Independent garden centers are successful for lots of reasons, including product selection, service excellence, effective marketing, beautiful facilities, and compelling events. Having a technology infrastructure to support your operations is, more and more, a critical element of a store’s success. Most IGCs were challenged on many levels last year by the COVID pandemic. Garden Centers that previously focused on foot traffic and inventory turns found themselves navigating a whole new world of electronic shopping carts, socially distance checkout stations and BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store).
Stores that have already embraced technical solutions before 2021 may have had a few extra tools in their kit to enable them to pivot effectively. Now that things are quieting down a little, it is a good time to consider whether your store needs a technology makeover to help you better manage your operations. The goal of this article is to give you a systematic way to approach a new POS solution for your store.
Putting bias on the table, I work for Rapid Garden POS and certainly my role at Rapid colors my point of view. But this article is intended to focus more on things that you should consider as you approach scouting and finding any POS system for your business
My approach for adding or updating your store system, can be reduced to a catchy mnemonic:
I REALLY DO CARE ABOUT SUCCESS!
- Identify and Prioritize Your Needs/Goals
- Research Available Solutions
- Demo Solutions
- Check References
- Assess Costs and Return on Investment
- Select and Implement Your Chosen System
I – Identify and Prioritize your Needs/Goals.
Everyone comes to deciding to purchase or update their POS for different reasons. Meet with your team and come up with a list of things you want a system to do for you. These can come from specific pain points your store is experiencing (e.g., checking stock availability takes too much time), things you have heard about or experienced as a customer that other stores are doing (e.g., Starbucks sends me a coupon on my birthday), and things that would offer strategic benefits to the store (e.g., if we could better track and manage costs, I could have a more consistent margin on my sales). Focus on business tasks, problems, functions, or benefits. Don’t try to figure out how a technology solution might deal with the things you list.
Put your items into categories to help you prioritize them. I like the following breakdown:
Remember that at this phase, you are just brainstorming. There are not bad ideas here. You will circle back to this list again and again. I suggest that you revisit it during each of the following phases. This document will be your roadmap.
One last thing to remember about this phase (and this is very important) . . . YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW, BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW. Be open to input and new ideas.
R – Research Available Solutions.
Once you identify and prioritize your requirements, it is time to find solutions that match your needs. It is a simple truth that no two POS systems are the same. As you think about a system, they should manage 3 big aspects of your business:
INVENTORY – TRANSACTIONS – CUSTOMERS
At the highest level, solutions may claim to do similar things with regard to each of these categories. But the devil is in the details people! For example, systems used in gift shops and food trucks claim that they can manage inventory. But there are many aspects of inventory management that simple POS solutions can just not do. Also keep in mind that there are unique things about the garden industry. Inventory lives, dies, grows and changes. Items like bulk materials are purchased by the ton and sold by the cubic yard (or other measures). Be sure to consider the unique aspects of your business when you look at solutions. One size does not fit all!
D – Demo Solutions.
When you have found a manageable list of systems to consider. Try to see demos of as many systems as you can possibly see. I believe that seeing a full demo is the best way for a store to really understand the day-to-day operation of a system and how it would be used in their store. Here is my advice for demos:
- Some software companies will not provide a detailed live demo. You should request them to do a demo even if they prefer to just send you a video recording of a demo.
- Be active during your demo. Ask probing questions like:
- What makes you solution different from other systems?
- What are the best and worst parts of your system? A good system provider should know that they are not perfect, and should be willing to talk about their warts. Honest responses should be encouraged and respected.
- Why do customers leave your solution for another one?
- As you see demos of systems, continuously circle back to your priorities and needs from part 1. You may learn new things in a demo you didn’t even think about before. You may want to clarify your goals and priorities.
- Ask the technology provider to record your demo and provide you the recording after the session. This creates an accountability for the things said during the demo. It also helps you sort through the different systems features and functions as your team progresses through the evaluation process.
- If a demo highlights a new feature that might be added to your priorities, feel free to reach back to the other system companies you have already seen demos of to make sure that their system can support that functionality.
At the end of your demos, rank the solutions and make a short list of the ones you thing are the best functional fit. Notice we have not talked about costs yet. That will come soon.
C – Check References.
This is the step that is often skipped by stores. It is important to talk to other stores that use the system you are considering. When you talk to a user, have some prepared questions to ask. Explore all aspects of the store’s experience of that system including the implementation process, training, day-to-day operations, reporting and service and support. No system functions perfectly 100% of the time. Ask stores to be candid and share their worst and best perceptions about a system. I like to start my reference calls with, “I want you to tell me the good the bad and the ugly!”
As you listen to feedback on a particular technology platform. Don’t take every specific comment to heart. Sometimes something was out of the control of the technology company. Sometimes the person with the issue was only hearing of it second hand and some of the truth about what happened has been diluted as the store moves from employee to manager.
Most importantly, look for patterns and consistent comments. If you hear multiple stores talk about poor service, inaccurate data, or problem resolution that takes months, give those comments more credibility.
A – Assess Costs and Return on Investment.
Once you have qualified your potential systems, consider the up-front and long-term costs of the system. As much as you can, contemplate the total cost of ownership for a system.
Note that I have considering costs as a task that is pretty far down in the process. An inexpensive system that does not meet your long-term needs is not a success. Putting something cheap and then needing to change it in 2 years will often cost a company more in the long run than going with the best solution and implementing it once.
There are different business models for purchasing software. Software as a service (SaaS) or subscription-based software is becoming very popular. Customers like it because it reduces costs to a consistent monthly payment. Ironically, software companies like it too because it generates a consistent perpetual monthly revenue stream. Other systems have up-front costs and running costs. There is nothing easy about comparing system costs when the software providers use different pricing models. I recommend modeling the use of the software over a 5-7 year period. When you create that kind of model, you should have a clear appreciation for how two systems stack up against each other.
If you have near-term plans for expansion (e.g., opening a second store, or adding an eCommerce to your website), ask the technology company to provide a quote for the cost to accommodate that expansion.
Consider not only up-front costs and running cost, but also return on investment. Ask yourself, if this system achieves x, w and z, what are the savings, increased revenue, or higher profits I might realize from using the system. Model these over the same 5-7 year period.
May one last circle back to your priorities list to be sure that the solution gives you enough of what you were hoping to get from system.
S – Select and Implement Your Chosen System.
Once you have selected your technology solution and provider, commit the resources and time to properly install and train your team on the use of the new system. An implementation presents a great time to clean up data, design and implement business processes, and even improve other aspects of your day-to-day operations. Putting a system in requires time, focus and patience. It is change and most people hate change. Your POS provider should be a great resource and a trusted guide to help you make the best use of the tool they are providing. Look for their advice and counsel. But remember that you know what is best for your business. You should challenge your technology provider and the team that is spearheading the implementation. Encourage them to challenge you as well. If you do this, you will get the most value out of this implementation process and you will be best positioned for success with your new system.
Deciding to add technology to your operation, and then going through a rigorous process to find the best fit, will help your store in the long run. It requires time and focus at the beginning, but that investment of effort at the outset will help ensure that you have a system that is best suited to support your business for many years to come.