Every beverage alcohol retailer is different. Some are new to the business; others are old hands. Some run single stores, others chains. Some sell only beverage alcohol; for others, it is but one department. And of course, depending on their state and local laws, beverage-alcohol retailers are subject to different regulations.
While the basics of point-of-sale (POS) – recording transactions and tracking inventory – remain the same, these different retailers, even though they are in the same industry, can have vastly different needs.
Luckily, as the POS market continues to grow and develop, even small retailers can find systems that work for them.
When Victor Pichardo bought an existing liquor store in South River, N.J., two months ago, one thing was immediately obvious to him: the existing POS system, running on personal computers, was taking up way too much space, both at the check-out counter and in the back office.
Pichardo, whose store is named Wineplex, did some research and found a POS system that could use an iPad as its register. The system from ShopKeep POS (see buyers’ guide) is web-based. “I like that it is cloud-based,” said Pichardo, noting that he doesn’t have to have a computer in his store at all. One iPad, bolted to the counter to prevent theft, is the store’s regular register. Pichardo’s receipt printer is attached to the store’s modem. The cash drawer is attached to the printer. But the iPad accesses both of those things and the scanner wirelessly.
Pichardo uses other iPads in the store to access the system. For example, he walks around the store with one while doing inventory. He can also access his store’s POS system and information, through the internet, with his computer at home.
No Upfront Costs Besides Hardware
The ShopKeep system has no upfront costs other than the hardware. Retailers pay a monthly fee, based, among other things, on how many registers they are using. “Eventually, during the holidays, I will need a second register,” said Pichardo. “The thing I like is that I can add – and pay for — that second register when I need it, but I can shut it down – and stop paying for it, when I don’t.”
Though it may feel a little insubstantial and impersonal to download the system that will run your store from the internet – in the two months that Pichardo has been using ShopKeep, he has already experienced responsive customer service. “I noticed that when someone bought more than one of the same item, you couldn’t just adjust the quantity; you had to scan each one,” he said. “I suggested that they should add a button so you could just input the quantity, and this week, they added that feature.”
Customers have noticed and commented on the Wineplex’s cutting-edge register. “People think it’s neat,” said Pichardo, “and two or three other retailers have already asked me for information on ShopKeep.”
Using Mobile Devices
Many companies, including Cashier Live and Lightspeed Retail (see buyer’s guide) as well as ShopKeep, have added the ability to use mobile devices, including smart phones and iPod Touches, as registers.
These can be put to use in a number of situations. iPads, for example, are particularly popular with restaurants because servers can input an order, touching icons on the iPads they carry, right into the system. People who sell products at remote locations, such as off-site wine tastings, can use their smart phones, equipped with card readers, to process credit-card transactions and can even use them to track their cash. Tom Greenhaw, founder of Cashier Live, gave the example of a farmer at a farmer’s market. The farmer can simply enter into the Cashier Live system that he has $20 for change in his apron pocket and then use that pocket as his cash drawer. The Cashier Live system will keep track and tell him how much money he should have at the end of the day. Cashier Live, which was already able to use an iPod Touch, added an iPhone app to its system in March and has had over 30,000 retailers create an account with it to date. The company is now in the midst of launching an iPad app.
“It depends on a store’s volume,” said Greenhaw. “Some kinds of operations are not a good fit for a mobile device; they need a regular counter.” One such example would be a grocery store or supermarket where people buy many different items at once. But in other kinds of operations, a mobile device can allow a retailer to provide a higher level of personalized service. “A wine shop or liquor store is perfect,” said Greenhaw. The salesperson can be right in the aisle with the customer, showing them items and making suggestions. And when a customer has decided, there is no need to go somewhere else and stand in line; the transaction can be completed right there.
When Tony Klausing started his new business, Good Vibes Winery in Westerville, OH, he chose the Cashier Live system, although he doesn’t use mobile devices with it. Klausing’s business is a cross between a wine shop and a tasting bar. Good Vibes is kind of like a microbrewery, but for wine. Klausing buys wine grapes from around the world and makes several kinds of wine onsite. Customers can buy flights or glasses of wine, along with cheeses, to enjoy there and they can also buy bottles to take home. They can even “make their own,” choosing the grape to be used, then coming back to bottle, cork and label their new wines after Klausing has fermented and filtered them.
Klausing needed a system that could handle some restaurant-like needs, such as keeping a ticket open as people order wine and cheese to have while at Good Vibes, but he also needed off-premise retail features, such as a counter, as well. Cashier Live, working through a PC, fit the bill for this new business. “There was no loading of software, we don’t have to back up our data (it is kept secure by Cashier Live) and I can access from any PC,” said Klausing.
