When It’s Time for a Change

Things get old. They just do. And when they do, it becomes time to face the daunting project of looking at what you’ve got and at what’s involved (the time! the money!) to update them.


The Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC) is facing that exact situation. Its plan, to replace both its current enterprise resource planning (ERP) and point-of-sale (POS) systems, “is the largest project we have ever attempted,” according to Mike Hogan, commissioner.


Why do it? “The system in the central office is coming on 30 years; it dates from ’83,” said Frank Perricone, information technology (IT) manager for the DLC. Developed, like the point-of-sale system, in-house, the central office system “uses old hardware and old software,” Perricone continued. “It’s written in COBOL and uses a UNIX operating system. It’s hard to maintain. We can’t get hardware for it anymore and it is hard to write and maintain software for it.” Meanwhile, the POS system is almost 20 years old and uses phone lines to process credit-card transactions.


The entire system was built by the DLC, which continued to constantly improve it over the years, to meet its specific needs. “It was a cleverly designed system but it uses obsolete technology,” said Perricone. “And to replace any part of it at all now, we have to replace the whole thing.”


The Vermont Legislature has appropriated money for the project and the DLC is in the process of signing a contract with a vendor. This makes the DLC one of several control state agencies who are either thinking about, in the process of making, or have just made major changes to their IT systems.


Speeding up Progress


In Virginia, for example, all 333 state stores run by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) are now using a brand-new, state-of-the-art POS system. The system was rolled out to all the stores in record time, just under three months, according to the DABC. The last time the DABC replaced its POS system, nine years ago, “the roll-out took eight or nine months,” said Steve Fox, the DABC’s director of IT.


While the current roll-out took less than three months, it took the DABC, working in partnership with its computer company, 18 months to develop the system to its specifications.


“We wanted more functionality. We added touch screen panels and made the interfaces a little more friendly,” said Fox, “but the biggest thing we needed was a system that allowed us to remain PCI-compliant.” (PCI, short for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, is the set of security standards all organizations handling credit and debit cardholder information must meet.)


“With the ever-changing and fast-paced world of retail technology and the constant update to these [PCI] standards, [the] ABC is, and will be, continuously reevaluating and updating its systems,” Fox said.


The new upgrade replaced all the hardware and all the software in the 333 Virginia state stores and cost between $10 and $11 million.


The new POS system allows store staff to scan driver’s licenses with the same scanner they use on product. “The system will immediately tell you if the person is 21 and it will also tell you if the driver’s license is expired,” said Fox. “It just takes one quick scan, so it helps get people in and out of the store quickly.”


That’s not the only thing that’s quicker. “The touch screens make check-out much faster, the receipt printers are twice as fast, and because the interfaces are so clean and easy-to-use, training is very quick,” Fox said.


What advice does Fox have for achieving a smooth roll-out to stores? “We had a good, solid plan,” he said. The DABC ran a lab at headquarters “that completely mirrored a store, from soup to nuts,” he said, “and we used that to work out all the bugs.” Still, when the DABC began rolling out the system for real to the stores, it had a “war room” where stores could call immediately when they had any problems at all, to alert the DABC’s IT services team. And when updating a store, the IT services team would arrive between 4 and 5 a.m. and have the entire system up and running by 9, an hour before the store was due to open. “There was no down time for any of the stores,” said Fox.


Feel Good Technology


Last April, tornados and severe storms ripped through the state of Virginia, killing ten, injuring 100, destroying 212 homes and damaging more than a thousand others.


The people at the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) wanted to do something to help their fellow Virginians.


The DABC’s information-technology staff partnered with the people of the DABC’s wholesale/retail division to come up with a way for the point-of-sale system in Virginia’s 333 state stores to accept donations to the Virginia Disaster Relief Fund established by Governor Bob McDonnell.


State-store customers can donate money to the fund right at the point-of-sale, using cash, credit or debit. The POS system even automatically prints out receipts that customers can use to document their donations when filing their taxes.


“The last numbers I saw, two months ago, were that people had donated over $110,000 through the stores to the fund,” said Fox.


While the capability, which was developed entirely in-house by the department, is currently being used just for tornado relief, it can be used in the future to raise money for victims of other disasters. It could even – “God forbid,” said Fox – collect donations simultaneously for multiple funds if different disasters struck at the same time.


“It is a really cool project,” said Fox, “and from a business stand-point, it’s been a real brand enhancer for the agency.”


