Can Biometrics Increase Your Education Sales?
This VAR earned nearly $400,000 by adding fingerprint scanning to its school cafeteria POS solutions.
One of the goals of Business Solutions magazine is to showcase VARs and integrators who have made the decision to sell technologies that complement their current solutions. This is a challenging goal for us, since few channel companies have the fortitude to step outside of their technology comfort zones. But that’s understandable. It can be expensive for a VAR to add a new technology. You have to invest in training and demo units, and the time needed for this education process takes away from the time you spend on existing customers and sales opportunities.
Buzz Cmaylo is the type of VAR who realizes that to grow a business, you need to take chances. Business Solutions first profiled Cmaylo, who is the president of hospitality VAR CC Productions, Inc., back in July 2001. At that time, his company had just begun expanding into the education market, providing POS (point of sale) systems to school cafeterias. Today, the education market accounts for 25% of CC Productions’ annual sales revenue. Cmaylo plans to fuel that growth this year with his company’s newest technology: biometrics. But despite increased acceptance of biometrics since Sept. 11, 2001, this can still be a difficult technology to sell.
Overcome Biometrics’ Misconceptions
In contrast to CC Productions’ intentional foray into the education market in 2001, the company’s addition of biometrics in 2005 was accidental. At the time, the company had no plans to add biometrics, because the technology was frequently perceived negatively. “A slow recognition rate and a 5% to 10% error rate were the common complaints we heard about using biometrics [i.e. fingerprint recognition] in school cafeterias,” Cmaylo says. “Using older biometric systems was similar to waiting for a cashier to perform multiple scans of an item at a grocery store. The technology slowed down the line and frustrated everyone waiting in that line.”
The turning point came when Cmaylo received a call from a VP of a management company that operated the school cafeteria at one of CC Productions’ clients. (Many schools use these third party contract companies to manage multiple school cafeteria accounts.) The caller said he liked the biometric system CC Productions had installed for the school district. Cmaylo, knowing his company didn’t sell any biometric equipment, immediately thought he had lost the account to a competitor. However, he soon discovered that identiMetrics, Inc., a vendor of biometric finger scanning products, had sold the solution to the school. “We were impressed that this company could integrate its biometric solution with our existing hardware and software without so much as a tech support phone call to us,” comments Cmaylo.
His intrigue wasn’t limited to identiMetrics’ sale to his customer, though. What really captivated him was the school’s willingness to adopt a biometric solution. In this case, fingerprint scanning was replacing the swiping of a student’s ID card at the cafeteria checkout.
Fingerprint Scanning Meets Cafeterias’ Needs
For years, schools have been seeking better ways to administer cafeteria debit programs. Essentially, schools want systems that quickly and accurately identify students, so lunch lines can keep moving. Another goal is to reduce or eliminate the need to manually charge a student’s account, since this system is prone to mistakes. Finally, schools want a way to eliminate the stigma associated with qualifying for free or reduced price lunches.
Assigning ID cards to students is one solution schools have tried to accomplish these goals. “In my experience, nearly 50% of the schools that install a card-based debit system abandon those systems for PIN-based versions,” explains Cmaylo. “But kids lose their ID cards as easily as they forget PIN numbers. I recall one school that actually required kindergarten students to use a 9-digit PIN. Needless to say, the system was scrapped.”
Using biometrics such as fingerprint scanning can accomplish all of the goals schools have for their debit programs. That fact, coupled with improvements to the speed and accuracy of fingerprint biometrics, convinced Cmaylo that biometrics should be part of CC Productions’ product portfolio.
Boost POS System Sales With Biometrics
The best type of new technology to add is one that requires the least amount of training and cost and has the most relevance to your existing clients. The latter point is the most important, because you want to have an instant client base to mine for your new products. For CC Productions, that client base consists of K-12 school districts with 5 to 25 schools each. The key decision makers at these clients are those you would expect: school administrators, superintendents, principals, etc.
But despite his biometric solution being the type of add-on that could provide immediate benefits to a school’s cafeteria, Cmaylo says most schools still wait until the spring to purchase any new technology. That’s when budgets are approved. The summer and fall are normally slated as the times for installation and training. In fact, Cmaylo says during the fall he needs twice as many employees as he normally does throughout the remainder of the school year for installation and support services.
Cmaylo believes that having a biometric solution will increase his sales revenue from education clients this year. In fact, it already has. He estimates that his company has earned nearly $100,000 from sales of identiMetrics hardware and software. That number balloons to nearly $400,000 if you consider the total value of the POS systems that the VAR might not have sold without the availability of the biometric solution. CC Productions plans to install its biometric solution in 10 school districts this summer. And because each district has multiple schools, Cmaylo sees a ripple effect from his biometrics’ sales. For example, CC Productions had a school district with eight schools order a POS solution (including biometrics) for two of its schools. This strategy allowed the district to stay below the public bid threshold. Ultimately, though, once the impact of the POS systems was realized, the VAR received orders from all of the district’s schools.
“Selling biometrics for us is like what you learn in Marketing 101 — go back to your existing customers and sell add-on products,” Cmaylo says. “Even if a school does not purchase the biometric units now, it perceives our company as a leading-edge organization, and one that will have the solutions it needs, when it needs them.”