POS Sales: Software Functionality Seals The Deal
By Matt Pillar, editor-in-chief, Integrated Solutions For Retailers
ECR Systems sells all the hot stuff, but core software functionality remains the key to its longevity.
You might say Scott Howell was bred for a career in retail technology. The VP of Dallas-based VAR ECR Systems operates the business founded by his father, Jim “The Cash Register Man” Howell, in 1978 after a long stint as a senior salesman at NCR. Back then, ECR Systems peddled the first generation of electronic cash registers to hospitality establishments in the expansive Dallas/Fort Worth area. If there’s any truth to Shopkick CEO Cyriac Roeding’s recent observation that “the next five years in retail technology will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years,” Howell and company can attest to it. In its storied history, ECR Systems has seen its share of change. It was among the first to displace mechanical cash registers with electronic. It was the first Micros dealer in Dallas. It built its business on brands like Sanyo, Sharp, and Omron. It introduced PC-based POS (point of sale) to much of the Dallas hospitality market. And ECR Systems began selling touch screen POS systems in the mid-1980s, back when Dell was selling the Turbo PC and Microsoft had just released Windows 1.0.
Fast-forward to the modern day, and you’ll find Scott Howell and his brother Tommy implementing and supporting the Focus POS software their company sells on iPads and Android devices in tableside service environments. “Much has changed,” agrees Howell. “But one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that software functionality, service, and support are the keys to making hospitality POS sales.”
In an industry overwhelmed by nifty mobile apps, sleek devices, and retailers running their entire enterprise on cloud-based, “POS lite” applications sold by flash-inthe- pan start-ups, Howell’s comment sounds almost old-fashioned. It’s as if he’s saying, Forget all that shiny stuff, Mr. Restaurateur. Let me show you what a POS system is supposed to do.
It’s an approach that’s been working for 36 years. Even today, Howell is confident that the features and functions of the Focus POS Systems restaurant software he’s been selling for the past 14 years, combined with the inventive support he receives from Mercury Payment, will continue to make the steak — not the sizzle — the centerpiece of his sales effort.
In Restaurant Operations, Stability And Support Sell
Howell says price, service, and support are the primary concerns of the restaurant market, and those concerns play right into his sales success. “We win a lot of business from people who buy the cheapest hardware and software they can find, then come to us when they want to fix it,” he says. “We don’t begrudge them admitting their bad decisions and looking for help. They quickly realize the benefit of a good system and access to support at all hours of the day.” While many POS VARs have tinkered with as-a-Service, third-party, and subscription-based service and support models, ECR Systems’ approach to support hasn’t changed much over the years either. A full 90 days of programming, training, installation, service loaners, and network support are included in the sale of each system the company implements, and all of its support and maintenance services are facilitated in-house. Separate maintenance and phone support contracts are offered for those who want the services beyond the standard 90-day window. “Small business owners don’t want the anxiety associated with a ‘get in and get out’ implementation approach. They have peace of mind knowing that they get three months to ease into the system without being nickeled-and-dimed each time they have a question,” he says. Howell says ECR Systems ensures the profitability of the sale, regardless of its customers’ early support requirements, because he knows the cost overhead that goes into supporting a system and builds that into the purchase price. ECR Systems has also embraced remote support, which Howell says helps to minimize support overhead in his expansive sales territory. “The remote support offering saves the time and expense we used to incur driving to customer locations, which is a major benefit in a large market.”
While ECR prides itself on its support approach, Howell is quick to point out that product stability contributes significantly to managing support overhead. “Focus POS Systems offer a great, problem-free product, that’s easy to use and easy to learn,” he says. The user interface and user experience, he says, is the silver bullet that enables him to close an estimated four out of five sales opportunities. “Effectively, the front end of the software is developed in such a way that we can scan the restaurant’s menu and leverage that familiar graphic as the associate’s touch-enabled interface,” he explains. “The associate sees the menu on-screen, complete with descriptions, drink logos, and graphics. When they touch the item associated with an order, they get a pop-up screen that depicts order modifiers. With a few intuitive touches, the order is complete. Servers don’t need to hunt for items and attempt to associate square, printed icons with menu items; if they know their own menu, they know their POS system,” he says. It’s not difficult to demonstrate the efficiency gains afforded by the software — faster servers spend more time with customers and therefore ring more sales, and the close association with the restaurant’s menu eliminates opportunity for order entry error.
