Brookstone is a nationwide retailer specializing in innovative, unique, and useful consumer goods paired with an experiential shopping experience. The Brookstone team is dedicated to consistently improving the shopping experience for their customers, and they are able to focus their efforts on this high-level mission with the reliable, no-nonsense network that Meraki cloud managed wireless and switching solutions provide.
Don Gingras, Chief Architect of Security and Infrastructure for Brookstone, and his team turned to Meraki after encountering managerial challenges with their previous networking solution. Prior to Meraki, Brookstone relied on a third party vendor to install and manage their WiFi network. “We increasingly became more and more frustrated at the lack of visibility on our end. We only became aware of problems when the stores called us about it,” said Kyle Masters, the Help Desk Manager for Brookstone.
Rock-solid WiFi coverage had become increasingly important to the Brookstone store experience, where associates and customers required access to detailed product information for the company’s thousands of products. Brookstone’s former WiFi network proved unable keep up with this increased need for reliability and traffic capacity. In the time it took a store associate to report a network issue, the customer’s shopping experience had already been compromised; that wasn’t good enough for Brookstone.
The team began looking for a new solution that would offer the visibility and managerial abilities they desired. They did a proof of concept with the Meraki cloud managed solution, and “fell in love with the Meraki technology, especially the ease of use, accessibility, and how simple it was to set up,” shared Doug Reczko, Operational VP of IT at Brookstone. In each Brookstone store, there is now one MS 8-port Switch with a MR32 802.11ac Access Point wired into it. From there, depending on the size of the store, several other MR32 APs connect via mesh to provide fast and seamless connectivity for all business users, without having to cable the entire store.
With nearly 225 stores across the United States, the simple, scalable mass-management inherent to the Meraki platform is a necessity for Brookstone. The team is able to log into their Meraki management dashboard and instantly see all of their locations, learn which sites are running smoothly and which sites need attention, and drill down into specific devices for further insight and troubleshooting. With custom role-based admin functionality, Brookstone can decide which team members are granted full permissions or read only privileges in this powerful dashboard. Since all hardware is managed through the cloud, this deep visibility and management is accessible from anywhere in the world.
When initially deploying their Meraki wireless APs, the Brookstone team put together basic installation instructions and shipped the gear to third-party field technicians. The team preconfigured all the devices in the Meraki dashboard, so the field technicians needed only to plug in the devices and they instantly downloaded their unique settings from the cloud. The field technicians were then able to perform site surveys with the tools built directly into Meraki access points, such as RF optimization and heat mapper.
As soon as the APs were plugged in, the Brookstone IT team could monitor how they were performing through the dashboard and make any changes they desired. “The quality of the equipment was far and away above the quality of the equipment that was there previously. I think that it just covered better, and the fact that we were able to know that it covered better really cemented our comfort level with the purchase. That was a big improvement for the WiFi in the stores,” shared Kyle. “Once we installed the Meraki equipment, you could see the wheels start to turn in employees’ heads with the possibilities this opened. They’re using the WiFi joyfully now,” added John.
To deploy their fleet of Meraki switches, Brookstone relied on the same third party technicians to install and wire their distributed stores according to their instructions. They asked the technicians to leave open-ended cables in specific switch ports, so store managers could later plug in their new credit card pin pad machines. Using Meraki port-level visibility, the team was able to see if the correct cables were plugged into the correct ports, all the way from headquarters. “This saved significant hours of aggravation at the store level. Rather than just assuming the cables were there and waiting for store managers to report issues, we could go to the installation team and show them what was missing,” said John. “If we couldn’t do that cable test, we would have had multiple stores on go-live day that would have found there was no place for them to plug their equipment into. All the scheduling, all the software coordination leading up to that day would have been wasted.” Thanks to the plug-and-play functionality and remote management capabilities, the entire Meraki deployment took only four weeks total.
The deep visibility Meraki provides across all product lines has helped Brookstone save significant time and money. Rather than waiting for store employees to report connectivity issues, the team can monitor all their equipment and use built-in troubleshooting tools to proactively resolve any issues. The intelligent topology mapping features on the switches and live tools, such as packet capture, have even helped Brookstone troubleshoot their third party firewall. “Having a way to prove everything is good or if things need to be corrected before we have problems is just priceless,” said John.
In one instance, a store with the new APs had 4G costs going through the roof, and the Brookstone Internet provider was unable to provide any further information. “In the Meraki dashboard, we saw the same spike – but we could tell what device it was and what application it was,” shared the team. Through the Meraki APs, the team was able to identify and block the bandwidth hogging application across all their locations, settling the issue quickly and in-house. “We were able to keep allowing things we had to allow, block things we had to block, and it was almost instantaneous across the board. This was very empowering.”
With such functionality, the Meraki solution has empowered Brookstone to bring more of their IT back in-house. “We can now identify a problem and react right away, of our own accord, and make a change that is instantly in effect in all stores; this has been very well received by other parts of the company,” shared the team. “Meraki strikes a nice balance between being able to make powerful changes without being bogged down in all the gory details; you can get into it as far as you want,” said Kyle, whose team members actively manage the Meraki network.
The interoperability across the different Meraki products and ability to view them all under a single pane of glass was a big initial driver for the Brookstone team toward Meraki. This unified management as well as the high overall functionality they have experienced with Meraki switching and wireless solutions have inspired the Brookstone team to look to Meraki security appliances and MDM for their next refresh. “From a strategic point of view, to have the whole Meraki line so it all works seamlessly is a big thing. We are moving Brookstone to the latest technology to be able to service our customers much better while improving our efficiency.” The team has not yet made use of the built-in Bluetooth capabilities the MR32 provides, but “we know Bluetooth and Meraki technology will set us up well for changes down the road. We intended to future proof ourselves,” shared the team.
As the team looks to expand the benefits of their network to store guests and other teams within the company, they know that the regular feature updates and reliable support Meraki provides have set them up for long-term success. “My goal as an executive is to bring our services to a higher level and do it better, faster, and for less; the Meraki tools allow us to do that,” said Doug.