Never heard of a dark store? You’re not alone. Dark stores are a relatively new phenomenon. They’re essentially retail facilities without consumer-facing infrastructure. You can think of them as tiny warehouses, often the size of convenience stores, with workers prepping orders for pickup or delivery.
Unfortunately, finding facilities close enough to customers to allow for the fast delivery of perishable or nonperishable items, something that has come to be expected in 2022, is not always easy or financially viable.
“People are expecting everything to be delivered to their doorsteps in the shortest timeframe possible.” Gonen Gershuni, VP of sales at 1MRobotics, tells me. “If we look at warehouses across the U.S., you have big facilities predominantly located outside the dense, urban, metropolitan areas. They store many products, and they are costly, take a long time to develop, and it’s physically impossible to deliver from these warehouses to the urban market in a short timeframe like an hour. So you need a new type of infrastructure. This is where dark stores come in, but the problem is that all of those are manually operated.”
Enter 1MRobotics. Co-founded a little over a year ago by CEO Eyal Yair and COO Roee Tuval, both seasoned entrepreneurs, 1MRobotics develops automated dark stores. 1MRobotics’ goal is hyper-scale delivery, with the premise that storing products in close proximity to the urban market, in conjunction with automation technology, will ensure companies have the ability to swiftly fill orders.
How does it work? The process is relatively simple. It takes 1MRobotics’ systems approximately one minute to pick and pack an order. While orders are being prepared for delivery or collection, the delivery driver or customer is alerted that the pending order is ready for collection. Once outside the dark store, the person collecting the order scans a QR code. Robotics fetch their packages, and voila!
1MRobotics’ systems, otherwise called nano-fulfillment centers, can be deployed quite flexibly. One option for deployment is in pre-existing facilities, such as a store, warehouse, existing dark store, or pop-up location. Gershuni says that deploying 1MRobotics’ system inside a retail facility can take as little as one hour and 1MRobotics’ software and hardware solutions are integrated directly into their clients’ existing technology.
However, for those who need a physical dark store in under-accessed or trial locations, another option is to deploy the system in standalone units inside a shipping container. 20ft/30ft/40ft versions exist, and they can be dropped at a gas station, next to a mall, or even in a parking lot. 1MRobotics’ technology enables multiple physical dark store units to be deployed side by side, synced through software.
“Instead of requiring a warehouse the size of a traditional apartment building, which is a few thousand square feet, our smaller form factor and automation technology allow for speed to market, and a significant reduction in headcount,” Gershuni explains. “It’s an off-the-shelf solution. Typically, a warehouse requires between six months to a year to develop and launch. We develop and manufacture units and ship them ready for operation. It’s really plug-and-play. You receive it and you’re good to go.”
1MRobotics’ automated dark stores are designed for small to medium sized items. The company developed specialized grippers to handle all types of products, as well as a temperature control mechanism, which automatically adjusts the temperature for any frozen requirement, an anomaly in the industry.
1MRobotic promises to introduce efficiencies that aren’t possible with human workers. And yes, its nano-fulfillment centers essentially eliminate the need for human warehouse employees.
“People say to me it’s pretty dystopian to talk about a future without human operators,” Gershuni acknowledges. “First, I think it goes a bit beyond that because there is a huge challenge with resignations, which are skyrocketing. People are a lot more dynamic and aren’t staying put at any job these days. Second, workforce retention is difficult, especially with physically intense, injury-prone work, and people are a lot more hesitant to even take on these jobs.” Gershuni compares the automation of nano-fulfillment centers to the automation of the automotive industry, which has thus managed to achieve large cost-savings across the board and expedite production.
1MRobotics developed two solution types to support companies in a variety of industries. The first system, Genesis, is built for the needs of retail and consumer packaged goods (direct-to-consumer) fulfillment, with narrow product assortments. The second, Flexsis, is built for the unique needs of on-demand rapid delivery, and other types of businesses that have a deeper and more diversified product assortment.
1MRobotics offers clients two cost structures: a per-order fee or a fixed monthly fee per system deployed. The company already has clients in four continents and is committed to providing physical support to its clients in their geographical locations.
“We’re seeing great traction and customer interest in various retail sectors,” Gershuni says, “For example, consumer electronics, convenience stores & groceries, cosmetics, auto-parts, and more, which shows there’s great need for this type of solution.”
Covid led to an increase in customer expectations, and Gershuni believes dark stores are the next frontier in the retail market. “According to recent studies, there are already 11,000 dark stores deployed globally, with projections of 45,000 dark stores in the year 2030,” he notes. “So this is here to stay and will expand even further – our goal is to be the infrastructure anchor as this retail revolution unfolds.”