Here are 10 key questions you need to ask your EPoS supplier

You know electronic point of sale is a ‘good thing’ but maybe you’ve heard horror stories about IBDs buying dodgy systems? Here’s how to sort the wheat from the chaff...

A study by IBM found that 3 percent of turnover is usually ‘lost’ through a non-EPoS till, usually by miskeying. Install EPoS and you will stop that three percent loss. Do the maths to see how much of a saving this would be for your store.

Then consider all the management-enhancing tricks that a good EPoS system also offers.

And staff pilfering can also be reduced: an EPoS system tracks sales and any ‘unusual’ transactions create patterns that are easy to spot. Unfortunately, EPoS take-up in the bike trade has been hampered thanks to the poor support offered by bike trade specific companies who bit off a little more than they could chew. Bad news travels fast. But get this: EPoS users in the bike trade with hair turned grey thanks to EPoS companies who didn’t provide systems that could live up to the sales blurb, will never, ever go back to manual tills.

Electronic point of sale systems – once set up right – are time and money savers. A good system can identify each item you sell, provide a price for the item and record the sale of the item. In addition it will provide you with information on sales and profitability down to item level, suggest reorders, process orders, print labels and link to an accounts system. A good system will allow information to be retained as long as required. It should be ‘real time’ so that a sale on one terminal immediately updates the information available at all other terminals, including multi-branch and on websites. It should be simple to use and at least as reliable as a traditional till. Yet selecting a suitable EPoS system can be a daunting and confusing task. Sales demos make even the duffest of systems look excellent and whatever you ask the salesperson the answer is always “Yes, of course, it can do that.”

Only after you’ve shelled out your cash and installed the system do you trip over the shortcomings and tear your hair out when the system crashes on a busy Saturday. Everyday tasks that you thought would take minutes, take hours. Doh! EPoS is meant to be a business tool, don’t buy the first system you see demonstrated. Don’t be afraid to talk to IBDs who have been using particular EPoS systems for some time. Ask for more references and drill them for the system’s bad points (the EPoS supplier has already given you the good points).

Here are ten important questions to ask an EPoS supplier:

1. Is the EPoS software robust? Are system crashes the norm? And if you have a catastrophic failure that may or may not be your fault, will you be helped back on your feet ASAP? And what’s the supplier’s definition of ‘ASAP’?

2. Support. Is it there? Are you confident there are enough bods in the support department to service the client list now and in the future? This has been a key failure of bike trade specific EPoS systems in the recent past.

3. Who does your product file maintenance and updating? Do not under estimate how much time it takes to maintain products and prices. It can take from a month to three months of a key person’s time in a year to maintain the product file. It is a drain on resources for you to have to enter in all the information when suppliers bring out new ranges or change prices? Does the EPoS system come pre-loaded with key lines and are they easily updated by email?

4. Can you see reports on screen as well as on a printer? Make sure that you don’t have to send all your reports to printer. It can be slow and use an enormous amount of paper. If you can see reports on screen make sure you can go backwards and forwards through the pages. If you can’t go back, and many systems can’t, you will waste a lot of time scrolling through pages.

5. Can the system run a series of jobs overnight? For instance can it automatically close end of month; print valuation reports and movements reports for month end audit; communicate with other branches; receive pricing and availability information from your key suppliers and, finally, make a tape backup of the system as a single task? If it can’t you may have to tie up screens, printers and your valuable time during the day, or worse, stay late at night to complete the jobs.

6. Can the re-order system adapt as your business changes? Can the system perform intelligent re-order suggestions that adapt themselves by learning about the popularity or non-popularity of items? Can it learn what the sales rate is of any item that you stock? You may be left with a system that relies on static information only, such as minimum and maximum stock levels that you set up manually, probably by guess work. As you are likely to have many thousands of SKUs it is a mammoth task to constantly review the min and max stock levels for each and every item. Chances are you won’t bother because it requires so much effort. This will then make your re-order suggestions next to useless.

