This is not a rags to riches story, but bricks to big business.
North Augusta native Lance Burnett grew up in the brick industry, meticulously layering knowledge about inventory and operations. But it was during a job with Rockwell Automation that he created a concept as intricate as a tri-tone herringbone.
“I’m an idea guy,” says Burnett, a graduate of Clemson University’s ceramic engineering program. “I saw RFID technology used in a couple of installations and thought that could be cool for the brick industry.”
RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. If you think that’s something you’ll never use, think again. Odds are pretty high you’ve held RFID in your hands, if you’ve attended a professional game, concert or event the past couple of years.
After Burnett’s aha moment, he spent a year developing high-tech tickets and software to interface with RFID readers, to capture real-time data and tailored intelligence while tracking cubes of bricks.
“I call RFID a souped-up bar code,” the 48-year-old says. “A bar code has to have line-of-sight to be read, and that’s challenging with construction materials that get covered in dust. RFID doesn’t need line-of-sight, and it can read multiple items. If I had a reader in here, it can read everything in this room.”
From 2004 to 2008, Burnett’s first RFID business, Stark Solutions, operated in the construction industry. But when the economy turned and brick sales slowed, he needed new applications.
“We kept getting asked about tracking people at events,” he says. “I was like, ‘We can do that. We’ve got the hardware.’ The first one we did was for a PGA Tour event at East Lake.”
By using tickets loaded with a microchip and antenna, organizers were able to monitor fan movements down to the second. They discovered the VIP tent was only 20% full at any given time, which meant they could sell a lot more $600 VIP tickets.
“I looked at it and thought it was pretty cool, but I thought it was just a fad,” Burnett says. “What do they say? It’s better to be lucky than good? That’s all we do now.”
Burnett waved goodbye to bricks, and rebranded the company Stark RFID. The company now serves more than 100 sports- and entertainment-focused clients seeking faster gate entry, with tighter control on access, security, fraud prevention and patron identification. The Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills are just a few NFL teams relying on Stark RFID’s badges, credentials and tags.
Two years ago, Clemson University started using the company’s wrist bands for student tickets to deliver real-time attendance numbers in specific sections at Death Valley.
— Stark RFID (@starkrfid) October 29, 2019
“The student ticketing process needed a refresh, both with policy plans and with operations,” says Graham Neff, deputy director of athletics. “The upgrade in technology has led to more engagement from our students. Additionally, the data available to our team on the back end has helped to drive continued process improvement.”
The big boom
A handful of employees huddles over computers and boxes of outgoing tickets at Stark’s headquarters in downtown Greenville. Staff has grown from Burnett and a contractor to 20 full-time engineers, software developers and client support specialists. Burnett is tight-lipped about sales numbers, but offers a prediction.
“We’ll grow 70% this year, probably double next year,” he says. “The last two to three years we were way early.”
Efforts to increase security and decrease fraud are driving some of the bump in business. Two years ago, Ticketmaster named Stark as its preferred RFID provider, as it moves away from print-at-home tickets. With prospective clients now coming to the company, Burnett took on investors to quickly add staff, hardware and resources.
“When Disney announced its Magic Band program, anybody we talked to in the last 18 months called,” Burnett says. “It legitimized us in terms of credibility. They want to be able to track patrons, see how long they stand in line, how long they stay at a particular attraction. How many people who enter go to a particular attraction.”
Some of Stark’s most exciting work is now at parks, museums and corporate centers, where RFID can provide a customized experience for each visitor. The Kennedy Space Center, College Football Hall of Fame and the International Spy Museum are three sites that now provide personalized greetings and interactions for each guest wearing RFID. Burnett is especially pleased with the experience the tags generate for those at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“RFID is making each exhibit accessible to all,” he says. “If I’ve checked (that) I’m hearing impaired, the display will know to generate subtitles when I walk up. In the beginning, RFID on a ticket was to protect the gate. But I’m happy we’re now looking at protecting the patron and enriching their experience.”
The Stark team is even exploring RFID digital ticketing that involves user’s phones for verification.
“We are in the business to enhance the patron experience through our identification technology,” Burnett says. “That’s why we do what we do. It’s as simple as that.”
In addition to the clients named in the story, Stark RFID also works with:
- Guinness World Book of Records
- Atlanta Braves
- Ripley Entertainment Inc.
- PGA Tour Shotlink
- University of Georgia
- Duke University
- University of Alabama
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Seattle Seahawks