Wireless Is Hot, But Is It Always Necessary?
ECR Systems is fielding a growing volume of requests for mobile POS, and it’s supporting several recently installed mobile POS installations. “Our customers want to create a differentiated experience, and tableside service helps them do that. When a server can punch in a drink order at the table and have the customers’ drinks served by a runner without leaving, it’s impressive to patrons. Their patrons also like the ability to settle their bills at the table, without their credit card leaving their sight,” says Howell. Still, he cautions restaurateurs to determine the value of offering those conveniences within the contexts of their environments. “With mobile POS, there are still some gives and takes in terms of reliability and the speed of wireless networks. When there’s a problem with the network, it can sometimes be hard to identify and resolve, so we’re very clear about the potential ramifications up front.” Howell says his company also makes it clear that if the customer is considering tablet-based POS purely to save money on the cost of POS hardware, they’re likely setting themselves up for a surprise. “Restaurant owners who think they can pick up an iPad for $300 and see immediate savings are often mistaken. They’re discounting the cost of the additional servers, access points, and routers they’ll likely need to acquire to cover their entire restaurant. In many cases, wireless will be more expensive — and less reliable — than a hardwired system,” he says.
Collaboration Yields An Offer That Can’t Be Refused
Howell says the front end interface he sells gets ECR Systems in the door, but it’s the back end reporting for managers and owners that typically seals the deal. For a $35 monthly subscription, ECR and Focus POS Systems offer a mobile management application called myFocus, which gives owners and managers access to key reports and metrics wherever they have a phone signal. Howell says that after his customers use it once, they won’t give it up. “Focus software features a module called inFocus, which displays virtually anything a manager or owner would want to know, in real time and anywhere,” he explains. “The myFocusMobile application takes all that information and puts it in the user’s hands, anywhere and anytime.” That information includes overtime warnings, labor reporting, the associates who are on the clock, their average check, guest counts, popular items, out-of-stocks, voids, discounts and comp sales and who approved them, server performance, and more. If guests have been sitting at a table too long without placing a drink order, myFocus alerts the manager. It’s a bit like having Chef Gordon Ramsay in a mobile application, and it’s especially valued by chain restaurants. “An owner of 10 or 15 restaurants can’t be in the back office of all of them at once,” says Howell. “The myFocus application ensures the owner or manager is never out of touch with any of their restaurants as long as they have their device,” says Howell.
Scott Howell, VP, ECR Systems
What’s more, if the customer is running ECR’s preferred payment processing provider, Mercury Payment pays for the customer’s subscription to the myFocus app. That’s just one of the perks offered by Mercury that creates lifetime customers for ECR Systems — Howell says once his customers have it, they’re not likely to give it up.
Payment/POS Partnership Gives Customers Free Credit And Gift Card Processing
While many VARs in large-volume environments laud recurring payment processing revenue for its contribution to their profits, Howell says his company finds more value in the sales enablement offered by Mercury Payment than in the recurring revenue it pays. “Focus POS and Mercury have a unique business relationship that creates customer ‘stickiness’ for ECR,” he explains. “Recurring revenue is nice, but there’s always going to be a payment processing company offering a lower price.” That puts recurring payment processing revenue at risk, so ECR rejects dependence on it. While Mercury will meet or beat competitor pricing, it’s the company’s approach to enabling Focus POS functionality free of charge to the customer that drives business for ECR Systems. “Focus POS software is priced and licensed per the number of POS stations on network. For each of those stations, turning on the credit card module is a one-time, $1,000 charge. Turning on the gift card module is a one-time, $1,300 charge,” explains Howell. “If the customer elects to use Mercury Payment, Mercury covers those costs. In addition to free myFocusMobile application access, the customer can save at least $2,300 right off the bat and still have the credit and gift card modules.”
The partnership between Focus POS Systems and Mercury underscores the importance of the VAR’s collaboration with its vendors and suppliers. While the reseller’s customers enjoy significant benefits from such offers, the VAR wins big, too. “When you look at all that Mercury throws into the mix, our customers realize the value of choosing the integrated Focus/Mercury solution. It’s a major selling point, and they tend to stick with it,” says Howell. “If they want to use another processor, that’s okay, too. We can only lead them to the water; we can’t make them drink it.”