POS Software Possibilities

July 2011
by Kerry Kirkham
With a seeming frenzy of providers and options for point-of-sale software systems (POS), it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of your mission: to secure the most streamlined system that manages your business and falls within budget. As a busy winery manager, your objectives need to be outlined before you even begin the shopping process.

Scott Meloney, president and CEO of Microworks Technologies Inc., Napa, Calif., highlighted the importance of evaluating POS needs departmentally. “You need to know who will be affected by it: tasting room, marketing, accounting, shipping. Typically the decision is made by one or two people; not everyone is consulted.”

Future expandability was another pre-purchase consideration that Meloney mentioned. “Your needs today are not necessarily your needs tomorrow, so you need to make sure there’s room for growth within the system,” he said. “Stick with an industry-specific solution that’s based on technology that addresses your future needs.”

Harvey Grant, president of Elypsis, a Napa, Calif.-based winery software provider, also mentioned long-term POS needs. “It’s like building a house: Think long-term and have a blueprint,” he said. “Buy something that will allow you to grow and expand. The system has to grow with your business.”

When shopping for a POS system, check a provider’s references. It’s even better if you can go to one of their customers’ wineries during peak times to see how the retail process flows in the tasting room. Tasting room consultant Craig Root of, St. Helena, Calif., takes the background check one step further. “When you call a provider’s reference, ask who they know who also uses the system, because usually those clients aren’t on the provider’s ‘golden list’,” he said.

For wineries reluctant to buy a good POS system to streamline business operations and manage direct-to-consumer sales data, Root cautioned that buying a $200 cash register from Office Depot won’t segment and collate the sales data effectively. “If you have a 60- to 70-key cash register you can divide up the data, but you have to enter it by hand into a spreadsheet after you Z out (close out). Computerized cash registers can enter data directly into a spreadsheet so you don’t have to. It’s better for CRM (customer relationship marketing),” Root said. At the push of a button, “You should be able to know who your top buyers are and what your best-selling wines are.”

Root also mentioned the value in a POS system’s ability to keep track of the sales popularity of non-wine items such as wine accessories, food, apparel and books. He divides them up into three categories: stars, middlers and dogs. Sales data from the cash register allows him to test price resistance on his stars and middlers. In the case of middlers or dogs, it raises a red flag to make sure items are placed and lighted properly in the tasting room. If an item stays a dog, it’s set out on the discount table and not reordered.

Integration with legacy software
Michael Perrien, general manager of 4,000-case Kenzo Estate winery in Napa, Calif., shared his POS-selection criteria. “My philosophy is to try to work with solutions that have one leg out of the wine industry. The provincial knowledge from the wine industry can sometimes limit the scope of a solution—especially since technology evolves so rapidly.” He chose Napa Valley POS, based on Microsoft RMS, which is the one leg outside the wine industry, yet is customized for the wine industry. Perrien appreciates Napa Valley POS’s integration with Vin 65 and QuickBooks. The other key consideration for Kenzo Estate was the flexibility of the platform and the ability to marry POS and e-commerce to unify data.

Data integration needs to go one step further, according to Adam Savin, national sales manager of VinNow in Hopland, Calif. “Check out integration partners to make sure it’s part of your overall solution,” he said. This means any service providers you’re partnered with such as FedEx, UPS or ShipCompliant.

Your final choice may come down to what you’re willing to compromise. When Jenn Berman, co-general manager and assistant winemaker at 4,000-case Stryker Sonoma, Geyserville, Calif., chose the winery’s POS provider in August 2010, “There was no perfect system. Where one system was lacking another one was great. We wanted one that was well integrated from e-commerce to wine club to POS,” she said. “When you’re under 10,000 cases, looking for an affordable solution is difficult. Everyone has a piece, but no one does it all.”

Berman said that Microworks Cash Manager, which can tie into Excel, has been the best solution for Stryker Sonoma’s accounting needs. “I can trust the numbers it puts out,” she said, adding that she also relies on Microworks to generate wine club statics such as which customers have declined credit card numbers in the system, who the top 100 buyers are by state and which are the best-selling varietals and vineyard designates.

Craig Root echoed Berman’s need to compromise sentiment. “All systems have their strengths and weaknesses, none of them are perfect,” he said.

Ease of use
Scott Meloney of Microworks advised, “If you go through a demo and you didn’t get it within one hour, you need to move on. The system has to be easy to use.”

Linda Champagne, hospitality director for 11 years at 99,000-case Artesa Vineyards & Winery, Napa, Calif., shared her experience with AMS Client, Advanced Management Systems (AMS), Santa Rosa, Calif. “Some of the reports are challenging, but in the past five years they’ve made some innovations,” she said. “The system is really easy for the front-line people. The touch screen interface made a big difference in quickness.”