7. Can you instantly see on-screen sales and margin information? If a salesperson calls and offers you a special deal on a specific product, can you instantly see on screen how many of that item you have sold in the last week, last month, each month this year and what profit you have made on that item in all these periods, or would you have to run a report to printer that has to trawl through daily log files for hours to give you the answer?

8. How difficult is it to temporarily suspend a sale? Imagine this, a queue of customers are waiting to pay at the checkout. As you are ringing through a sale for a customer, he asks to buy an item you’ll have to go in the ... Article continues below

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to get. Do you simply press a button to layaway that sale for later recall when he comes back, or would you have complete the partial sale, then credit it out before you can serve the other customers in the queue? Some older systems can be a real pain when it comes to layaways.

9. Do they dongle? Who owns the rights to the software? Is it the EPoS company or have they bought in a software package from another supplier? (PS a dongle is a software ‘license key’).

10. Do you need bike-trade specific EPoS software? Is the bike trade really, truly different to mainstream retail?

NOTE: the IBD clients of the EPoS systems that follow were supplied to us by the EPoS companies themselves. The inclusion of the IBDs does not necessarily mean they rate that particular system.


VECTOR – CSY
Steve Cooper, national sales manager of Nottingham’s CSY Computer Systems Ltd., doesn’t think the bike trade has particularly peculiar needs:

“Christmas clubs are one of the things said to be unique to the bike trade. But motor factors have Christmas clubs too. You just set up a reverse account and start taking payments. Secondhand sales need different VAT amounts, and we worked that one out for jewellery trade clients. Hiring is very straightforward; we deal with tool hire shops. The bike trade doesn’t do anything that’s outside the scope of our normal software,” he said.

“Industry specific EPoS suppliers try to tie themselves in to industries and make [EPoS-provision] look more difficult than it really is.”

CSY was founded in 1989, has 20 staff and is the approved EPoS provider for the British Hardware Federation (“100 year old shops with 100-year old staff members,” joked Cooper).

Software problems are solved via modem dial-up. Hardware problems are solved by a next-day ‘box-swap’ service. The CSY EPoS software is called Vector and is DOS-based but has a GUI front end (ie graphic user interface) and looks as user-friendly as Windows. The keyboard is especially neat, with idiot-proof keys, injection-moulded with words such as ‘invoice’, ‘receipt’ and so on. The user’s data is stored on site (“zip drives are cheap,” said Cooper) and is never stored by CSY.

“We haven’t got the time or the interest to look at customer’s data,” said Cooper.

“Customers don’t owe us any money at any time so there’s no reason for us to want to know about their business.”

The Vector software is owned by CSY, there are no dongles to be wary of ie no third-party waiting in the wings to claim ownership – and maintenance fees – for the software. CSY has been targeting the bike trade with mailshots for three years but it was only late last year that the first bike shops came on stream, a reflection of the turbulence in the bike-trade specific EPoS in 2001. Cooper doesn’t believe the bike trade has unique trading characteristics In essence, the Vector software is the same for every trade that CSY deals with. However, there are bolt-on parts which are trade-specific. Garden centres have a plant-care database hooked up to the software; the cycle trade has a workshop module.

Vector is ecommerce enabled and can handle real-time website/shop stock levels. All the usual data warehousing – ie management reports – can be generated by Vector but perhaps one of the most interesting features is a simple database tool that prompts salespeople to sell add-ons. When a particular product is scanned into the till a prompt kicks in reminding the sales person to ask whether, say, batteries are required with the LED light being bought. The list of linked products is defined by the shop’s manager and could also be tied in with seasonal promotional items. Discounts – to customers with cash or CTC members or to staff – can be handled easily. Password-protected ‘trade customer’ discounts can be set up so the profit being lost by each increase in the discount can be displayed graphically. Another part of a sales equation could be the length of time the particular product has sat on the shop floor. Vector displays the discount structure and also displays the sales history of the item in question. In effect, the system offers sales guidance.

