Gearing Up For POS Success
Mid South CEO Tim Roberson offers advice on staying successful in the 21st century, including why VARs need to stay vertically focused and combine technologies.
The point of sale (POS) market is not only about point of sale anymore, says Tim Roberson, chairman/CEO of MidSouth Data Systems. The Greenville, SC-based POS VAR business is growing, with revenues of $103 million.
Business Systems Magazine first profiled MidSouth Data Systems in April, 1993. The company was already established in the grocery market as a leader in integrating hardware and software. Annual revenue was $32 million. Since then, MidSouth Data Systems has undergone significant changes, including a reorganization and a management buy out. The company has weathered these changes and is focused on building on its past success. MidSouth's management has a goal: to become a $500 million company within the next five years.
Concentrating On Vertical Markets
According to MidSouth's COO and President Randy Kimlin, vertical markets are key to a POS VAR's success. MidSouth's POS systems are in eight of the top 10 grocery store chains in the country, including Publix and A & P. The company also concentrates its efforts on the specialty retail, hospitality, C-store and school lunch markets. "We treat each vertical market we're in as a distinct business unit within the company. We concentrate our efforts not only on the technology, but on the industry itself," says Kimlin. He points out that in the grocery market, for example, the MidSouth "team" represents a cross section of experts including former customers.
Thinking Beyond POS
Today's customers are interested in new technology, such as electronic commerce, data warehousing and data mining, says Roberson. Data mining, statistically analyzing information collected from point of sale transactions, is being used by his clients for marketing and customer retention programs. Grocery stores, for example, can determine their customers' buying habits through data mining. They can respond to this information by re-arranging store aisles and merchandise to reflect customer preferences. Mailing their customers special offers and coupons is another way stores use data mining.
According to Roberson, MidSouth is proactive in suggesting additional technology to its customers, as part of a POS sale. Take store security as an example. Mid-South can pull together a closed circuit TV, a two-way paging system, and security software that analyzes cashier's transactions and then integrate it all with a POS system.
The end result is a cashier security system. "We're combining technologies and developing software to enhance traditional POS systems," says Roberson.
MidSouth's business units include: store security, data warehousing/data mining, Lotus Notes/Domino implementation (e-mail), hardware/ software maintenance, service and telephone support (help desk), consulting/integration services, and software technology solutions. Offering these types of services allows VARs to provide retail customers, for example, with more than a POS system, points out Roberson. VARs can offer to set up e-mail, develop software, or provide phone support for their POS customers.
Customizing Client Applications
Roberson emphasizes the importance of VARs providing specialized features. For example, one MidSouth customer needed to integrate Symbol's Personal Shopping System (a self-checkout system) with its in-store IBM POS system. His company provided the integration that allowed both systems to operate in the stores.
Partnering For Success
Even VARs as large as MidSouth can't always go it alone. Roberson recommends that VARs look for strategic partnerships to help them move into areas outside of their "comfort zone." For example, MidSouth's relationship with IBM has enabled it to jointly develop a new POS software product for the grocery market.
The company recently made its first acquisition, purchasing another reseller that is strong in the retail specialty store market. "We regularly review acquisition possibilities," says Roberson. This is one way, he says, MidSouth Data can continue to increase its presence in smaller, specialty retail markets.
Another area Roberson feels VARs should concentrate on is technical support, including telephone support and field technicians."A high level of support enables VARs to increase sales. One can't exist without the other," says Roberson. MidSouth's support includes a seven-day-a-week, 24- hour (7 x 24) help desk. Every analyst answering the telephone has supermarket or customer service experience. MidSouth provides an additional 200 hours of technical training annually.
VARs who can't support a 7 x 24 hour help desk initially can grow into one, as did MidSouth, says Kimlin. The company began with a five-day-a-week help desk during regular business hours ( 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Over time, the company added second and third shift employees and expanded to answer weekend calls. "VARs can also hire an outside technical service or partner with another company to provide support," Kimlin says.
Both Roberson and Kimlin recommend that VARs think big. "Don't limit your thinking to POS," Roberson advises. Kimlin says VARs should consider at what level they are willing to invest in the next generation of technology, in light of their current customer base. A small customer tucked away in North Dakota may be satisfied operating without the newest hardware or software.
Other customers, however, with regional or national customer bases, may need the newest products, says Kimlin. He advises VARs to be realistic. "Don't make technology itself your aim," he says.