Rent-a-Center CIO Opts for All-Wireless Store Systems

By going all wireless in all its stores, the nationwide chain prioritizes flexibility while maintaining security. (

With almost 3,000 stores in all 50 states, the Rent-A-Center retail chain needs to be able to expand quickly and easily.

But its business model allows for customers to rent and return merchandise with little notice, forcing store layouts to be flexible. What if 30 customers return mattresses to the same store tomorrow?

Tony Fuller, the CIO for the $2.3 billion retailer, knew that he needed store systems that were consistent—and therefore replicable—and as flexible as possible. He delivered an all-wireless in-store system.

"We have such small stores [about 4,500 square feet] and we have so much merchandise coming in and out. The dynamics of the showroom floor change from day to day," Fuller said.

"We have this hiring kiosk in the front of the store. A wireless network lets us put it wherever its convenient on any given day."

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The chain wanted to upgrade POS systems but "it didnt make sense to retrofit them with CAT5 [Category 5 cabling]. With wireless, within minutes, theyd be ready to go," Fuller said. "To wire 3,000 stores really wasnt an option."

One "big concern" was security of the wireless network, he said.

"One thing we required for our overall VPN: Encryption had to be hardware-driven. We did the same thing with all of the wireless terminals," the CIO said. "They were encrypted from each of the wireless terminals back to the access point. Its a mini-VPN tunnel."

Still, Fuller admits that a wireless network cant be made impregnable. "There is no way to make a wireless network invisible to the world," he said. "As much as wed like to, you just cant do it."

Lance Wilson, the director of wireless research for ABI Research, said there arent that many retailers who have gone all wireless, but the attraction of doing so is compelling.

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