Improving the Customer Experience


The Idaho State Liquor Division (LD) also has a homegrown POS system in its 66 state stores. “We bought a pretty basic system many, many years ago – and we bought the source code with it,” explained Keven Lowe, the LD’s deputy director in charge of information technology and security. The LD is not at the point where it has to replace the system entirely. It has been working on updating the software and it is in the process of replacing store hardware to add 22-inch touch screens and 9-inch customer displays.


In a nice bit of sleight of hand, the LD plans to turn the old POS computers into customer kiosks. Customers will be able to scan products to see information and print out what they find on a small printer.


Gathering the information and content for the kiosks “is becoming a big project,” admitted Lowe. “We’re asking suppliers to provide a small picture, a description and drink suggestions for their products,” he said, “but we are also interested in providing our customers with local information. We’re asking local bartenders what’s popular in their areas too.” The LD hopes to have the kiosks in stores sometime next year.


Meanwhile, the IT team continues to look for and work on ways to improve their systems. One of the latest improvements was the addition of a website interface for licensees to input their orders, instead of calling or faxing them in. “The system will automatically suggest the store nearest to them or they can choose any one of the other stores,” explained Lowe, “and the system is kept updated, in close to real time, on what the inventory quantities are in each store. If the licensee’s store does not have enough quantity for the order, the system will alert the licensee and they can decide whether they want to wait for it to come into that store or choose another store to process their order.”


How does the LD, which has two computer programmers on its IT staff, decide what to update? “We are constantly asking store managers what we can do for them,” said Lowe. “We keep a constant bug list and work on it. And we look for larger projects; we discuss them at management meetings and decide which are worth the effort and how to prioritize them.”


Starting the Process


The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABCB) has put out a request for bid for POS software for its 168 retail/wholesale stores. “The last few years, we have run into more and more problems with the customer service on our current software,” said David Latham, the ABCB’s IT director. For example, every time the ABCB moves a store or swaps out a hard drive on a computer, their software reseller wants to charge them a $100 fee. “Since we have more than 300 devices running on the system, it can be quite a number, particularly for a product we’ve already paid for,” said Stephen Mitchell, the ABCB’s assistant director of infrastructure services.


The ABCB has discussed offering gift cards in its stores but has held off because of how much it would cost to write the software for it using their current system. Their current system’s software is proprietary, meaning that the ABCB cannot make changes to it without involving the vendor. The new system Latham has his eye on would be easier to customize and the ABCB could make changes to it on its own.


Latham said the ABCB should be able to evaluate its bids and have a contract within the next month or so, though any implementation would not occur until after the busy holiday season.


Developing the Plan


Meanwhile, back in Vermont, the DLC has chosen a vendor and the contract process is underway. The first step after that, said Perricone, will be the vendor documenting all the DLC’s current processes. “The vendor brings what it knows about retail best practices and about retail technology to the table, while we bring what we know, about how our business works,” he explained.


He said he thinks the whole process of implementing the new ERP and POS system will take a minimum of two years. “There’s a saying, ‘You can get it fast, cheap or right, but you can only have two of those things at the same time,'” he said. “My choice is not fast. These systems could last 10 years or more. We need to make sure it’s right.”


Still, it’s an exciting time, because the DLC has decided to take full advantage of the need to change systems, to look at all its business processes and see where they can be improved.


“This isn’t just about cutting-edge hardware and software,” said Commissioner Hogan. “Many of our business practices are good, designed for our unique needs, but others only make sense because of how our old system works or because things made sense long ago. This is our chance to combine the best of our current practices with the best of the retail industry and the capabilities of modern technology, to improve everything we do.”


Change, in other words, can be good.


A Profit Center


You try to make your stores as attractive and modern as you can. You try to provide great customer service, including product information, to the public. And in this age of budget cuts, you try to do all this with no increase in store staffing. Customer kiosks have been around for years, intended to help you do all this, and they continue to improve.


ChoiceMaster, a long-term provider of kiosks focused on liquor, beer and wine, for example, has just launched its newest customer kiosk, the ChoiceMaster Digital Signage (CMDS). The CMDS is still a touchscreen kiosk, equipped with a scanner and a printer, which customers and staff can use to look up information, such as tasting notes, on products. (And it is still linked to the store’s POS system so that all the products that it gives information on are in that store.)


