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How VR Helps This Company Save Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars While Sticking to Its Mission…

In this series, The Fix, Entrepreneur Associate Editor Lydia Belanger shares her conversations with founders and executives whose solutions to inefficiencies can inspire others to find new ways to save themselves time, money or hassle.

Traditionally, plans for brick-and-mortar stores are developed through physical prototyping. But when prototypes aren’t right, need to be revised or they’re no longer needed, they’re often thrown away or their materials are recycled. It not only costs money and takes time to have them built, but it’s also not efficient from a resource standpoint.

TreeHouse used to operate this way a couple of years ago. The home-upgrade retailer, which positions its offerings as “healthy and sustainable” alternatives to those found at Home Depot and Lowe’s, treated its first store, located in Austin, Texas, like a “petri dish,” says TreeHouse’s vice president of creative and design, Aaron Moulton. They’d use it to run pilots of store displays, and then a week later, the display would be tossed.

Image credit: Andrea Calo

 

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“That went on for about two months, and we went, this is kind of ridiculous, this feels like we’re doing something wrong that’s against the soul of the business,” Moulton says of all the waste.

So, they decided to change up the approach to developing stores.

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The executive team had been reading about the implications of virtual reality for retail store design. The idea behind it was to incorporate virtual reality to eliminate physical prototypes. Eventually they thought, why not just try it?

They knew very little about the technology or where to start, but they understood that they would need software to help with modeling architectural interiors, as well as hardware, meaning VR headsets. They also knew they’d need to somehow translate models into VR.

It was around this time that Moulton attended the Dwell on Design interior design conference and met some of the team from architectural VR software startup IrisVR. Their platform was exactly what TreeHouse had been looking for in a VR player. It hadn’t launched publicly yet, so TreeHouse got a private beta. The platform allowed TreeHouse to drag its architectural model into VR directly, Moulton says — in less than five minutes. It was super simple, and didn’t require Treehouse to hire a VR designer, which obviously saved the company money.