In shopping for a POS system, she wanted to be able to easily organize data into reports and mentioned the importance of being able to convert an AMS report to Excel spreadsheets if needed. Champagne spends lots of time tracking and analyzing winery data, always with a mind to find ways to improve sales figures. She mentioned that DtC and online sales have increased dramatically in the past three years and that POS software helps her keep pace as Artesa maintains a database of approximately 55,000 people. Champagne stressed the importance of being able to generate complex reports with numerous variables to understand client buying habits and preferences.

Tina Smith, owner of 10,000-case Cypress Bend Vineyards, Wagram, N.C., has been using VinNOW for six years. When shopping for a POS system, one of her biggest concerns was ease of use. “When we were starting up the winery in 2005 I had to train new people, and I wanted to make sure people could use the system within 10 minutes of stepping in to learn,” she recalled. She added that her user-friendly POS system of choice had to be coupled with a functionality that would give her staff the level of reporting they needed. “VinNOW is extremely functional. You can click in, and you have a variety of ways to retrieve reports.” Reliability, which falls under the ease-of-use umbrella, has also kept Smith a faithful VinNOW client. “It hasn’t failed us in six years. It has never gone down,” she said. “There are minor glitches here and there, but there’s a great support line. They get back to you right away.”

Strong technical support
Craig Root suggested asking your POS provider, “If the cash register breaks down on a Saturday, how soon can you fix it? If you can’t fix it over the phone, how soon can a technician be there? If you can’t get it fixed, how long until you can get a replacement?” The same questions apply if your POS software system goes down.

When it came time for Jenn Berman to select a POS system, having a good technical support team to back the product was one of the most important criteria. She was interested in how willing the provider was to help set up reports since every accountant has a unique way of looking at data. Plus, she wanted to be able to filter and be flexible with the database. “You need a strong technical support team to help you figure it out. Most of us aren’t technically savvy, so it’s another language. Microworks has great technical support,” she said.

When negotiating price with your POS provider, Craig Root recommends negotiating as many training hours and support hours as possible up front, because post-purchase support can get expensive.


  Elypsis VinNOW Microworks
POS Software Prices Compared
Cost: $1,190 per register for Microsoft Dynamics RMS basic set-up. Add-ons such as Quick Capture, ComplianceLink and WineClub Manager are additional. Starts at $4,950 for one workstation. Each additional workstation costs another $2,000. Annual upgrades cost $742.50. Technical support costs $247.50 per year. After purchase, total annual costs are just under $1,000 per year. None
Set-Up Fee: Depending on integration and software complexity, the rate for one POS register site is $150 per hour. Training is included in the set-up fee. None. Licensing, installation and training are included in the initial cost. Starts as low as $400
Monthly Cost: No monthly fees. The software is purchased outright, so there is no subscription model. Tech support fee: $175 per hour charged in quarter-hour increments. A free, searchable online database of error codes and keywords is available for training and tech support. Instead of purchasing the system, clients can subscribe on a monthly basis for $100-$320 per month with an initial training set-up fee that ranges from $495 for basic features to $810 for all features. Starts as low as $200 per month, which includes tech support.
Misc. During first year the user is required to purchase a software-enhancement plan that includes access to new versions released within the first 12 months. The cost is 16% of the software price.    

The need for speed
Some weekends at Stryker Sonoma, guests will line up three deep at the tasting room bar. That’s when the importance of POS speed comes into play. Berman attributes her tasting room’s client processing speed to Microworks’ Wine Direct. “It has a touch screen with color-coded keys and is a 15-30 second process from keying in the order, swiping the card and printing a receipt,” she said. Another consideration that may impact processing speed is whether a winery’s Internet connection is dial-up, cable or DSL. “How fast you can swipe through to the bank has to do with your payment processor, too.” she said. All the pieces have to be considered to get a clear notion of overall processing speed.

Nothing is more stressful than a logjam of guests at the cash register who need their wine shipped across the country. Harvey Grant, president of Elypsis, Napa, Calif., presented one of the most frustrating retail scenarios for tasting room managers. “Imagine a tour bus horn blows and everyone has to drop their purchases when too many people are lined up at the cash register.”

Speedy guest data capture and processing allows tasting room staffers time to build a lasting relationship with guests, and Elypsis product QuickCapture helps enable that. Tasting room staff can run a guest’s driver license through their credit card reader or scan the barcode on the back. With a push of a button the guest can be set up as a new customer. You may still want a physical signature to confirm that it is indeed the customer’s address. According to Grant at Elypsis, all but five states produce driver’s licenses with either a magnetic stripe or barcode on them.

Before the guest’s credit card is even run, integrated compliance software such as ShipCompliant can calculate tax and shipping costs based on destination as well as evaluate state compliance rules. This eliminates having to drag out the tattered old three-ring binder or clipboard to search for a wine club member during a bustling weekend afternoon. With POS software such as Elypsis’ WineClub Manager, pickups can be managed with a time and date stamp by entering who picked up what. A second receipt is printed for a customer to sign to retain for proof of pickup.

Profits and a streamlined business operation are proof that your system is working, and finding the ideal solution is mission possible. Though the service comes at a price, not adopting a workable and budget-friendly solution to use to its fullest potential can come at a much greater cost.

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