Check the data fast and not even the nosiest of rubber-necked customers will see how far they can take you down.

Cooper said that a good EPoS system’s ability to monitor profitability and adjust pricing and margins on a daily basis to respond to cost price changes typically leads to margin increases of 5 percentage points and above over manual methods.

For example, the average gross margin in independent hardware stores is around 38 percent according to the British Hardware Federation but a typical hardware store equipped with Vector makes over 50 percent gross margin.

PRICE: A Vector software license and a management terminal and keyboard (a basic set-up, suitable for a one-site IBD) costs about £7500. Lease purchased over three years this is £54 a month. This price includes delivery, wiring, installation, training courses,12 months warranty and hotline support, and free software upgrades for 12 months.

CLIENTS: Billys, Cambridge • Big Foot Bikes, Hayes

CONTACT: Tel: 0115 948 4848 http://www.csy.co.uk


STOCKTURN (Madison)
Stockturn has been providing EpoS systems to the cycle trade for more than twelve years. Its website pulls no punches when it comes to certain elements of the competition:

“How much more money are IBDs prepared to waste on fly by night EpoS systems? How many more lacklustre EpoS systems are going to be sold simply on the back of a night out with a charismatic but persistent salesman before the penny drops?”

Instead, says Stockturn, IBDs should be looking for an EPoS systems from a long established, reliable, well-funded, well-supported and well-respected company with a proven track record. Stockturn claim to have a very loyal and committed customerbase.

“Even when customers have migrated to other systems, Stockturn has often seem them return.” As well as bike shops, Stockturn is used by jewellers, DIY shops, and outdoor sports shops.

“Some customer suggestions from one trade can often have uses in the other trades,” said Stockturn’s Brian Davis.

“For example: we did BOGOFFS - buy one get one free - for DIY and it’s been used for special offers in bike shops, free inner tubes if you buy certain tyres for instance.”

Stockturn believes the cycle trade does have special requirements when it comes to EPoS:

1. Tracking of frame numbers against bike sales Busy workshops requiring an easy-to-use workshop system that is fully integrated with rest of system.

2. Mail order system, again fully integrated with rest of system. These systems need to produce picking notes, documentation and mail order labels.

PRICE: A one till, one back office system will cost £58 on a 5 year lease. This includes all hardware, software, training package, network cabling and installation. Systems are all email/internet ready, and include the Madison stock file updated weekly via email link.

CLIENTS: Evans Cycles, eight shops and warehouse • Mud Dock Cycles, Bristol and Exeter.

CONTACT: Tel: 0870 120 1584 http://www.stockturn.com


PoS-iT – CMS I.T. Ltd Users of the Mane Systems EPoS package (which later turned into Mane.com, and then into UK EPoS before founder and salesman Neil Delafield was ousted) were usually surprised to learn that the software that powered the system wasn’t owned by Mane. PoS-iT was the dongled property of CMS I.T. Ltd. When Mane.com went down, CMS stepped in to support customers left in the lurch and is now selling its product direct to IBDs.

PoS-iT is used in chandleries, home furnishing stores, DIY stores, golf shops, and jewellers. It’s also used in a convenience store operated by CMS itself.

“We encounter all the peculiarities of retailing, stock and cash control on a daily basis. This gives all our staff an extra depth of knowledge and means that customers can ask us "How do you deal with seasonal stock, selling split packs of batteries, forward ordering and so on,” said Diana Bracher of CMS.

“We feel we are more than just an EPoS company as most IBDs are more than just about selling bikes. It’s the service that counts and keeps your customers loyal."

PRICE: Basic till systems start around £6000 including installation and training.

CLIENTS: Cycleworks UK, Farnham • Mosquito Bikes, London

CONTACT: Tel: 01409 254 145 http://www.cmsit.co.uk



CYBERTILL
The CyberTill EPoS system is billed as “the evolution of retailing.” It’s an EPoS system with client data stored on Cybertill’s virtual private network and has a built-in, real-time e-commerce interface.

