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COMPUTING PROFITS

WITH THE LATEST GENERATION OF SOFTWARE AND COMPUTER SERVICES, EVEN THE SMALLEST AND MOST SPECIALIZED OF RETAILERS ARE FINDING SYSTEMS THAT MEET THEIR NEEDS.

BY CHERYL URSIN

For the owners of Mac’s Liquor in Hopkins, MN, the first point-of-sale (POS) computer system they used was decidedly NOT a good fit.

“We had to uninstall it after a year of grief,” said Sue McCarville, who opened the store, with husband Dave and daughter Carrie, in 2002. 0507cmp

Jerry Stupka, owner of Jerry’s Wine Center, Broadview Heights, OH, uses Microsoft’s Retail Management System for both his retail store and in-store wine bar.

The system simply didn’t work. “It was down all the time,” continued McCarville. “If you tried to run two credit cards at one time, it would crash.” And when the store processed its credit card transactions manually, McCarville’s merchant credit provider charged a higher rate. On top of that, doing it by hand introduced frequent errors. “I opened up the credit card log files and saw $300 to $500 in lost revenue — and that’s just what I spotted!” she said.

Not only did the McCarvilles find their attention frequently focused on their recalcitrant computer system, but they looked unprofessional to customers while they struggled with it. “It’s frightening to think how many people didn’t come back because of long waits or because we didn’t look competent at getting our own registers working,” said McCarville. “Customers have actually commented to me, ‘You guys finally got those computers straightened out!'”

And the McCarvilles did.

After a lot of research, they settled on the Retail Management System (RMS), meant for small- to mid-sized retailers, from Microsoft.

The conversion to a new system was time-consuming, because of the old system. All of Mac’s Liquor’s data was in a proprietary format and couldn’t simply be exported. “We printed it all out, scanned it in OCR and tried to bring it into Excel,” explained McCarville. “Eventually, we just had to reenter it, which, with a little over a year’s worth of inventory information, was a huge job.”

ELIMINATE BAD SOFTWARE

But McCarville is so glad she did it. Her only regret is not doing it sooner. Before making the change, she ended up spending $3,000 for hardware upgrades, service calls with the system’s company and fees for independent consultants in an attempt to make the original system work better. “It was hard to admit that the program and everything we had done to fix it were a total loss,” she said, but her advice to other retailers: “Don’t keep trying to make a bad system work. You’ll tell yourself, ‘I’ve got so much into it, I have to stick with it.’ Well, don’t! Bad software has costs you don’t begin to foresee.”

Luckily for retailers these days, there are more systems than ever before to choose from. And developers seem to be paying special attention to “the last frontier” of retail automation, the small- to mid-sized independent retailer.

Microsoft has been quite aggressive in entering this market. Its Microsoft Business Solutions has been selling RMS meant for retail operations with from one to 25 stores. And two months ago, it launched Microsoft Point of Sale, meant for the smallest of the small, single-store operations, often with just one check-out lane, which had previously been using an uncomputerized cash register. “This has very much been an under-served group in the past,” explained Mike Dickstein, director of Microsoft Business Solutions’ Point-of-Sale Solutions. “These retailers had only a couple options: they could try to use a PC-based program that was meant for a much larger operation or they could use a cash register.”

At their most basic, point-of-sale and inventory-management computer systems automate the process of tracking product purchases and product sales. The system tracks what comes in — in the form of the retailer’s purchase of product — and what goes out — in the form of sales. Reports can be generated to show how fast items are selling, physical inventory can be checked against the computerized record to look for shrinkage, and the system can automatically alert the retailer of the need to order more of a product because it is selling out. beverage009

This all, of course, remains important. Todd Wielar, owner of two wine shops, Chapel Hill Wine Company and Hillsborough Wine Company, in North Carolina, uses Vision, a system designed for liquor stores and wine shops, from Innovative Computer Solutions. With a computerized system, he pointed out, “You can check on something easily — such as how much Champagne you sold around New Year’s last year. This year, we ordered the perfect amount, just right. Being able to do that saves you a bunch of money.”

Likewise, when Jerry Stupka, a former telecom executive, opened Jerry’s Wine Center in Broadview Heights, OH in 2002, his main focus, when looking for a computer system was inventory management. “My primary focus was on inventory,” he said. “I figured all the rest would follow from there.”