But now it also is equipped with a 42-inch LCD screen. That screen can play advertisements, including supplier television commercials. In markets where legal, ChoiceMaster sells these advertising opportunities and, again in markets were legal, would split this ad revenue with the state’s control agency or the private retailer. Even with these national, system-wide ads, the only ads that will play in a particular store are ones for products that the store carries.


Control-state agencies could also run their own ads or public-service announcements. Custom content for the kiosks is easily made, using Power Point. Potentially, an agency could even sell ads to local businesses, keeping all the revenue. “The kiosk (which lease for $89 per month per kiosk) can pay for itself – and even make money,” said Jim Greaves, president of ChoiceMaster.


The large screen also attracts attention to the kiosk itself – and what it can do for the shopper. “Often, people prefer to ‘ask’ a computer a question,” said Greaves. “Frankly, they can be embarrassed, that they might pronounce something like ‘pinot noir’ wrong. People like that it is a non-threatening place to get their product information.” The kiosk can also, Greaves pointed out, be used by store staff to increase their own knowledge – and to find the answer to a customer question when they don’t know.


The new large screens themselves offer educational opportunities. They can even show live tastings, via a webinar, where the person on the screen can hear and respond to questions from people watching in different stores. (These tastings can also be recorded and reshown.) “All the store has to do [in markets where tastings are legal] is have someone there pouring the wine,” said Greaves.


The machine will do the rest.


 


2011 POS and Computer Systems Buyers’ Guide


ACCUPOS


AccuPOS provides award-winning point-of-sale (POS), inventory-management and time-clock software for the retail and restaurant industries. The AccuPOS family of products is designed to be faster and easier than a cash register and to streamline the sales process while significantly simplifying the backend. AccuPOS products, based on open standards, expand the capabilities of an existing accounting program and allow users to grow and change over time, without being locked into proprietary vendor products. Specializing in end-to-end integration, AccuPOS allows a business to view and manage sales and inventory details within the most widely used accounting packages: QuickBooks, Peachtree, Simply Accounting by Sage, BusinessWorks, Line 50 by Sage, Sage MAS 90/200.  Bundled POS solutions are available via fully supported hardware partnerships.  AccuPOS also offers a wide range of discount Merchant and Gift Card Services through its simple and fast onscreen interface. AccuPOS is headquartered in Los Angeles, CA with regional offices in 13 countries.  For more information, visit www.accupos.com.


ATLANTIC SYSTEM INC. (ASI)


Atlantic Systems, Inc. has offered POS computer systems for beverage alcohol retailers since 1980. The company provides complete systems including hardware, software, installation, training and long-term support. Spirits 2000 is a Windows-based software package that provides inventory and financial control for one store or a multi-store chain. High-speed integrated credit/debit card processing is done via the Internet. The system can identify a customer at the register using a bar-coded card or by entering the customer’s name or account number. Its Frequent Shopper Program can collect information on customer purchases and provide the retailer assistance in rewarding customer loyalty. Automated age verification and storage of results is available in most states. Targeted marketing can be done automatically by selectively filtering customer sales history and then contacting them via a mass email.  Gift card processing can be done through the retailer’s credit card processor or internally in the system, which eliminates processing fees. A web interface is available for e-commerce. Spirits 2000 can integrate with security camera systems to overlay text that displays the sale information on images at the time the sale is rung up. Spirits 2000 also includes tasting notes for products that the user can input and print out. A handheld wireless scanner with a mobile printer can be used for inventory counting, price changes, price labels, stock checks and line busting. Prices for the Spirits 2000 system start at about $8,500. For more information, call 732-280-6616, extension 127 or visit www.asi-nj.com.


BIGCOMMERCE


BigCommerce, launched in 2009, combines two systems into one: it’s an e-commerce platform and a marketing platform. BigCommerce is an all-in-one offering which includes web hosting, a domain name, an enterprise-grade e-commerce platform and dozens of built-in marketing tools (including the ability to list products on eBay, sell on Facebook and create Google AdWords campaigns for all products in your store. BigCommerce merchants enjoy higher conversion rates and more traffic to their stores. For more information on BigCommerce, visit http://bigcommerce.com or call 888-699-8911.


CAP SOFTWARE


CAP Software’s store-management system, SellWise, is currently being used by more than 100 wine and spirit retailers. The system provides POS, free integrated credit-card processing, inventory control, customer tracking, order/receive, tag and barcode printing, Fintech integration, and back office reporting. Additional features include optional video monitoring for security purposes, touchscreen support, hot keys and customized reports. Prices for the software start at $1100.  For a demo, visit the company’s website, www.capretail.com, or call 800-826-5009.


