POS At The Speed Of NASCAR
Wireless and satellite communications enable Action Performance to process NASCAR merchandise sales from trailers anywhere they roam.
When Mike Nicholson, VP of POS (point of sale) VAR POSitive Technology.com (Gaithersburg, MD; Phoenix), attended a NASCAR race in 1995 with business partner Brett Bennett, the two observed something that would send any good POS VAR's head spinning faster than a Jeff Gordon victory lap. At the NASCAR licensed merchandise trailers that peppered the motor sports park, clerks were scurrying to serve throngs of fans with little more technology on hand than a dial-up credit card machine and a couple of cash boxes. That's right, cash boxes, not cash registers.
From 0 To Wired In 120 Days
"In effect, they had nothing. No pad of paper, no computer, nothing," recalls Nicholson. "They accepted cash and ran a credit card machine in 'store and forward' mode [collect data now, connect to a phone line later]." There were no inventory counts at the sales counter. End of quarter inventories were taken on the rigs. Recognizing a high-profile business opportunity, then start-up POSitive Technology went to work on a concept and contacted Action Performance (Phoenix), official licensee of NASCAR collectables, in an attempt to gain their interest. "Nothing happened for years," Nicholson laments. "Then midway through 2000, Action Performance contacted us. They said they needed more control, better integrity of credit card transactions [the ability to authorize credit cards right at the time of sale], and the ability to rapidly balance inventory versus cash intake." The call came a mere four months before the start of NASCAR's season.
Feel The Need For Transaction Speed
By the time Action Performance contacted POSitive Technology, as many as 300,000 fans at a time were packing race stands 39 weekends per year at what arguably is becoming America's most successful spectator sport. NASCAR's success has spawned a commercial frenzy, with the country's largest corporations clamoring for sponsorship opportunities to get their logos placed on the cars, race suits, and merchandise of household names like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Without question, NASCAR merchandising opportunities are the most lucrative of the sponsorship opportunities available. Hats, T-shirts, and model cars sell at a blistering pace, especially at the three- and four-day race events. As the leading race-day vendor of NASCAR-licensed merchandise with nearly 70% of the market share, Action Performance and its 36 mobile stores are a hot destination for fans on race weekends. Therefore, the VAR and the retailer set transaction speed as priority number one.
"At a three-day event, Action Performance has 72 hours to make every dollar they can. On the third day during the actual Winston Cup race, the trailers are jamming," explains Nicholson. "On that day like no other, transaction times need to be down. Before, there were no computers in the way. Clerks were used to waiting on three or four people at a time. So they had to have a system that would not slow them down." POSitive Technology decided on QuickSell Commerce POS software and Star Micronics (Edison, NJ) printers, and was then introduced to Pioneer POS (Walnut, CA) touch screens by distributor ScanSource (Greenville, SC). "This combination, with some minor customizations, gave us a system that processed cash transactions with the touch of one button and credit transactions in two," Nicholson says.
Another speed-related improvement was the bar coding of merchandise. POSitive Technology worked with Action Performance to bar code its entire inventory at the warehouse to expedite the transaction process, then implemented Symbol (Holtsville, NY) scanners at each POS station.
NASCAR? This Is The Phone Company. We Have A Problem.
Criteria number two was networking. "The trailers had to be connected to corporate headquarters so that corporate would know what sales numbers were at any given time," says Nicholson. With the uncertainty of cellular service in many of NASCAR's remote track locations, the initial solution was to contract with phone companies at each race site for phone lines at each trailer. Unfortunately, the most phone lines available at any location were six, and in some cases there were none. "We partnered with Orinoco [Allentown, PA], an outdoor wireless vendor, and set up a hub and spoke system among the trailers," Nicholson explains. Certain trailers were called "centrals" and were equipped with hard-wired Internet lines. Other trailers were wirelessly "spoked" from each central trailer. The spokes transmitted to the central, which transmitted to the Internet. "We went from needing 36 phone lines to 4 or 5, because we can support 10 or 12 trailers per phone line. This allows Action Performance to process credit cards in real time and poll sales and inventory data every hour on the hour," notes Nicholson.
In cases where no phone lines are available at all, POSitive Technology goes even further to provide corporate sales reporting capability. The VAR developed a space-age solution with satellite communications specialist MotoSat (Salt Lake City). "A satellite Internet connection dish is mounted on the roof of the central trailers. We can now drive into a location, press a button, and within five minutes we've got a high bandwidth connection to a satellite that's 22 miles up in space," Nicholson says. A GPS (global positioning system) is built into the solution, giving the operator the ability to drive in, hit a button that unfolds the dish, locks onto the satellite, and provides the connection.
Wireless networking will soon be implemented at the micro-level as well. POSitive Technology has introduced the wireless handheld POS register concept to Action Performance in hopes that the company will adopt it for line busting.
Inventory Takes To The Road
With limited travel time to get from race site to race site, there's no way the merchandise sales trailers can get back to Action Performance's warehouse in Charlotte, NC, to re-stock between races. POSitive Technology outfitted the same communication system on inventory re-stock trucks that run constantly between the warehouse and the races to keep the merchandise trailers full of hot-selling items. "Before, when there were only quarterly inventories being taken, the season would be a third of the way over before Action Performance could identify hot sellers versus dogs. Now, if an item is blowing out the door at a race one weekend, they can get on the phone with the vendor and be stocked up on that item the next weekend," says Nicholson. Additionally, corporate has access to inventory everywhere, on the merchandise and inventory trailers and in the warehouse, at all times.
Up-Tempo Touch Screen Training
The third major issue was training. In each trailer there are two "store managers," if you will, often a husband and wife team, with the husband performing functions like driving and stocking the truck while the wife runs the store, manages employees, and orders inventory. "The managers usually pick up the clerks as temporary employees at the race location, so we needed a system that people could walk into, train for five minutes, then be responsible for doing $10,000 per day in sales," says Nicholson. "With the touch screen solution, training time is literally two to three minutes," he says.
Another Showcase Installation
POSitive Technology has a knack for landing high-profile business. For instance, the weekend Nicholson and crew were testing the Action Performance installation for the first time in a live trailer, another POSitive Technology customer was busy with its own special event - the Arizona Diamondbacks were hosting the World Series. "That weekend, half my company was in Phoenix at the ballpark and the other half was at the NASCAR race," Nicholson recalls. Other noteworthy POS installations POSitive Technology has worked on include concessions at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and QVC stores. According to Nicholson, the life of a POS VAR is good in the fast lane.