RETAILERS MORE SOPHISTICATED

But just as technology is becoming more sophisticated, so are retailers. Stupka needed a system that could not only track the inventory of a wine shop, it needed to be able to handle the sale of gift baskets and the sale of wines by the glass at Stupka’s in-store wine bar. Stupka chose the RMS from Microsoft, which could handle both situations. When a gift basket’s barcode is scanned, the system is able to subtract from the store’s inventory all the products in the basket, including the basket. And it prints out a receipt for the customer that lists the basket’s contents but without their individual retail prices.

When it came to the wine bar, Stupka didn’t want to have to install a whole separate restaurant system. “While Microsoft’s Retail Management System is a retail system and not a restaurant one, we were able to get creative and it works very nicely,” he said. The system uses a barcode for each of the 15 wines-by-the-glass and is able to decrement the store’s inventory by a single glass. And Stupka was able to set it to generate an interim receipt to use as the wine bar’s check that is presented to customers before they pay.

Perhaps the biggest development in inventory management that retailers are looking for is the ability to handle — or at least communicate with — a retailer’s e-commerce website. “E-commerce is part of my business plan,” said Stupka. “Maybe, by the end of the year, we might have gift baskets online.” When looking for computer systems, therefore, it was important to Stupka that they be able to grow in this direction. “You need to have the right kind of SQL-based database,” he pointed out. “We kind of thought forward and are now already set up for this.”

But computer systems — and retailers — have moved away from merely tracking inventory. “Customer relationship management, CRM,” said Stupka. “Keeping track of customer’s purchases: on the surface, that didn’t seem like that big of a deal. But I didn’t realize how beneficial that could be.”

Indeed, Jim McMillian, spokesperson for Innovative Computer Solutions, said, “Being customer-oriented, that’s where the business is going today. Five years ago, customer management was a primitive concept. Today, it is instrumental.”

Wielar, who uses Innovative’s system in his two stores, has been using its customer-management capabilities — and using them hard — since he opened the first store two years ago. “We put everybody into our system, we just ask them their name, and about 98% agree,” said Wielar. “We also have an email sign-up sheet and about 60% of all our shoppers put their addresses on it.” beverage003

“Keeping track of customer’s purchases: on the surface, that didnÕt seem like that big of a deal. But I didnÕt realize how beneficial that could be”– Jerry Stupka, Jerry’s Wine Center Broadview Heights, OH

One result of having this information is the ability to generate target emails. “I sometimes carry an obscure Spanish wine for $30. It has no rating or anything. I just like it,” explained Wielar. “I bought three cases of it, sent an email to everyone who had bought it before — and it was gone in 30 to 40 minutes.”

Wielar also began doing something he read about in Beverage Dynamics’s computer system article last year. “I generate a list of all customers who haven’t purchased anything from us in the last 90 days,” he said. “I send them an email offering them an extra discount. I definitely see results from doing this. For very little time, you can get instant returns.”

TARGETED CUSTOMER MARKETING

Wielar credits his ability to do such targeted customer marketing — “which makes the customer feel special” — with his stores’ phenomenal success. His sales have consistently grown by 20% per year since he opened three years ago.

At the Greene Grape, a wine shop in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, NY, customer purchase histories are also tracked. One of the biggest perks, surprisingly, is the ability to tell people what they bought the last time. “People ask that all the time,” said Jason Richelson, owner. “It’s been a huge thing.”

Stupka of Jerry’s Wine Center has also found that customers like that ability. In his store, they even ask what their friends have bought in order to pick out a good gift. “It’s almost like a wedding registry,” he said.

Stupka has built a list of about 3,000 email addresses, all belonging to customers who live within a five- to eight-mile radius of his store, and he sends them monthly emails. “That has been very helpful,” he said. “It’s worth a lot to us. Customer management has been a bigger benefit than we had planned.”

Mac’s Liquor, meanwhile, uses its system to track its wine club members, awarding them points for purchases and generating automatic discounts when they reach a certain level.

Greene Grape’s Richelson looked for certain abilities, such as integrated, Internet-based credit card processing and the ability to handle debit cards, and also found them in the Microsoft’s RMS.

