Making A Second-Generation Business Profitable
POS VAR Jack Farris found a formula for success by sticking to his father's basic business principles while adopting new technology.
Business Solutions, February 1998
Harold Farris originally started the company, in 1974, as a cash register dealership. He had worked for the NCR Corporation for 18 years. But when the company offered him a promotion that included a transfer to California, Harold decided to stay in Fort Worth to raise his family. Harold admits it was a difficult decision to turn down a steady paycheck to sell cash registers out of his garage. But today, Farris Point-Of-Sale, Inc. has 35 employees and more than 5,000 customers nationwide. The company has grown 15% each year since its inception due to the contributions of both father and son. Harold Farris laid the foundation for the basics of business management and sales. Jack Farris worked to spearhead the company's growth by tackling new technology to boost company sales.
Moving To PC-Based Systems
While attending an ICRDA trade show in the late 1980s, Jack Farris learned about PC-based point of sale (POS) systems. "The future of POS seemed clear to me," says Jack. His idea to adopt this technology was met with initial skepticism by his father. "He gave me just enough rope to hang myself," admits Jack. He easily sold some early systems to the hospitality market. The installations, however, turned out to be nightmares. "Our installers were used to electronic cash registers and easy-to-use manuals. With PC-based systems, we had to worry about perfect cable connections and crashing hard drives. It definitely was a learning curve," he says. To better prepare for the next round of PC-based POS system installations, Jack Farris sent his staff to training sessions. What worked even better, he says, was buying a demo system and putting it in a room with his installers. "I let them take it apart and learn everything about it," Jack says. Over time, the installations improved and the list of referrals grew.
Farris says his business approach is the same as his father's. However, Jack's works with PC-based systems, whereas Harold had used cash registers to solve customers' problems. "Our desire to help the customer is the same. It was the technology that was different," says Jack Farris.
In order to streamline operations and make the best use of his employees, Jack has devised several new ways for Farris-Point-Of-Sale to do business.
- One product per vertical market - Farris evaluated the different software and hardware products the company used in the hospitality, retail, and grocery markets. Offering two or three software packages in each vertical proved to be inefficient. In the hospitality market, for example, salespeople were divided on which product to recommend. Support employees were not confident taking calls about many software packages. Jack found that sticking to one software product, and training his sales and support employees on it well, has benfited his company. "Now, when a restaurant owner calls with a problem, for example, the support person answering the call knows the software inside out," says Jack. Farris Point-Of-Sale currently uses Positouch software in the hospitality market and Retail in the grocery market. Jack Farris explains that their company's retail customers are divided into two types: small "mom and pop" stores and larger, chain accounts. He uses Sellwise in smaller stores and Unify in the larger chains.
- Open systems - Farris also discovered that crosstraining employees was much simpler using open architecture systems. "Once installers learned a system in one vertical market, they could work in any vertical market. The systems are basically the same," Farris explains.
- Cross training - Farris Point-of-Sale support staff are all cross-trained to do installations, work the help desk, and train. Jack prefers to hire employees with some vertical market experience. After initial in-house training, the new employees start out as trainers, helping end users learn new systems. Over the next three months, new employees are trained to do installations, take service calls, and work the help desk. The advantage to this system, says Farris, is that everyone rotates through jobs, spending some time both in and out of the office. "The person answering the phone at 3 a.m. is also an experienced installer and has trained customers on systems," he explains.
- Team selling - Jack has also found success in using a team approach to sales. With branch-manager experience at his former employer, Harold helps motivate the sales force, explains Jack. "We typically send three salespeople on a call," he says. The salesperson who obtained the lead gets the commission. With team selling, the salespeople motivate each other. "The salespeople involve the customer in conversation about how POS systems helped solve similar problems for other customers. They work off each other to highlight the features that a particular customer is interested in," Jack explains.
The biggest challenge Jack Farris faces is strategically managing his company's rapid growth. He admits that Farris Point-Of-Sale is growing faster than its five-year business plan. Jack is planning on expansion following a hub-and-spoke model. This plan calls for Fort Worth to serve as the company's base of operations. Additional sales and service locations will be opened in selected Texas cities in 1998. More offices will be opened throughout the United States in 1999. When the hub-and-spoke model is complete, all installations will be pre-configured at and shipped from the Fort Worth location. The satellite offices will handle the installations as well as follow-up service and support.