Maker of standalone kiosks moving from Franklin to Concord as it expands

  • Smoke rises as Tech Support Specialist Marshall Nye works on a circuit board for a kiosk at Advanced Kiosks in Franklin on Wednesday.

  • Howard Horn, founder and CEO of Advanced Kiosks, discusses his business at its present location at 20 Canal St. in downtown Franklin on Wednesday. Within a month, the company will move to the Concord Business Center near the intersection of Interstates 89 and 93. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Tech Support Specialist Marshall Nye works to power a circuit board for a kiosk at Advanced Kiosks in Franklin on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/9/2018 10:06:01 PM

There isn’t much that the founder of a small company likes more than accidentally running across one of his products in use, especially when it’s somewhere nice. Like overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

“We had done the tour, and were in the gift shop. ... My wife said Howard, come here, you’ll want to see this. She was right,” recalled Howard Horn, founder and CEO of Advanced Kiosks.

He found one of the company’s standalone interactive units standing with the iconic bridge in the background. A photo of this placement has made it to the company web page.

Advanced Kiosks has been designing, making and selling interactive kiosks for 15 years, including the last eight in the third floor of an old mill building in downtown Franklin. Within a month they’ll move to the Concord Business Center, near the intersection of Interstates 89 and 93, to get more floor space, their own loading dock, and to be closer to Manchester airport and the pool of prospective employees in southern New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts.

“To be honest, I didn’t think we’d grow this big,” said Horn, 55, a mechanical engineer who discovered the business of specialty kiosks after a customer requested one from his contract engineering business. Advanced Kiosks is now approaching $2 million in annual sales with 9 full-time and almost as many freelance employees – not gigantic, perhaps, but pretty good for a self-funded company that literally started in Horn’s basement.

And it is still growing, Horn said. Advanced Kiosks recently received GSA certification, allowing easier sales to the federal government. Its self-serve, touch-screen kiosks can be found around the country selling tickets at carnivals, guiding people through Arlington National Cemetery or around the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, allowing secure building access based on palm prints, even helping churches collect tithes from credit-card-using members of the congregation.

“They print out a receipt. You can put it in the (collection basket),” said Margo Bowie, the marketing manager.

When the credit card reader failed on the first unit sold to a church, Horn recalled, he got a frantic call from the pastor. “He said: Howard, you don’t understand – 80 percent of our donations come that way!”

Horn said this litany of uses by units in a variety of shapes and sizes is a reflection of a small company’s flexibility to meet customer needs even in the face of competition from global giants like NCR and Hitachi. Advanced Kiosks units now range in cost from a couple thousands dollars for desktop units to about $13,000 for double-sided, free-standing units with 55 inch displays and touch-screen interface.

All the kiosks are assembled on the operations floor in Franklin from components bought elsewhere – some off-the-shelf like displays and some, such as the sheet-metal cabinets, specially made. The company designs and builds its own electronics and, just as importantly, its own software.

Advanced Kiosks might be considered an example of manufacturing’s invisible economy in New Hampshire – one of many Granite State companies that thrive while creating and building niche products, but which draw little attention because they don’t sell directly to the public.

In fact, it exists in New Hampshire because of perhaps the state’s biggest invisible manufacturing industry: plasma cutters. Horn, who got his bachelor’s degree in Connecticut, was living and working with his wife, Tarra, and their children in southern New England before being lured to Hypertherm, the Hanover-based global leader in that business. For business and personal reasons he and the family have stayed.

The company ended up on the 3rd floor of an old mill in downtown Franklin, where it had to do everything from install wiring to cover failing windows, because it was available, cheap for the 6,800 square feet and had access to a shared loading dock. The space has worked well for them – among other things, Horn said he’ll miss eating at the Asian Delight restaurant around the corner – but it is time to move.

The biggest drawback to being in Franklin, he said, is that there’s no obvious way to drive there, which is intimidating to prospective employees. As an example, Horn notes that when he advertised recently for workers in Franklin, he got four decent resumes, whereas “I advertised for Concord and got 20, at least.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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