“Another nice thing about RMS is that people are writing add-ons for it, some specifically for wine shops,” he said. For example, he has included an add-on called Automate 5.5 from a company called Network Automation. He has set that to automatically run specific reports from his store’s RMS system and email them to him every night. Another addition allows him to store customers’ encrypted credit card information on his system. “They can call and simply say, ‘Deliver what I got the last time,'” he explained, “and it’s done.”

Other retailers, such as Wielar, like going with a company that specializes in systems for liquor stores and wine shops, which is one reason he chose Innovative. “This is what they do,” he said. “There is a big difference between wine and liquor software and generic software, some of which do not do things the way we need to do them.”

Whatever a retailer’s priorities or preferences, perhaps the best sign that they have a good system is if they feel the way Richelson does about his. “I sure wouldn’t want any of the other wine shops in my neighborhood to use it,” he said. *


2005 COMPUTER SYSTEMS BUYERS’ GUIDE

ABSOLUTE SOFTWARE

This company’s software and Internet-based system can recover stolen computers. The Computrace software, which works on both PCs and Macs, automatically contacts the Absolute Monitoring Center via the Internet. In the event the computer is reported stolen, the monitoring center can track the computer, if it goes online, via its IP address or telephone number. Absolute will then work with local police to recover the computer. Some computers, including IBM ThinkPads, come with the Computrace software installed, ready for the owner to activate. The software can also be purchased, on a subscription basis, from Absolute. Call 800-220-0733 or visit www.absolute.com.

ATTITUDE POSITIVE

AccuPOS Retail is Windows-based point-of-sale software written specifically to be integrated with the most widely used accounting packages, including QuickBooks, Peachtree and BusinessWorks. Attitude Positive can supply a complete system, including hardware. Call 877-888-0880 or visit www.attitudepositive.com

ATLANTIC SYSTEMS, INC. (ASI)

Atlantic Systems, Inc. has offered POS computer systems for beverage alcohol retailers since 1980. Spirits 2000 is a Windows-based software package that provides inventory and financial control for one store or a chain. The company provides complete systems including hardware, software, installation, training and support. Integrated credit/debit card processing is done via DSL, cable modem or the Internet. Its Frequent Shopper Program (FSP) can collect information on customer purchases and provide the retailer assistance in rewarding the best customers with incentives. The system can identify a customer at the register using a bar-coded card or by entering the customer’s name or account number. The system also has the ability to create a mail-merge file compatible with MS Word. Prices for the Spirits 2000 system start at $10,000. For more information, call 732-280-6616, extension 27 or visit www.asi-nj.com.

CAM COMMERCE SOLUTIONS

Founded in 1983, CAM Commerce Solutions offers point-of-sale, inventory management, integrated accounting, customer management, credit card processing and e-commerce software and systems for small- to medium-sized retailers, including web retailers. The company can provide hardware, software, installation, training, support and payment-processing services. Call 866-840-4443 or visit www.camcommerce.com for more information.

CAP AUTOMATION

CAP Automation has been developing retail management software since 1978. Its store-management system, SellWise, is currently being used by more than 100 wine and spirit retailers. The system provides POS, inventory control, customer tracking, order/receive, tag and barcode printing and back office reporting. Newer features include optional video monitoring, for security purposes, touchscreen support, hot keys and report customization. Prices for the software start at $995. Visit the company’s website, www.capautomation.com, for a demo or call 800-826-5009.

CETECH

The latest version of Cetech’s system, Spirits 4.4, has several new features added to a system designed specifically for New York State wine and beverage alcohol retailers. Spirits 4.4 has been running in stores since 1987. New features include the integrated ability to scan New York State driver’s licenses as proof of age verification and the ability to use wireless or batch-mode mobile devices. Spirits 4.4 can be integrated with existing equipment or Cetech can provide all hardware and accessories. The company also offers web application development. Spirits single-user software prices start at $1,995. For more information, call 716-884-8780 or email ceh141@aol.com.

CHOICEMASTER, LLC

Having difficulty providing product information about the many hundreds of products you carry in your store to your customers and staff? ChoiceMaster offers a solution that can simplify staff training, build good will with customers and increase sales. With ChoiceMaster running on a touchscreen kiosk in the store, customers can find food pairings, recipes, party planning advice and more. ChoiceMaster can be linked to many POS systems, allowing price and inventory information to be updated automatically, and can be used in multi-store operations. For a demo of how ChoiceMaster works, visit www.ChoiceMaster.com or call 914-763-0891 for more information.