For his new store, Nelson’s Countyline Liquors in Lizben, WI, Joe Nelson went with a system from Harbortouch. (See guide.) He pays approximately $75 per month for his POS system, which includes both hardware and software as well as support. Nelson had been running the store with no POS system, just an old-fashioned cash register, before he implemented the Harbortouch system and he can vouch for how much time having the POS automated can save. “I had been tagging every single product with a marking gun, which took a lot of time, all day,” he said, “and where I used to have two registers, I now need only one because checking out customers is so much faster.” Having a more precise idea of his sales and inventory, especially in beer, Nelson said, has saved him both time and money, when it comes to reordering.
Some of the systems require a retailer to use a certain credit card processor, while others do not. Some offer a cheaper monthly fee if a retailer uses their preferred processor but will allow a retailer to choose their own. And some of these systems come from credit card processors themselves. “If a free or low-cost system requires you to use their credit card processing, you might be paying a lot larger fees,” warned Rick Crudo, partner & director of sales of Merchant Technology Designs, a Seattle-based computer-system consultancy. When comparing systems, it is important to consider all the costs of each, including the credit-card-processing fees.
Supporting Liquor Retailers
Customer service, including the ability to provide the features and support a liquor retailer needs, is very important, retailers say. When Corey Maple was making plans for his new store, Seven Sisters Wine & Spirits, which he opened in May in Detroit Springs, MN, the fact that the company RITE (see guide) focused solely on beverage alcohol retailing, was “the number-one factor” that led him to choose their system. Another was that the company was locally based. “Their service has been spectacular. I know most of their staff by name and have been calling them on almost a weekly basis for advice,” said Maple, who used to run his own computer-software companies, though in a different industry, himself. “Every software is going to have deficiencies,” he said. “No software is bug-free. No software is going to have all the functions you need. What you need to look for in a computer company is a good staff who is constantly tweaking the system, adding new functionality, and one that is responsive to their customers.”
What RITE does is offer a system that uses the Microsoft Retail Management System (RMS) as its base. Microsoft built RMS so that it is customizable and that’s what RITE has done. “With some computer companies, you can’t get any help to customize the system for your business. With others, you might be able to hack a change, even though you’re not supposed to, but when the system releases an update, your hack will no longer work. That’s a major difference with us and RMS: when RMS issues an update, all our add-ons travel with it,” said Gary Noble, a retail technology specialist with RITE.
What are some of the customized features Maple has been using? He particularly likes the advanced purchase order (APO) feature, where the system generates a forecast of the store’s future sales, based on its sales in the past, to help him decide how much product to order. “A lot of retailers don’t do purchase orders, they don’t forecast, they just order what they think they need,” he said, “but I run a purchase order for every vendor. I may need to make a few adjustments here and there, but the system almost autonomously generates the order for me. I would buy the RITE system for that feature alone.”
He also has the RITE system set so that his employees must swipe the customer’s ID for the transaction to proceed. “It’s now not a question of ‘if we’re going to check IDs,’” he said, “that’s lifted a level of liability off my shoulders. (He can override this feature if an obviously older customer objects.)
Though he hasn’t set up his customer-loyalty program up yet, Maple pointed out that, if a customer is already swiping their driver’s license, a retailer can use that to track customers’ purchase histories – “We pretty much know what every customer has bought,” said Maple — and have the customer-rewards system work automatically, without clerk or customer having to remember to swipe a separate shopper’s card.
The Washington Retail Experiment
Recently, a large group of brand-new liquor retailers have had to set up their businesses in the same market, one with its own specialized reporting requirements. “I wish that an economist had thought to do a study,” said Rick Crudo, a computer consultant based in Seattle, WA, “because what we had here was hundreds of new retailers opening similar stores, all aiming to open on the same day. There would have been a lot of data there as to which business decisions work well and which don’t.” What Crudo is talking about is the privatization of liquor retailing in the state of Washington. Before June 1st, 2012, Washington was a control state, meaning the state was involved in the wholesaling and retailing of liquor within its borders. Before June, liquor was sold only by 167 state-owned stores and 163 “contract stores,” businesses, usually in sparsely populated areas, that contracted to act as agents of the state. Those contract agencies were given the option to buy the business and the 167 state-owned stores were auctioned off to private buyers as well. (Retailers with stores 10,000 square feet in size or more can also now sell liquor.)
