless

Stewart Hubbard from Tommy Bahama, meets with Cisco Meraki to discuss how he deployed a wireless network and mobile devices in stores and restaurants across the United States in just a few weeks.

Stewart Hubbard, Vice President of IT at resort lifestyle retailer Tommy Bahama, was recently asked to deploy wireless networks at stores nationwide in order to support an in-store sweepstakes promotion. During a recent webinar, we invited Stewart to share with us how he was able to get Cisco Meraki wireless up and running at all of his stores in just a few weeks.

Before Cisco Meraki, Tommy Bahama only had guest WiFi at their restaurant locations. Now, the retailer uses Cisco Meraki access points across over 115 restaurants and stores across the United States and the world. They also have security appliances and switches at their largest retail and restaurant locations, as well as their headquarters in Seattle.

Tommy Bahama's store front

Why did you first upgrade your network with Cisco Meraki?

Stewart Hubbard: My first deployment of Meraki was in conjunction with the opening of a flagship restaurant in Manhattan. That went off successfully, and it’s been very reliable. It’s a very good solution. We quickly expanded to the remainder of the restaurant locations. At that point we had a single pane of glass for monitoring and management of all the guest-facing wireless at all of our restaurant locations.

Prior to using Cisco Meraki, network manageability was a bit of an issue when there was the need to change a password, or the SSIDs needed to be changed or weren’t consistent. It was different per site: if there was a hardware failure, we would find out about it from the restaurant manager rather than having any sort of proactive knowledge.

You now have Cisco Meraki in all of your restaurants for guest wireless. What about your stores?

SH: As a retailer, there’s a lot of interest these days in enabling mobile capabilities in stores, whether that is mobile point of sale, or other things that you could do on devices like iPads. I got a call from one of the executives from the retail division saying, “One of our initiatives to acquire customers relies on a sweepstakes that we’re going to run in the first quarter of next year. One of the ideas we have for the sweepstakes is to do it with mobile devices in store, and it’s going to launch in two months. Do you think you can pull this off?” I said, “Absolutely not. I don’t think so, but I’ll give it a shot. If we can prioritize some locations, I will make sure that we get as many done by then as we can.”

What was the deployment to all your stores like?

SH: We started the nation-wide deployment doing 10-12 stores a day for two weeks! We shipped iPads right around the same time, turned on the promotion, and it went off seamlessly. In terms of the wireless deployment and having these things done in time to support the sweepstakes, it was a rousing success. My retail partners were extremely happy. I was actually shocked that we pulled it off!

Then I was told that we were acquiring the Canadian business from a franchisee. We had nine stores that I needed to bring over to our network. We purchased the MX60 security appliances and MS22 switches for the store locations, and went out on a weekend to replace the consumer grade routers they had out there. We have a Cisco Meraki MX80 head-end in Seattle, and we connected those stores over VPN back to headquarters.

What was one of the best things about the Cisco Meraki products?

SH: While the APs were being installed by a third party, we could immediately tell if they were plugging things into the right port. If they plugged something in the wrong place, we could say, “You need to plug that into port 16 instead of 17.” It’s really nice to have that kind of interface—we have full visibility down to the port-level on both the switch and the security appliance. I can see at a glance if I have a network issue at a store.

You’re also using Systems Manager to manage your store iPads. What do you value most about the MDM solution?

SH: If you’re looking at deploying a large number of mobile devices out there, you want the ability to manage them. If they’re lost or stolen, you want to be able to wipe that data. Over time, programs and promotions change. You want to be able to modify the applications on that device without having to ship them around or doing anything manual.

With Systems Manager, you’re applying an iOS profile using the same interface that you’re using to manage the APs. We got to the point where we could restrict the iPads, lock them down to do only the sweepstakes and some other functionality without worrying about employees installing other applications, consuming bandwidth, or doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing. 

Check out the recording of the live webinar to hear more on how Stewart uses Cisco Meraki for retail innovation at Tommy Bahama.