DATALIQUOR, LLC

The DataLiquor system, designed specifically for beverage-alcohol operations, is currently being used by over 170 stores. DataLiquor can provide a retailer with a complete system, including hardware. For more information, call 888-354-6227 or visit www.dataliquor.com.

DATASYM, INC.

Datasym Inc. has offered total point-of-sale solutions since 1984 and currently has over 500 installations in the retail beverage-alcohol market. For more information call 800-265-9930 or visit www.datasym.com.

ENSIGN SYSTEMS, INC.

The company’s POS-IM system for small- and medium-sized retailers is available in both Windows and Mac versions. A complete Mac system, including POS-IM software, Mac computers, training, support and peripheral hardware — can be leased directly through Apple’s own leasing program. POS-IM Premier for Windows will unveil a major upgrade in the fall. The company offers packages that include the POS-IM software, peripheral hardware, two days of training (at the company’s headquarters near Salt Lake City) and support at prices starting at less than $4,000. Call 800-409-7678 or visit www.ensign.com.

EZ MINER, INC.

This touchscreen POS system runs on a Windows XP platform. The POS system can be run, along with other software modules, such as inventory, or it can handle multiple terminals connected to a back-office computer. The POS system can handle customer-loyalty cards and can be used to verify the age of customers by reading the magnetic stripe on their driver’s licenses. The system features credit card processing and EDI ordering capabilities and can be used with wireless devices. Call 1-256-327-5021 or visit www.ezminer.com.

IBM

IBM provides a range of technology solutions for the retail store, including the most comprehensive family of retail-hardened, point-of-sale systems with a variety of advanced capabilities at a range of price points. IBM’s POS line includes the affordably priced IBM SurePOS 300, which offers the retail hardening and reliability for which IBM POS systems are known at a competitive price point, while the SurePOS 600 is designed for specialty retailers. IBM also offers a retail kiosk and self-checkout systems. More than 1,000 IBM Business Partners provide specialized software applications for retailers of all types and sizes. IBM provides hardware, software and services for many of the world’s leading retailers. For more information on IBM Retail Solutions, visit www.ibm.com/industries/retail/store.

INFOTOUCH

This company’s award-winning Store Manager touchscreen POS software can be used by single-unit or multi-store beverage retailers. The Store Manager system modules include real-time inventory, purchase orders, customer management, including accounts receivable, and employee management, including time and attendance. Standard features include case and quantity-based pricing, age verification, multiple units of measure, integrated credit/debit and label/shelf tag printing. Store Manager POS can generate over 100 different reports and also interfaces to popular accounting packages. It can be used with handheld inventory devices. System pricing starts at $1,600. Call 800-678-8682 or visit www.infotouch.com.

INNOVATIVE COMPUTER SOLUTIONS (ICS)

ICS has developed programs specifically for beverage alcohol retailers for over 25 years and has systems installed throughout the U.S. The company’s VISION system is a scalable solution for stores ranging from a single register to multiple locations. The POS module within VISION is designed to provide full register capability, including price look-ups, discounts, customer-special pricing, periodic sales and frequent-buyer or award points tracking. The back-office module provides inventory control, sales analysis, purchase history, FIFO inventory level tracking, and physical inventory. The cashier accountability features allow a retailer to track all transactions down to the keystroke. VISION is turnkey and includes hardware, installation and training at the store location. Complete systems start under $8,000, including hardware. Hardware can also be purchased separately. Call 732-223-0909 or visit www.vision.bz.

KRONOS INC.

Kronos is the most trusted name in workforce management. Kronos helps organizations staff, develop, deploy, track and reward their workforce, resulting in reduced costs, increased productivity, better decision-making, improved employee satisfaction and alignment with organizational objectives. More than 20 million people use a Kronos solution every day. Visit www.kronos.com.