“So, you had 167 people who had bought the license for a state store at auction,” said Crudo. “They could take over the lease of the store’s current location, renegotiate or move. They could open their stores on June 1st.”
When it came to a POS system, these new retailers, including the contract agents who had previously used a state-run system to record sales, needed a system that could handle new and confusing reporting required by the state as well as a tax and fee structure that included paying the state 17% of their sales, a retail sales tax of 20.5% and an additional tax of $3.77 per liter.
Crudo shakes his head at some of the newly minted retailers, some of whom had had no prior retail experience. “When they would call me, they’d ask only, ‘How much will it cost?’ and ‘Can you have it up and running by June 1?’”
One retailer who knew better was Kyle Contreras, who bought his liquor agency business from the state. As a former liquor agent, Contreras knew about the state’s new reporting requirements were likely to be complex. He had his accountant look for a new POS system for him. “She knew exactly what she needed for taxes and reporting,” he said. She recommended Innovative Computer Solutions (ICS) (see guide), a company that specializes in systems for beverage alcohol retailers.
He also started the switch to his new computer system early. Even before the June 1st opening day, he had the ICS system running side-by-side with the state system for the last two weeks of May to test the new system and work out any problems.
Things are working well at Contreras’s store, now called Yelm Liquor & Beverage, and he is excited about the future of his computer system. “We have been working with ICS and have been learning a lot,” he said. “I think this is the best system on the market for liquor stores. There are features I haven’t even gotten to yet.”
Rick Crudo, meanwhile, worked with a number of the new retailers, in conjunction with RITE. “Microsoft RMS is a good platform tool and Rick Feuling, [founder of RITE] is a computer expert whose family is in the liquor-store business,” he said.
Crudo once wrote a “white paper” about the three generations of POS-system ownership, about what retailers learn through experience when it comes to this investment. “Retailers need to listen to more than what the price of the system is,” he said. “They need to look at each line item when it comes to buying a system and ask themselves, ‘What’s the investment, here? What’s the reward? And is it worth it?’”
2012 POS and Computer Systems Buyers' Guide
AccuPOS provides award-winning point-of-sale (POS), inventory-management and time-clock software for the retail and restaurant industries. The AccuPOS family of products is designed to be faster and easier than a cash register and to streamline the sales process while significantly simplifying the backend. AccuPOS products, based on open standards, expand the capabilities of an existing accounting program and allow users to grow and change over time, without being locked into proprietary vendor products. Specializing in end-to-end integration, AccuPOS allows a business to view and manage sales and inventory details within the most widely used accounting packages: QuickBooks, Sage 50 – US edition, Sage 50 – Canadian edition, BusinessWorks, Sage 100 ERP. Bundled POS solutions are available via fully supported hardware partnerships. AccuPOS also offers a wide range of discount Merchant and Gift Card Services through its simple and fast onscreen interface. AccuPOS is headquartered in Los Angeles, CA with regional offices in 13 countries. For more information, visit www.accupos.com.
ATLANTIC SYSTEM INC. (ASI)
Atlantic Systems, Inc. has offered POS computer systems for beverage alcohol retailers since 1980. The company provides complete systems including hardware, software, installation, training and long-term support. Spirits 2000 is a Windows-based software package that provides inventory and financial control for one store or a multi-store chain. High-speed integrated credit/debit card processing is done via the Internet. The system can identify a customer at the register using a bar-coded card or by entering the customer’s name or account number. Its Frequent Shopper Program can collect information on customer purchases and provide the retailer assistance in rewarding customer loyalty. Automated age verification and storage of results is available in most states. Targeted marketing can be done automatically by selectively filtering customer sales history and then contacting them via a mass email. Gift card processing can be done through the retailer’s credit card processor or internally in the system, which eliminates processing fees. A web interface is available for e-commerce. Spirits 2000 can integrate with security camera systems to overlay text that displays the sale information on images at the time the sale is rung up. Spirits 2000 also includes tasting notes for products that the user can input and print out. A handheld wireless scanner with a mobile printer can be used for inventory counting, price changes, price labels, stock checks and line busting. Prices for the Spirits 2000 system start at about $8,500. For more information, call 732-280-6616, extension 127 or visit www.asi-nj.com.
BigCommerce is a pioneer in e-commerce, focused on enabling small businesses to "Sell More" online. Its all-in-one marketing and e-commerce platform boasts SEO, tools to create beautiful online stores and over 100 built-in marketing tools that make selling on iPhones, Facebook and eBay a cinch. Over 30,000 businesses in 70 countries are using BigCommerce, including Gibson Guitar, Pandora Jewelers and Willie Nelson's shop. BigCommerce was founded in 2009 by two Aussies turned part-time Texans with a vision to make selling online easy. For more information, visit http: http://www.bigcommerce.com.
