By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine
Girl Scouts of the USA has automated store operations with a cloud-based solution.
Cloud-based or hosted software is becoming a more common model for retail operations, particularly for retailers with smaller locations or a widely dispersed network of stores. Implementation costs are lower, and support can be centralized, further lowering the total cost of ownership of these systems.
POSitive Technology, a Germantown, MD-based ISV made the shift to the cloud several years ago when it developed its OpSuite product, a cloudbased retail management solution for multistore operators. That decision has ultimately helped snag several large contracts for the company, including a nationwide deployment for Girl Scouts of the USA stores.
The Girl Scouts of the USA is an umbrella organization that encompasses 120 individual councils (independent franchises) around the country. Each of those councils operates from one to several retail stores that sell Girl Scout uniforms and other merchandise. These can range from small shops at Girl Scout camps to large retail outlets.
POSitive Technology’s CEO, Brett Bennett, had worked with several individual councils over the years to provide retail and point of sale (POS) solutions. When the corporate organization began searching for a standard retail software four years ago, POSitive was recommended to them by those councils that had successfully used their technology.
“What they wanted to do was put all of the councils into a unified solution so that they could pull all of the sales data together on the corporate side,” Bennett says. “In the past, each council had picked its own solution so there was a mixture of technology across the country. They wanted to be able to place more accurate purchase orders and have more knowledge about what was going on in the store environments.”
Mix Of On-Premise, Cloud Solutions
POSitive is responsible for deploying the Microsoft Retail Management System (RMS) front end retail software at the stores, along with Hewlett Packard POS hardware and the OpSuite solution. OpSuite serves as a central management tool that provides sales tracking, inventory, management, reporting, promotion administration, and other functions from a cloud-based interface. It works in conjunction with the Microsoft RMS/POS solution, which is deployed on-premise at each retail location. POSitive has helped the councils integrate with Mercury Payment Systems’ payment processing solution, although a number of councils have opted to use payment providers they had an existing relationship with.
“One reason we won the business was that we were one of the only players in the market at the time that could offer a cloud-based, real-time solution for retail,” Bennett says. “They wanted something cloud-based, accessible, and real-time. They understand that everything is backed up and available.”
OpSuite is a multitenant application. The Girl Scouts’ information is held in one database hosted at RackSpace. “That data is stored in such a way so that when an individual council logs in, they are recognized as an owner of these 10 stores, so they have access to that specific data,” Bennett says. “At the corporate level, you can see every store.”
The cloud-based component allows the national Girl Scouts’ management team to get a highlevel view of retail operations and inventory needs. “From a corporate standpoint, they have the ability to do reporting on all the councils and stores in a close to real-time basis on sales, inventory levels, and inventory needs,” Bennett says. “They can do forecasting and tie that back into the accounting solution. They can also send purchase orders directly to the warehouse. Previously, they were taking a fax from each council and keying that into the warehouse management solution for fulfillment.”
Now, that process is automated. Orders are placed into OpSuite and are automatically generated at the warehouse. The store can receive the order without having to do any manual rekeying.
Because each council operates as an independent business, POSitive has had to sell to each one individually, even though the central organization has asked the councils to migrate to the new solution. “We help them convert the data from whatever old system they have to this new system, and we provide all the installation, training, and back end support,” Bennett says. Bennett’s team also helped integrate OpSuite with the existing warehouse management system (WMS) at the corporate level.
So far, Bennett says his company has deployed the solution for two to three councils per month for the past three years. All of the councils are expected to be online by the end of 2013. “Those who own the franchises are generally pretty independent, so they want to make an informed decision,” Bennett says. “We spend a lot of time with each council going through the normal demo process. The sales process can take several months per council in some cases. In other instances, we have had councils just call us up and say they were ready to go.
“We have worked closely with the corporate side to do combined marketing to the councils, and we attend private meetings and trade events on an annual basis,” Bennett continues. “We are also doing some regional events where we do both training for existing users and education for councils not on the system yet.”
POSitive has a minimum two-year contract with each council. “Each year, we do an analysis of how the system is performing for the council, and they have an opportunity to opt out if they want,” Bennett says.
Real-Time View Of Retail Operations
Managers at the council and corporate level now have the ability to view combined sales at groups of stores, run sales reports, and perform forecasting based on comprehensive sales information. “They can do the purchasing for all of the stores in one place quickly and easily,” Bennett says. “In the past, each council would get a list of all of the new inventory from the Girl Scouts, and they had to enter that themselves. Someone had to key-enter all of that information. Now, that can be done centrally. It has saved them resources, time, and money, because everything is fed directly into the system.”
The corporate organization has gained complete insight into what is happening at each council. “They have been able to get a much better picture of what is going on and plan inventory accordingly,” Bennett says.
The councils have also benefited from the cloud-based nature of the solution, since many of the camp stores are temporary retail locations. “They can open up the camp for the summer or whatever period they want,” Bennett says. “All the data can flow directly into their local system and up through the corporate network.”
Overall, Bennett says his company’s shift to a cloud-based software model has been beneficial, both in terms of bringing in new business and in stabilizing revenue flow. POSitive previously offered traditional on-premise solutions but gradually transitioned to the cloud, because Bennett wanted to offer a low up-front cost of entry to customers and produce predictable monthly income for his business.
“While we struggled early on to get the retailers to understand what this was, they now have a good handle on our ‘solution as a service’ model,” Bennett says. “That includes hardware, software, the services to get everything up and running, training, support, backup, and virus protection, all bundled together as a monthly service. The only up-front fees are to get the database online and import the existing data. Everything else is in that monthly fee.”