CASHIER LIVE


Cashier Live is a web-based point-of-sale system meant for independent retailers. The company offers a 30-day free trial. Its system remains free if the retailer signs up for a merchant account with one of the credit-card-processing companies Cashier Live partners with. Alternatively, retailers can pay a subscription to use the system. For more information, visit cashierlive.com or call 877-312-1750.


CHOICEMASTER DIGITAL SIGNAGE  (CMDS)


CMDS has teamed up with leading digital-signage partners to provide beverage-alcohol retailers with a customer-service system that can also, where legal, be used to show paid advertising from other businesses.  CMDS is a complete system that has an all-in-one computer featuring a 15-inch touch screen, a scanner and a printer.  It runs a 42 LCD screen that is mounted directly above the touch screen, to catch the attention of shoppers. CMDS ties into the POS system and provides information on the products carried in that store.  Where legal, the advertising can be shared with the retailer. There are lease options available that will cost the store less than $100 month before ad revenue.  Sources of ad revenue can be national or local.  Retailers can display store specials, current events like wine tastings or advertise local businesses. For more information call 410-745-8137 or email jgreaves@choicemaster.com.


FINTECH


Fintech is an EFT data and payment solution that allows retailers to pay their beer, wine and liquor distributors electronically, rather than by cash, check or money order.  Currently processing over 220,000 relationships, Fintech is the only company that has been approved by all 50 states as a cash equivalent for alcohol payments and data exchange.  For more information, call 1.800.572.0854 or visit us at www.fintech.net.


FIRST DATA


First Data, a global leader in electronic commerce and payment processing, serves more than 6.2 million merchant locations. It offers a range of point-of-sale terminals as well as complete point-of-sale systems, including its Payment Essentials™ Solution, which  bundles comprehensive payment services, state-of-the-art hardware and 24/7 customer service into one easy-to-manage bundle . For more information, visit www.firstdata.com.


GOVDELIVERY


GovDelivery maximizes direct connections with the public through digital communications. Over 450 government agencies use GovDelivery to send over 1 billion messages per quarter. Every day more than 30,000 people sign up to receive updates from the government by email, text message and through social media. For more information, visit www.govdelivery.com


INFOSOLVE


mPower Beverage is designed specifically for beverage-alcohol retailers. The Windows-based system is PCI-compliant, can run touchscreens, features customer-management and remote-access capabilities and can keep a store’s website’s inventory information up-to-date. The system automatically alerts the retailer to updates, which then can be downloaded, and features state-specific capabilities, such as minimum-pricing alerts, for states such as Connecticut, and the ability to handle wholesale business, for states where retailers can sell to restaurants, such as Texas and Kansas. The software costs $2,000 plus $1,500 for each additional register after the first. For more information, call 877-396-0141 or visit mpowerbeverage.com.


INFOTOUCH


This company offers two retail POS software packages: Store Keeper POS, a very affordable system for single-store retailers, and Store Manager ES, for chain-store customers and retailers whose operations have custom requirements. Both systems use touch-screens, are easy to use, and are certified PCI-compliant by Visa. Both systems support age verification, automatic case discounts, and multiple units of measure (buy beer by the case; sell cases, 6 packs, and singles with a single item).  Call (877) 849-6615 or visit http://infotouchliquorstore.com/ to see a video demonstration.


INNOVATIVE COMPUTER SOLUTIONS (ICS)


ICS has provided solutions specifically for beverage alcohol retailers for over 30 years and has systems installed throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. The company’s VISION system, a scalable application for stores ranging from a single register to multiple locations, can run on  Windows XP and 7, LINUX and MAC/OS. The POS module within VISION is designed to provide full register capability, including price look-ups, discounts, customer-special pricing (and history), periodic sales and frequent-buyer or award points tracking. Tasting notes and coupons can also be generated from the register. Complete PCI-compliant credit and debit card processing permits the customer to swipe their own card, enter their PIN and sign electronically. The Vision POS can be operated on a standard PC or a touch-screen system. A 2-D scanner can identify under-age purchasers and add customers to a store’s mailing/special pricing list. The back-office module provides inventory control, extensive reporting, sales analysis, purchase history, FIFO inventory level tracking, and physical inventory. Cashier accountability features allow a retailer to track all transactions down to the keystroke, both on the POS and in the back office. VISION is turnkey and includes hardware, installation and training at the store location. Complete systems start at under $6,000, including hardware which can also be purchased separately. Call 732-223-0909 or visit www.winepos.com.