“CyberTill is unique because it puts the retailer on top and the stock control and e-commerce benefits of this state-of-the-art system on tap,” said Cybertill’s Ian Tomlinson.

“For the first time ever retailers can experience the advantages of a combined EPoS and e-commerce solution that brings with it increased efficiency, improved accessibility and significant cost savings.”

CyberTill is an Application Service Provider (ASP) with clients linked via a private communication network to high security databanks where individual data files are constantly cross-checked and up-dated to provide the retailer with up-to-the-minute stock and cash flow reports. The CyberTill ecommerce website enables shop customers to sign-in and check their own accounts, balances and outstanding orders as well as viewing new product lines downloaded from the manufacturer’s own web pages on the internet. Because of the ASP feature, CyberTill is said to be so stable “data fixes and back-ups will be a thing of the past” and there will be “no more loading on up-dates or bug fixes.”

Cybertill also features a postcode database for easy customer address detail capture. There’s also the ability to set up multiple selling prices - retail, web, ‘trade’ (ie discount) or staff, and Cybertill has the ability to link to suppliers’ B2B sites for ease of reordering.

The benefits of using CyberTill are said to be:

* Reduction in stock-holding of at least 20 per cent, freeing capital for other uses

* Pinpointing of the most profitable lines, enabling shops to negotiate better discounts with suppliers

* Cheaper hardware support due to absence of Novell or Windows NT file servers

* CyberTill is said to be more robust that other EPoS systems and continues working even when the retailer’s hardware fails.

PRICE: A system including e-commerce, touch screen till and back office workstation will cost in the region of £8500+ VAT.

CLIENTS: TBA

CONTACT: Tel: 01744 692900 http://www.cybertill.co.uk


ABACUS – ABACUSONLINE LTD.
The new 32-bit version of Abacus offers many new features including a fashion matrix, Windows/GUI front end, and advanced sales order processing for mail order and web order processing.

Abacus have been supplying and maintaining stock control, epos and accounting systems for over 15 years.

The rights to the Abacus software is owned by the founder and creator Nick Lee who is the managing director of Abacusonline Ltd. It is sold on a licence basis providing the right to use the software.

"We offer seven day support including out of office hours. Support is provided by our own employed technicians who are fully trained on both hardware and software," said Lee.

Abacus includes the Royal Mail postcode database for easy entry and validation of customer address information. It also features a direct marketing system using Word, email, label or sms text message. You can have multiple selling prices - retail, web, trade and mail order. There are direct links to many major suppliers' B2B sites.

All reporting can be done directly to any available printers or can be stored or displayed on screen, with full graphical scrolling and movement. Also included within the system is a full workshop processing system, a fully integrated accounts system, eft chip & pin processing from within the till screen, and automatic interface to Bike Register.

“The cycle industry is not unique when it comes to retail management requirements. Our experiences have clearly shown that any EPOS/retail management systems supplier cannot isolate itself to the cycle industry alone," said Lee.

"Recent events concerning bike trade specific Epos systems clearly show that suppliers need to establish a solid client base that will generate enough revenue to sustain the business and allow for future development.

“The Epos supplier’s graveyard is full of companies that have tried to bundle low cost Epos solutions and assumed that by doing this it will bring in volume sales. Low-end users will still create a support overhead that will outweigh any small profit made on the initial sale.

“We believe that the only effective way forward is to introduce Abacus into similar markets. This will increase our potential user base and help the product move forward with new features and ideas. This will subsequently benefit cycle retailers, resulting in a retail management system that is full of useful features enhancing ideas incorporated from other retail sectors. All this combined with a fast response UK wide service organisation ensures customer loyalty and satisfaction.”