CAP Software’s store-management system, SellWise, is currently being used by more than 100 wine and spirit retailers. The system provides POS, free integrated credit-card processing, inventory control, customer tracking, order/receive, tag and barcode printing, Fintech integration, and back office reporting. Additional features include optional video monitoring for security purposes, touchscreen support, hot keys and customized reports. Prices for the software start at $1100. For a demo, visit the company’s website, www.capretail.com, or call 800-826-5009.
Cashier Live is an affordable, easy-to-use point-of-sale system designed just for independent retailers. The company offers a 30-day free trial of its web-based and iPhone point-of-sale systems and just announced the ability of the system to use iPads. For more information visit cashierlive.com, download their Cashier app from the App Store, or call 877-312-1750.
Spirits by Cetech was designed specifically for New York State wine and liquor retailers. It was first installed in Western New York stores in 1987. Cetech offers custom application development for the intranet as well as the internet. For more information call 716-884-8780 or visit cetech.com.
CHOICEMASTER DIGITAL SIGNAGE (CMDS)
CMDS has teamed up with leading digital-signage partners to provide beverage-alcohol retailers with a customer-service system that can also be used to show paid advertising from other businesses. CMDS is a complete system that has an all-in-one computer featuring a 15-inch touch screen, a scanner and a printer. It runs a 42 LCD screen that is mounted directly above the touch screen to catch the attention of shoppers. CMDS ties into the POS system and provides information on the products carried in that store. The advertising and promotional revenue can be shared with the retailer. There are lease options available that will cost the store approximately $100 month before ad revenue. Sources of ad revenue can be national or local. Retailers can display store specials, current events like wine tastings or advertise local businesses. The system can be used to educate customers about new products. Later this year, CMDS will have a smart phone app for use by the retailer’s customers. For more information call 410-745-8137 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DSmart Technologies is a new company that offers retailers a free point-of-sale system, in order to buy advertising space from them on that system. On the cashier side, the DSmart Register is a fully functioning POS system. A second monitor, facing the customer, allows the customer to see the transaction being rung and also to see ads, matched to what the customer is purchasing. If a customer likes an ad, he or she can click on the screen and the promotion being offered will print at the bottom of the sales receipt or even buy the product right there at the check-out. All of the store’s data is kept in the in-store system and is also backed-up on DSmart’s servers. The free offer includes one register with the software; hardware for additional registers costs $2,000. DSmart can also be used by multi-store operations. For more information, visit dsmartinc.com or call 877-601-9192.
First Data, a global leader in electronic commerce and payment processing, serves more than 6.2 million merchant locations worldwide. It offers a range of point-of-sale terminals as well as complete point-of-sale systems, including its Payment Essentials™ Solution, which bundles comprehensive payment services, state-of-the-art hardware and 24/7 customer service into one easy-to-manage bundle . For more information, visit www.firstdata.com.
Harbortouch offers both a touchscreen point-of-sale system to retailers and also provides merchant services such as credit/debit and gift-card processing. For more information, visit www.harbortouch.com or call (800) 201-0461.
INNOVATIVE COMPUTER SOLUTIONS (ICS)
ICS has provided solutions specifically for beverage alcohol retailers for over 30 years and has systems installed throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. The company’s VISION system, a scalable application for stores ranging from a single register to multiple locations, can run on Windows XP and 7, LINUX and MAC/OS. The POS module within VISION is designed to provide full register capability, including price look-ups, discounts, customer-special pricing (and history), periodic sales and frequent-buyer or award points tracking. Tasting notes and coupons can also be generated from the register. Complete PCI-compliant credit and debit card processing permits the customer to swipe their own card, enter their PIN and sign electronically. The Vision POS can be operated on a standard PC or a touch-screen system. A 2-D scanner can identify under-age purchasers and add customers to a store’s mailing/special pricing list. The back-office module provides inventory control, extensive reporting, sales analysis, purchase history, FIFO inventory level tracking, and physical inventory. Cashier accountability features allow a retailer to track all transactions down to the keystroke, both on the POS and in the back office. VISION is turnkey and includes hardware, installation and training at the store location. Complete systems start at under $6,000, including hardware which can also be purchased separately. Call 732-223-0909 or visit www.winepos.com.