MICROSOFT BUSINESS SOLUTIONS

Microsoft Business Solutions offers two POS systems for the small- to mid-size retailer. Its newest system, Microsoft Point of Sale, introduced in May, is meant to replace the cash register for small independent retailers. It can track customer sales histories, allows the retailer to monitor the store remotely, such as from home, and can be used with touchscreens. The estimated retail price for a single-lane license is $799. Microsoft’s Retail Management System is for small- to mid-sized retailers. It can be used in conjunction with Microsoft Great Plains to manage a multi-store operation from a central location. Packages of the Retail Management System software and hardware, such as a POS terminal with monitor, keyboard, receipt printer, cash drawer, scanner, and magnetic-stripe reader, are available from technology providers for estimated retail prices starting at $2,999. Both POS systems can work with Microsoft Office applications and popular financial software such as QuickBooks. Call 888-477-7989 or visit www.microsoft.com/BusinessSolutions/POS.

NCR CORPORATION

NCR Corporation’s Retail Solutions Division is a leading global provider of store automation solutions, including hardware and software, consulting and customer support services. NCR provides retailers of all types with the technology industry’s most comprehensive suite of solutions, including NCR FastLane self-checkout, NCR RealPrice electronic shelf labels and NCR EasyPoint interactive kiosks. Its POS solutions, including NCR RealPOS terminals and NCR RealScan bar code scanners, are designed to help retailers of all sizes improve customer service and operational efficiency. For more information, call 800-CALL-NCR or go to www.ncr.com.

PERFORMANCE RETAIL

PerformanceRetail offers a suite of web-based software and services that can provide retailers with business-intelligence, merchandising and store-operations abilities. The second generation of its InSite system is currently being beta-tested by ten convenience-store operations. For more information, visit www.performanceretail.com.

PROPHETLINE

Prophetline is a POS and retail management system for small- to mid-sized specialty retailers, including beverage retailers. Its systems include IP credit card processing, integrated web shopping and fully integrated accounting. Handling operations ranging from one store to multiple sites with centralized purchasing, Prophetline is a four-time winner of the Microsoft Retail Application Developer of the Year Award. Call 800-875-6592 or visit www.prophetline.com.

RETAIL ANYWHERE

Retail Anywhere, formerly AIM Systems, has offered PC-based POS software since 1981. In addition to Retail Anywhere POS, the company also offers Retail Anywhere Enterprise for chain operations. Call 800-257-2734 or visit www.retailanywhere.com.

RTC GROUP

RTC Group has been providing retail software systems since 1989. The company’s StoreMS application suite is designed primarily for operations with multiple stores. The system includes POS, customer loyalty rewards, gift cards and credit/debit/check authorization over a wide area network (WAN). Another enhancement, designed specifically for beverage retailers, provides automated electronic daily sales reports. The StoreMS POS software starts at $1,500 for a two-register store. Customer Loyalty Rewards and Gift Card modules are priced separately. Call 919-383-4588 or visit www.rtc-group.com.

SAGE SOFTWARE

Sage Software, formerly Best Software, specializes in business management software and services for small- and mid-sized businesses, with brands such as ACT!, Peachtree, FAS, Abra, MAS 90, MAS 500, ACCPAC, BatchMasterPFW, and more. For more information, call 866-308-BEST or visit www.bestsoftware.com.

SYMBOL TECHNOLOGIES, INC.

Symbol Technologies, Inc., founded in 1975, is a global leader in secure information systems that integrate handheld computers, wireless networks and barcode-date capture. For more information, visit www.symbol.com.

SYNCHRONICS

Founded in 1980, Synchronics specializes in business software for small- to mid-sized entities. Its CounterPoint POS and retail management products are available in several versions, some of which can handle integrated high-speed credit card transactions. For more information, call 800-852-5852 or visit www.synchronics.com.

UNICRU

Unicru offers a system that automates the initial stages of the hiring process. Job applicants fill out their applications on a computer workstation at the store or even online, at the company’s website. After the application is completed, the Unicru system then administers assessment tests to the applicant, testing for things such as dependability, honesty and management potential. The system scores these tests, ranks the applicants and also highlights any areas, such as a gap in employment history, which the interviewer will want to follow up on. Originally developed for large retailers — Unicru is used by several of the largest supermarket chains — the company has recently released its Midmarket Solution, meant for mid-sized independent grocery chains. For more information, call 800-933-6321 or visit www.unicru.com.

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