PRICE: The standard Abacus Point of Sale system, including the hardware, starts at around £1500 (depending upon choice of equipment). For this you get a PC-based till, an impact printer, a report printer, the system software, a cash drawer and a barcode scanner.

CLIENTS: Dales Cycles, Glasgow • The Bike Factory, Chester • Julies Cycles, Leicester • Terry Wright Cycles, Deeping St James • Rutland Water Cycling •Activ, Folkstone • Geoffrey Butler Cycles, Croydon • Stewart Wilson Cycles, Stirling • Stif, Leeds • Bicycle chain • Ben Hayward Cycles, Cambridge • Biketreks, Ambleside • Eric Burgess Cycles, Padiham • Dave Bater Cycles, Bristol • Ian Brown's, Guernsey • Mark Pickford's, Jersey • Biketrax, Brentwood

CONTACT: Tel: 0870-4428240 http://www.abacusonline.net


COUNTERBALANCE UK EPoS Retail Solutions
UK EPoS, the EPoS company founded by Neil Delafield in order to exploit the programming skills of co-director Frank Stirling has been reformed, with Delafield ousted, Stirling becoming a director of the new company (UK EPoS Retail Solutions Ltd) and IBD Dave Shaw of Birstall’s Factory Direct Bikes becoming managing director. Shaw was a Mane EPoS customer and liked the product, especially when Mane was collapsed in favour of UK EPoS. As a user he saw the benefits of all the extensive software development by Frank Stirling – the non-PoS-it software was called Counterbalance - but was never taken with Neil Delafield’s business methods:

“I saw a lot of potential in Counterbalance. It was worth pursuing. But with UK EPoS having no funds and with a lot of aggravated customers it was clear something had to change.” Neil Delafield was persuaded to leave the company.

“It’s easy to be charismatic. Easy to make promises but you’ve got to fulfil those promises,” said Shaw. “As a user of [the product] I think kindred spirits will get on better. Some people may not like the fact I have a shop but most will realise that I have the same vested interests as them in making [this product] work for bike shops.”

Current users of UK EPoS software will continue to be supported by the new company (now called UK EPoS Retail Solutions Ltd), and no new ‘support’ fees will levied until any contract signed with Delafield’s UK EPoS has run its course. Shaw is an IBD with a background in IT. He has worked with computers since 1971, including working as a systems manager for a steel stockholding company. He founded Factory Direct Bikes in 1996. He told bikebiz.co.uk that before Counterbalance goes live it will have been tested and retested. IBDs will not be guinneapigs, developing the software as major glitches are spotted.

Instead of visits from Delafield and Stirling to load software onto PCs, Shaw believes a better route for new users will be hardware pre-loaded with the UK EPoS software. The hardware is said to be provided at a little over cost or can be provided by the client.

“The cycle industry does have some quirks,” said Frank Stirling.

“We have developed modules for Counterbalance which are used specifically within the cycle industry but we will try to make the terminology on the screens fairly generic so that they can be used across various industry's so, for example, we don’t refer to ‘Bike’ in the workshop book-in screen, using ‘Product’ instead.

“IBDs tend to believe that their shop’s methodology is unique to them and that no other IBD does things the same way whereas, in fact, not only are they the same as most other IBDs but also pretty much the same as most retailers in general.

“We’ve never had to modify any software to cater for any one particular clients needs although we have made it very clear that we would in most cases be prepared to do that free of charge.

PRICE: Workshop Management, SMS text messaging and EFT credit card processing costs £1700, including data conversion and training. The credit card processing module costs £500 (“we are the only EPoS company servicing the bike trade who can offer this to the degree which we do,” said Stirling).

“A workstation would cost £1650 but subsequent software licenses would be £336. The average installation will cost about £6000.”

CLIENTS: Stewart Wilson Cycles, Stirling • The Bikeshed, Huddersfield
CONTACT: Tel: 01924 420 100 http://www.ukepos.net

(UK EPoS is currently installing a Lo-Call 0845 support desk for all existing and new customers)

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