The potential advantages POS systems offer to bakeries are remarkable. The systems can integrate operations between several locations and monitor employee performance from decorating times to cash register accuracy. They can simplify price structures, shed light on sales trends, deter theft and hold orders placed months in advance. But no two bakeries will use a POS system in exactly the same way. In order to maximize value, bakers must understand the precise needs of their business, then determine which POS system might best address them.
Identify your needs
Hundreds of retail software packages are available today, and the sheer variety of POS systems can make shopping for one seem daunting. By first identifying the specific needs of your bakery, you can quickly eliminate a lot of possibilities in order to focus on the options fulfilling the unique needs of the bakery.
“We wanted to make sure that the end users could do things similarly to the way they were used to doing them,” says Dennis Stanton, owner, Swedish Bakery, Chicago. “We wanted to find a company that would do all of the implementation for us and get everything up and running out of the box so that the adjustment was minimal. We needed someone to do all the heavy lifting for us, especially to make sure that the advanced order system was functioning the way that it ought to.”
Advanced order capability allows POS systems to track all elements of each order, from payment to design details to delivery date, months in advance. Stanton, whose business relies heavily on wedding and celebration cakes, says a good advanced order system was the most important business need he hoped to address with the addition of a POS system. If he didn’t need advanced order capability, he could have gone with almost any company, but his specific need led him to a select group of POS systems.
“Say you have a wedding cake scheduled for six months from now, the advanced order is going to let you keep that order in the system at the end of each night,” Stanton says. “You might take a deposit on the cake, but still have an outstanding balance that’s due on a certain day. Advanced orders keep track of all that, compared with trying to keep up with reems of paper files. If you are doing a lot of cake orders, it’s worth it.”
But no two bakeries are identical, and each has its own set of needs that a POS system can address. Some software, instead of being designed for a few big ticket items months down the road, is designed for fast-moving retail stores that make hundreds or even thousands of transactions per day. Armed with an understanding of your needs, you can quickly narrow the field of possibilities in the glut of potential POS system.
Make it easy on yourself
Merritt’s Bakery, Tulsa, Okla., has three retail locations and a production facility. When looking into a POS system, ease of use was an immediate factor in owner Christian Merritt’s decision.
“We looked for a very user friendly terminal interface,” he says. “We have a lot of employess, so we had to cater to a wide range of technical skills.”
With that in mind, Merritt knew that he needed a simple interface, but one capable of handling the bakery’s large variety of items. He stressed being able to organize different products within the system so they are easy to find for anyone using the terminal.
“You have to wonder with some of these complex systems, ‘How long does it take to ring up a donut and a cup of coffee?’ Our customers were used to being handled faster by an old fashioned cash register than a lot of POS systems out there right now,” Merritt says. “We had to make sure that the end user was able to easily find individual products and ring them up without having to hunt around the system to find what they are looking for.”
Merritt cautions that the end user isn’t the only person viewing the system, and ease of use should be taken into account on the administrative side as well. Most POS systems are able to generate reports and amass data for administrative use, but that valuable information is of little use if the administrator can’t effectively mine the data. Take technical capabilities and limitations throughout the labor force into consideration in order to get the most out of a POS system.
Establish a budget
“Buying a POS system can be a lot more of a capital investment and an investment in training time than you expect,” Merritt adds.
You need to factor in quite a few elements when budgeting for an installation, such as retail and end user software, accounting and administrative software, the hardware and terminals themselves, credit and debit card readers, servers, training, and networking. You also must account for any upkeep and ongoing fees like Internet usage and an alternate power supply to protect the terminals from power interruptions.
Additional components, such as printers, which vary in price based on speed, accuracy and functionality, can raise the cost of a system, but cutting corners there can be problematic. Slower printers may save a few bucks, but can cost you more in the long run with customer dissatisfaction. “If a customer has to wait for a slow-printing receipt, you’re perceived as slow,” Merritt says. Newer printer models use thermal printing, which costs more up front, but saves on ink costs over time. Every piece of hardware and software requires this sort of cost-benefit analysis.
“You have to look at it as an investment in your business, these things aren’t cheap,” Stanton says. “Three terminals are going to cost $7 to $10 thousand dollars, depending on your software, so you have to have an idea of what you’re going to spend on it. Once the sticker shock fades, you start doing the math to see what you can afford and what you need.”
Test drive the equipment
When Ray Fleckenstein finally retired the bakery management program that he designed for his Fleckenstein’s Bakery a decade ago, he consulted other local Chicago bakeries to see what was working for them.
Nearby Lovin Oven Cakery in Round Lake, Ill., had a POS system to his liking, and Fleckenstein was able to get a feel for its capabilities.
“It makes it a lot easier to have someone like Ken [Slove] at Lovin Oven, who is running a program comparable to what I need,” Flecksentein says. “Every bakery is different as far as requirements, culture, and just the way that things get done, but being able to see the program up close was invaluable.”
References also are important given the large number of inexperienced software companies that open every year. A proven track record within the baking or related industry helps to ensure that you are working with a reputable company. Not a lot of research is necessary to come to this conclusion, but it is worth the effort.
Be certain to sit through a demonstration of each of the POS sytems that you are considering. “Once I saw it actually work, I thought of a million questions that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to ask,” Fleckenstein adds.
Nothing beats real time experience with a system to determine whether it is right for you and your business.
“You need to determine what these things can do in terms of reports, in terms of screen design and advanced orders; they’re much too costly not to take a look at what they can and can’t do,” Stanton says.
Get what you want
Stanton and Merritt have had their POS systems for more than a year. They agreed that implementation was a headache, but stressed the importance of working with the company to customize the system for your needs.
The software is capable of providing nearly limitless data, but the trick is in effectively mining it. A good system provider will teach you to tease the information you want from the raw data. The information that can be gleaned is enlightening when given the right lens through which to view it.
“I can’t imagine selling what and as much as I’m selling being as blind as I used to be,” Merritt says.