Smart Retail 2.0

Cailley Hammel Headshot
photo of laptop as a cash register
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In the past, retailers ruled with paper. Records were kept in files, loyalty programs consisted of physical punch cards and receipts were sometimes handwritten. Not anymore.

Thanks to software programs, the art of running a business in the pool and spa industry has been streamlined. And it’s not just about going paperless:

“If you can save time and cut out certain steps in your processes while serving your customers better, and make more money while doing it, it’s a win-win situation,” says Corinne Kraft, COO and co-founder of RB Control Systems.

Here’s a few ways these software systems can work for you.

Digital Organization

According to Christina Braks, vice president of software products for Evosus, it was just five years ago when many retailers ran their businesses without software of any kind. Now, Evosus rarely encounters new customers converting from paper alone.

Instead, a new issue has surfaced: incompatibility between software applications that creates a digital clutter of duplicate entries and wastes time.

“A lot of people are trying to move to a software package that will grow with their business. They don’t want to be on just QuickBooks, or they realize that being on QuickBooks and a service program and a job-costing program and a retail program isn’t going to work in the long run, so they need to consolidate into a single package.”

Working through multiple applications may get the job done, but cutting down on duplicate entries with one, fully-integrated software system saves both time and money. According to Braks, some users have found ways to trim their staff sizes because of the software’s efficiency.

“I know a lot of employees don’t like to hear this, but on more than one occasion we have seen people reduce their overall payroll because they don’t need as many people to manage the processes in their business as they did before,” she says.

Inventory Management

You might think you know how much product is on your shelves or in your warehouse, but it’s easy to lose track without software to analyze what’s on hand with an eye toward consumer demand.

“Any company that holds inventory usually holds too much of it and they don’t even realize it,” Braks says. “I had one dealer tell me they were able to reduce their inventory by $1 million over a three-year period. It’s significant.”

But keeping track of how much you have is just the beginning. Once a retailer begins to closely monitor his or her inventory, Braks says he or she can target purchasing trends based on seasonality and customer demand and shift their focus accordingly, meaning more money in the cash register.

Software not only streamlines the back end of your business, but it also facilitates interaction between your staff and customers. Instead of digging through files and asking for help, software keeps just about everything — past purchases, services rendered, equipment and warranty details — right at your fingertips.

“Nobody has to go 15 different places to try and address an issue. You empower your employees to take care of the client right then and there without constantly having to get manager involvement,” Braks says.

Inspired Staff, Better Customer Service

Corinne Kraft is not only the co-founder and COO of RB Control Systems, but she’s been a retailer herself since 1988 and owns three stores. In addition to tackling the inefficiencies of running a business, Kraft sees software as a tool that is a vital aid to inexperienced staff members.

For example, when a customer is ready to open their pool and is unsure of where to start, software can pull up a list of all the products he needs to purchase, complete with the correct chemical dosage based on the water volume of the customer’s pool.

“Your salesperson, whether they’re novice or seasoned, has the tool in front of them to put everything on the counter the customer needs to get their pool open,” Kraft says.

“When you’re really busy and you’ve got those lines of people, you have a tendency to rush through things. You may forget something. This is a proven method that helps the salesperson get the customer everything he needs.”

Having such a checklist also provides opportunities to cross-sell, or offer customers complementary products.

“Take, for example, a surface cleaner to clean vinyl liner or the tile around the pool. Those are things the customer isn’t going to come in and ask for. But if it’s on a maintenance calendar, that’s an extra $8 or $10 bottle of chemicals they might not have bought otherwise,” Kraft says.

The “cheat sheet” isn’t just for employees; a how-to sheet of instructions for opening a pool can be printed off for customers to take home, which empowers them to take care of things on their own.

“This is also saving the customer from making repeated calls back to the store asking a lot of questions, again maximizing your employee’s time and giving them the chance to take care of the customers who are in the store,” Kraft says.

Value Down the Line

Braks also has a personal understanding of how much software can benefit a business. Her grandparents owned a pool and spa company in Oregon for nearly 35 years before choosing to retire, and Braks served as the store manager.

“We needed to do something to streamline our operations if we wanted to grow. And my grandparents, knowing they were only five to eight years away from retirement, understood they needed to do something to make their business more attractive to someone who might purchase it.”

At the time, the company used QuickBooks to manage service operations, but the retail side of the business was managed entirely on paper. Braks saw this was an issue.

