Do You Have The Quick Service Touch?
Backing up touch monitor hardware with software expertise will help quick service VAR Positively Unique see 60% sales growth in 2003.
Here's the thing about touch monitors: every VAR selling into the quick service niche has them. While there's no doubt touch is a valuable tool for quick service restaurants, touch technology is no longer the flashy novelty it once was. Restaurant owners know touch monitors, are comfortable with them, and expect to see them as they shop for POS (point of sale) systems. So, if you want to stand out from the crowd in this ultra-competitive niche, you need to back up your fancy hardware with software integration expertise.
Tom Fuller is VP of sales at hospitality VAR Positively Unique (Columbus, OH). He explains that custom programming is what differentiates his company from competitors in the quick service niche. "If you walk in with just POS hardware and off-the-shelf software, you won't get any attention. You need to lead with the features of your solution that will help the retailer understand customers more or manage employees better," he says. Positively Unique's goal is to convince restaurant owners there's more to its solutions than just traditional POS registers. The company offers declining-balance gift cards, a CRM (customer relationship management) module with a rewards program, and a labor scheduling module with labor cost forecasting, for example. "Sometimes it's a feature like our labor scheduling module that gets us in the door, and only later do we sell and integrate it with a full POS system," says Fuller.
Melody Zomonski, VP of marketing and purchasing at Positively Unique, lauds the open-architecture platform of the Action Systems, Inc. (Silver Spring, MD) Restaurant Manager software her company sells. She says it's not hardware dependent, and it's flexible enough to allow her company to integrate other software products or customize when necessary.
Touch Monitor Is Key Element Of The Quick Service Demo
Touch screens, for their part, are still central to the company's sales pitch. "After we get a potential customer interested in our system by extolling the capability of our software, we schedule a demonstration," says Zomonski. "We prepare the demo by building that particular restaurant's menu into our system and displaying it on the 3M Touch Systems [Methuen, MA] M150 FPD touch monitor we sell, and we show the restaurant how the system will work with its own menu items." She and Fuller target their sales calls at the owners of independent restaurants, while focusing on MIS (management information systems) managers at chains. "After we get the ear of the MIS department, we then take the message to the owners or the franchisees, who are typically the final decision makers," she says. The graphic user interface the touch screen offers is central to Positively Unique's sales pitch, because it demonstrates the company's software expertise in living color. Restaurant owners and MIS managers, far removed from the day-to-day activities of line cooks and cashiers, are enlightened by a visual demonstration. "The views we can create in the software, like split-screen ordering and CRM rewards program data, become more navigable and understandable with the touch interface," says Zomonski.
Zomonski says that second to the software's functionality, most potential customers are impressed by the touch screen's simplicity to operate. "Our main touch screen selling points are improved customer service, easy training, and employee satisfaction. We show them how easy it is to ring something up and send it off. The screens are easy to navigate from order to order, and order accuracy is improved, as well," Zomonski says. While even those restaurants that haven't run touch screens in the past are familiar with them and expect to see them as they shop for new POS systems, it's important for VARs to demonstrate them in the context of the prospect's operating environment.
Identifying Ripe POS Customers
For Positively Unique, quick service and fine dining resturants are the market focus du jour. While the company services pizza delivery, bars, and even country clubs and hotels, the Columbus area's rich restaurant environment lends itself to quick service chains. But the quick service focus isn't just due to geography. "Generally speaking, quick service has lagged behind in technology and now has old, proprietary systems that are very expensive to maintain," says Fuller. This means while touch screen-based systems have really taken hold in the market, there are still plenty of software sales opportunities with quick service restaurants still running closed, inflexible POS programs. Therein lies upgrade opportunity. "Touch screens have been around long enough that our prospects are comfortable looking at them now," says Fuller. With that barrier down, VARs with modern software offerings can maximize sales calls by showing potential customers what touch screens can really do.
Zomonski says aside from aging systems, crashes and a lack of security features also drive business. "Generally, when we get a phone call it's someone who says, 'look, my system is crashing all the time. I need something that's going to stay up on a Friday night when I'm busy.'" This is usually indicative of a hardware/software match-up or power conditioning issue. To be certain you don't give your customers the same headaches, Zomonski advises VARs to be very particular about site preparation and inspections, making sure the power is set up and conditioned correctly. "Only then can your attention turn to putting in the appropriate hardware and software combination," she says.
In other cases, she says, prospects with older systems call looking for tighter security features. "We've had prospects call and say their employees were robbing them blind. They needed systems that would help them control access to registers, limit access to back office programs, and restrict the performance of voids and item deletions," she says.
Zomonski and Fuller say the sales cycle is usually three to six months. "Sometimes, a company building a new restaurant focuses on design and food preparation equipment, and POS is almost an afterthought," Zomonski warns. "So we do hear 'we're opening in three weeks, can you give us a system?' That's a little tough. Thankfully, it doesn't always happen that way." She says the six-month figure might stretch a bit when pitching to chain accounts, because there are more corporate layers to navigate.
Franchises Need Reporting, Integration
For the past two years, Positively Unique has focused on taking its quick service expertise to the big leagues. Its recent success with several Wendy's franchises in the Columbus area are proof positive that the company is ramping up to win corporate chain accounts. "There are several steps to becoming a corporate provider. For starters, you have to have systems installed in three separate franchises. In order to do that alone, we had to basically build a whole new POS package for them," says Zomonski. The package her company built for Wendy's includes reporting functions that often aren't required by the typical independent restaurateur. For example, Wendy's franchises must provide daily inventory and sales reports to the restaurant's corporate office in Columbus, where the data is crunched and used to order food and supplies from vendors. "We also wrote a custom package for Wendy's so it could interface our inventory package with purchases from their food distributor," she says.
While the franchises are ultimately free to make their own decisions on IT, they are required to hire technology providers that can comply with the reporting requirements of the corporate office. "It's been tough, but now that we have a few Wendy's under our belt, it opens the door a little wider to corporate," Zomonski says. She adds that you have to be willing to subject yourself to the lens of the microscope when you're doing business with something to prove to a corporate office.
Support Of PC-Based Systems Is Taxing
"VARs looking to get into quick service need to know what they're getting into," says Fuller. "Support is very intensive. You've got to be available on a first-call basis for support." The most common support call Positively Unique entertains is a customer looking for help getting a system back up after a weather-related power outage. The company offers phone support and a depot break-fix service, which promises to either replace a broken unit completely or fix it while the customer uses a loaner. Customers pay an annual fee for their choice of basic 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday phone support or an extended plan that covers the weekends. To keep support overhead down, Positively Unique relies on PCAnywhere to allow it to dial into the customer site, diagnose the problem, and fix it over the phone line. Fuller says in most cases, he can make the repair without asking the customer to do anything more than turn a machine off and back on again. "We keep our overhead low so we can keep our prices down and deal with the smaller hardware margins we're seeing," says Zomonski. "Personnel-wise, we're not as large as some of our competitors. However, our business model has proven effective." With an expected 60% growth rate in 2003, it appears as though Positively Unique's hard work is paying off. Keep an eye on this VAR as it knocks on the door of corporate quick service chains with a touch screen in one hand and software integration and support expertise in the other.