Fashion boutiques are easier to manage these days, thanks to the falling cost of computer hardware and the entry of mainstream software makers Microsoft and Intuit into point-of-sale software. Because the cost of a system with cash drawer, personal computer, software and printer has dropped to about $1,800, retailers with one or just a few stores are trading their cash registers for PC-based POS setups that handle everything from inventory to payroll to reports on bestsellers.
Deborah Karam, who owns two women’s clothing and accessories stores in Tampa, Fla., as well as an online boutique, opened her first location in 1999 with only a pencil box in place of a cash register. “I got attached to it,” she said. “As business grew, paperwork became more and more cumbersome. It was OK with one store, but when I opened the second, I needed to be more up-to-date, keep track of inventory better and sales more easily.”
A local integrator, CoolTronics, recommended Microsoft’s Retail Management System. CoolTronics founder Tyler Dikmas liked the software’s flexibility (it works with several hardware options) and the level of support Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft offered. Now Karam has a Dell SX 270 in each store and is about to add another in one of her locations. Her eight employees punch in and out on the system, which tracks payroll, sales tax and inventory. Karam can see what’s selling without having to be constantly in the stores, and a report that shows peak sales periods helps her schedule employees more judiciously.
She spent about $6,000 per store for hardware, software, consulting and installation five years ago, and last year spent about $500 total on service and support.
The biggest difference the software has made is that “I saved a lot of time,” she said. “There’s no way I could run this business efficiently and effectively and be on top of all the things I need to be without this system.” For instance, when she calculated sales tax the old way, she had to take manual inventory first.
Point-of-sale software has improved significantly in usability and functionality in the last five years, said Scott Langdoc, a POS analyst with AMR Research in Boston. The latest systems let retailers personalize customer service and manage inventory, so they can look up customer information and know whether items are on special order at other locations. The upshot is that little retailers can be more efficient and offer better customer service, he said.
Karam’s new system has allowed her to increase sales even though she cut her spending on print advertising by 40 percent. “We’ve been able to increase our business by being more customer service-oriented,” she said.
At the original boutique, sales associates use the system’s information to contact customers about new merchandise they might like. Return visits have increased by about 20 percent as a result, Karam said.
In the past, most small retailers had a cash register up front with a personal computer running accounting software in the back of the store. Reentering sales from the cash register would take at least 30 minutes a day, said Greg Buzek, a POS expert and principal of IHL Consulting Group of Franklin, Tenn. “If small businesses are not running PC-based POS today, they’re missing out,” he said. Other PC-based programs for small business include Retail ICE POS from CAM Commerce Solutions, Merlin from Smart POS Solutions and Everest from iCode Inc.
After Debbie Padilla bought a clothing and lingerie store named Nicola in Del Mar, Calif., she spent $3,000 or $4,000 to update her software and buy a new Dell computer, printer and credit card reader.
She has dramatically decreased the time she spends processing new merchandise with QuickBooks Point of Sale from Intuit of Mountain View, Calif. Now it takes Padilla only a half hour or so to enter and tag a large shipment, whereas it used to take her most of the day to do by hand. She estimates that QuickBooks has helped her boost sales about 20 percent because she can reorder based on past sales.