“When you’re trying to build up the value of your business to sell it upon retirement, you really need to have a software package installed,” she says. “You have to have streamlined processes — that’s just the expectation now.”

In addition to implementing Evosus, Braks says her grandparents remodeled the store and made other changes to make the business look attractive to buyers. And did it work out?

“They ended up getting purchased by a local pool and spa company that happened to also use Evosus, so it worked out well,” Braks says.

A Way to Compete

As e-tailers and big-box stores crowd the market, Braks and Kraft both say the presence of software in the retail store is critical to a company’s success.

“One of the things I see is the ability to provide the same product as the company down the road,” Braks says. “You might not be able to offer it at the same price, but you’re able to offer additional services to them. So not only are you capable of warrantying the product that you sell, but you’re also able to provide a points reward system or loyalty program that keeps them coming back to your business.

“And I think by offering that level of service to your customers, it encourages them to come back to you instead of going down to the big box store down the road simply because they offer the product for less.”

Kraft echoes the same sentiment:

“To profit the most, you have to operate efficiently, provide the best customer service, take care of your employees and have the best customer service, and that’s what a good point-of-sale software management system does.”

A Retailer’s Perspective

Company Coordinator Cerah Gray has been with Arizona-based A&M Corson’s AquaValue for eight years. With six locations, it’s imperative to Gray, that operations run smoothly, something she can’t envision without the help of software. After working with QuickBooks and other software programs — and running into snags thanks to the company’s multiple locations — Gray tried Evosus and hasn’t looked back.

“In any retail store, inventory is where the money is. That’s our No. 1 biggest investment,” Gray says. “If you don’t know where your inventory is, or what it’s costing you, or what you have on hand accurately, that’s a huge problem. With Evosus, we’re able to keep track of all the stores, it’s 100 percent live, so at any given point you know what’s in each store.”

In addition to keeping a finger on the pulse of the company’s inventory, Gray says software has given her a shortcut for calculating the science of profitability.

“It has allowed us to really key in on keeping the margins correct,” Gray says. “So when there’s cost increases from the vendors, there’s reports we can run that tell us what the margin is on a particular item — is that where it’s supposed to be? Is that where we need it to be to make money?

“Everybody’s in the business to make money. We don’t want to gouge the customers, but we need to be able to pay our expenses. So it’s definitely been helpful in managing the margins and the markups that we have.”

The company used to do manual counts of inventory, but Gray says software, which can come with scanning capabilities, greatly reduced the required time.

“We have one store where we can scan and do the inventory in six hours, whereas before it would have taken three days. It’s huge,” Gray says.

Speaking of time, A&M Corsons has a loyalty program they used to manage manually.

“We were doing it customer-by-customer, and I had one person who was here three days a week and that was all she did. It was a huge expense!” Gray says.

They’ll soon be taking up the loyalty program feature Evosus offers. With the time saved there, in inventory counts and other areas, Gray says the company as a whole benefits from extra time.

“If you’re not stuck doing those day-to-day, task-oriented operations, you have time to focus on the business and do the more entrepreneurial types of things. We just added construction and remodel to our department because we do have the time and resources.”

Around the Watercooler Testing Center

Software doesn’t stop at the cash register. Retailers are finding ways to implement new technology in every part of their stores. One popular hotspot: the water-testing center.

Enter ALEX, BioGuard’s software that tests water and stores customer info in its database.

“It helps the consumer increase their interaction with the dealer in the store, improves accuracy and reduces the time it takes for the consumer to get their water processed,” says BioGuard Brand Manager Joe DeFuria.

To say ALEX is primarily a water-testing program is selling it short. DeFuria sees it as a means of improving the customer/retailer relationship while also elevating the professionalism of the retailer.

“For example, if a customer has algae, that consumer is probably frustrated by how time-consuming and expensive that issue is,” DeFuria says. “You’re able to run a report and say ‘Okay, over the past week, who has had algae?’ And you call those people and ask them how they’re making out with the algae problem, if it has been cured or if there’s any additional help they need. It’s a level of customer service that the consumer won’t experience anywhere else.”

Not to mention the possibilities for marketing. DeFuria notes that a retailer can easily run a report to see which customers visited the store last year for water testing and haven’t yet visited this year.

“They can have a postcard sent to those customers that says, ‘Hey, we’ve missed you this year, come visit us.’ They can even include an action item like a coupon to draw the customer in.”

One last perk: ALEX is integrated with software systems like Evosus and RB Control Systems, meaning the databases are seamlessly blended.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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