INTELLISCANNER CORPORATION


IntelliScanner offers the Wine Collector mini, a tiny, wireless barcode scanner that automatically organizes wine collections. Wine lovers can scan the barcodes of bottles of wine they are interested in, at a tasting, in a restaurant, at a friend’s house, or in a store. When they get home, they download the information onto their PC or Mac by simply plugging in the scanner to download, just like a digital camera, and the included wine management software will automatically provide and record the wine’s information, such as name, winery, varietal, country and region, by accessing IntelliScanner’s database via the internet. Wine Collector mini starts at $279. For more information, visit www.intelliscanner.com or call 800-550-5470.


MERCHANT SOFTWARE CORP.


This company has specialized in point of sale software for liquor and beverage retailers since 1995. The current version of their award winning software, LiquorPOS™, is fully PCI/PA-DSS-compliant, conforming to the latest credit-card encryption and security mandates. Other features include full touch-screen capability, enhanced receipts with custom graphics and the ability to receive updates to the software automatically via the internet. LiquorPOS software is currently used in over 3,000 locations across the US, Canada and the Caribbean. The system comes pre-loaded with a database of 15,000 beer, wine, liquor and tobacco products to speed up a store’s installation. Its beverage retail specific abilities include driver’s license scanning for age-verification, inventory tracking of multi-pack products (such as beer sold by the case, bottle or six-pack) and the ability to handle keg and bottle deposits. The company also offers Go!POS™, a wireless inventory scanner, for use with the system. For more information, call 1-800-565-6675 or visit www.merchantsoft.com.


MICROSOFT DYNAMICS


Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail R2, the next iteration of Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail, is an end-to-end offering designed for midsize specialty retailers. The solution offers retailers a deep level of integration across point of sale, store management, supply chain, merchandising and financials to deliver business productivity and customer service in a single solution. It provides visibility from point-of-sale devices to the supply chain and the business insight needed to enable a real-time response to customer demand and build customer loyalty. Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail R2 is available in more than 50 countries. For more information, call 888-477-7989 Option #1 or visit www.microsoft.com/dynamics/retailsolutions.


NCR Corporation


NCR Corporation (NYSE: NCR) is a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business. NCR’s assisted- and self-service solutions and comprehensive support services address the needs of retail, financial, travel, healthcare, hospitality, entertainment, gaming and public sector organizations in more than 100 countries. NCR (www.ncr.com) is headquartered in Duluth, Georgia. For more information, call 866-431-7879, e-mail retail.contactus@ncr.com or visit www.ncr.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. It can handle 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.


RADIANT SYSTEMS


Radiant delivers solutions that enable retailers to drive traffic into their stores, sell more product and reduce their costs. Radiant’s user-friendly technology not only ensures that retailers have the right products at the right price; it also helps strengthen consumer interaction at all points of engagement. Components of the solution include CounterPoint POS and inventory management, email marketing, mobile alerts, integrated ecommerce, built-in gift cards, customer loyalty programs, mobile POS and hardware devices. For more information, visit www.counterpointpos.com or call 800-852-5852.


RETAIL ANYWHERE


Retail Anywhere is a developer of POS and retail management systems for wine and liquor store retailers. The company has more than 25 years of experience, helping retailers run their business efficiently and profitably while conforming to liquor laws imposed by the state in which they reside. Call 800-257-2734 or visit www.retailanywhere.com for further information.


RETAIL PRO


Retail Pro International is a global leader in point of sale, store operations, merchandising, planning, business intelligence, and payment processing software applications for the specialty retail industry with over 20 years of experience. Retail Pro is used by more than 52,000 retail stores globally in markets such as fashion, luggage, footwear, collectibles, gifts, home furnishings, sporting goods, and accessories. The solution is delivered through a global network of business partners to over 63 countries, translated in 18 languages. For more information, please visit www.retailpro.com.


RITE (Retail Information Technology Enterprises)


This company is an award-winning provider of Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System (RMS) and works with some of the largest liquor retailers in the country, with clients in over 40 states.  RITE has molded the Microsoft RMS product to meet the special needs of beer/wine/liquor retailers, including the ability to i

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