Lightspeed Retail is a Mac-based POS system for small to medium retailers. The system can be outfitted to use iPads and iPod Touches as registers. The company offers an open application program interface (API) to allow end-users to build their own custom add-ons to the system. For more information, call 866-932-1801 or visit www.lightspeedretail.com.
Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail is a global, end-to-end solution for midsize and enterprise retailers that offers multichannel management, store operations, merchandising, and enterprise resource planning capabilities. Unlike retail software built to solve the problems of the past, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail delivers role-tailored, omni-channel scenarios seamlessly through a modern, unified technology offering. To learn more about the solution and see real product demos visit www.microsoft.com/dynamics/ax/retail. You can also follow the product on Twitter (http://twitter.com/msretail) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MicrosoftforRetail).
mPOWER BEVERAGE SOFTWARE
mPower Beverage is designed specifically for beverage-alcohol retailers. The Windows-based system can be used for single or multi-store operations and offers integrated credit cards, remote access, touchscreen capability, e-commerce integration, and PCI compliance. Also, mPower Beverage can be installed on Windows 7 tablets for functionality such as inventory adjustments, ordering/receiving, or line busting. For states that require it, a wholesale module is also available for tracking back office orders and providing the needed reports to the state. The software costs $2,000 plus $1,500 for each additional register after the first. For more information, call 877-396-0141 or visit mpowerbeverage.com.
NCR Corporation (NYSE: NCR) is a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business. NCR’s assisted- and self-service solutions and comprehensive support services address the needs of retail, financial, travel, healthcare, hospitality, entertainment, gaming and public sector organizations in more than 100 countries. NCR (www.ncr.com) is headquartered in Duluth, Georgia. For more information, call 866-431-7879, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.ncr.com.
Prophetline is a POS and retail management system for small- to mid-sized specialty retailers, including beverage retailers. Its systems include IP credit card processing, integrated web shopping and fully integrated accounting. It can handle operations ranging from one store to multiple sites with centralized purchasing, Prophetline is a four-time winner of the Microsoft Retail Application Developer of the Year Award. Call 800-875-6592 or visit www.prophetline.com.
Retail Anywhere is a developer of POS and retail management systems for wine and liquor store retailers. The company has more than 28 years of experience, helping retailers run their business efficiently and profitably while conforming to liquor laws imposed by the state in which they reside. Call 800-257-2734 or visit www.retailanywhere.com for further information.
RITE (Retail Information Technology Enterprises)
This company is an award-winning provider of Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System (RMS) and works with some of the largest liquor retailers in the country, with clients in over 40 states. RITE has molded the Microsoft RMS product to meet the special needs of beer/wine/liquor retailers, including the ability to integrate with their suppliers (invoicing and pricing /EDI), integrated age verification via drivers licenses, profit-margin monitoring, advanced purchasing tools and web site integration. For information, visit http://www.rite.us or call 888-267-RITE.
SAGE NORTH AMERICA
Sage North America specializes in business-management software and services for small- and mid-sized businesses. Its latest release, Sage 50 Accounting 2013 (formerly Sage Peachtree) for small businesses has new features including the ability to accept mobile payments, Sage Peachtree Business Intelligence for customizable reporting, and the Sage Advisor, to help retailers maximize their software investment. For more information, call 800-228-0068 or visit http://na.sage.com/sage-50-accounting-us.
Developed by a wine retailer, ShopKeep POS is a complete iPad point-of-sale (POS) system designed for independent retailers. Subscription prices start at $49 per month for a basic system with one iPad register. For more information, visit www.shopkeep.com.
Windward System Five is a fully integrated liquor-industry-specific business-management software package. Windward System Five has been built to be fast, easy to learn and offers unique functionality to meet your liquor-store needs. It includes capabilities for integrated video monitoring, real-time accumulation of sales, customer relationship management, product tracking, case breakdown, 2D scanning for ID clarification, touch-screen capabilities, cost controls and reporting. The system is meant handle every aspect of a single- or multi-store business, from the cash register, to the back office, to ecommerce. Call 1-800-663-5750 or visit http://liquorstorepos.wws5.com/.
WOLF TRACK SOFTWARE
Wolf Track’s Liquor POS Software is available as software-as-a-service (SAAS). Though the system runs entirely on a store’s computers, the software can be downloaded from Wolf Track’s website. The software, which can run a touchscreen system, costs $30 per month per register. Updates to the software and support are free. Automatic database back-up is available for an additional fee. For more information, call 800-908-7654 or visit wolftrack.com.