When it came to marketing, Karen Evans used to close her eyes, throw a dart and hope to hit the bull's eye. Her preferred method of moving her message, blanket couponing, meant investing heavily in a typically light return.

But not long after Evans, owner of Gionino's Pizzeria in Norton, Ohio, saw how a computerized point-of-sale system could improve her marketing success while reducing her costs, she latched on to it.

"Our system allows us to significantly narrow our sights, and therefore saves me a ton of time and a ton of money," Evans said.

As Evans knows well, modern POS systems can collect, store and disseminate customer information at the click of a mouse, and produce offers so targeted, they can include a customer's favorite toppings.

"A great POS system will keep track of all vital customer information from telephone and address to order habits and history," said Tom Bronson, president of Dallas-based Rockland Technology Group. Armed with such info, "operators can implement very effective postcard, door hanger, or telephone campaigns."

While more common marketing methods of canvassing a neighborhood with coupons or door hangers can be tracked and measured, Bronson points out that a POS system goes a step further by reviewing sales data from before and after the campaign. That, he said, gives an accurate measurement of whether a marketing effort had an impact on sales.

Rockland Technology Group's DiamondTouch POS.

John de Wolde, president of Lynden, Wash.-based SpeedLine Solutions, points to five advantages the latest POS systems have over manual marketing efforts:

* Direct marketing e-mail, which allows operators to collect e-mail addresses of customers during order-taking.

"Within the program you can write an e-mail message, like a promotion, and the system will automatically send out an e-mail message to those customers who have provided an address," said de Wolde. "This has got to be one of the lowest-cost ways to market directly because it only costs you your Internet connection."

* Reports that provide operators highly targeted data, such as a customer's order history. Information parameters are usually flexible, allowing operators to instruct the POS to search out names of customers who haven't ordered for prolonged periods, as well as names of loyal and frequent customers who deserve a reward offer.

* Mailing label creation. Typically done on a desktop computer, many POS systems can prepare customer data to be printed out as labels for direct mail pieces.

* Custom prompts. These allow operators to make messages uniquely tailored to individual customers. For example, when a customer whose personal information is already in the company database, calls the store, the POS recognizes the phone number, pulls up a message that the operator tailored to that customer, and flashes it on screen for the order-taker to read.

Not only could that message prompt the staffer to ask if the customer would like "extra anchovies on your pizza again," it also could instruct him to ask, "Should the driver meet you at the back door again," or "Should we knock again and not ring the doorbell?"

Such detailed information -- anything beyond data captured by the POS during the order process -- must be communicated by a delivery driver to the operator for input. But POS reps and owners say the effort is worth it since customers like the personalization.

"This allows your order-taking staff to deal with customers in a particular way," noted de Wolde.

* Suggestive selling prompts can be programmed to flash on the order-taking screen, increasing the likelihood that specials and promotional offers are communicated by order takers. Those prompts can be scheduled to appear on screen at certain times during the order process. Near the "order total" phase, a message might flash, "Don't forget to offer breadsticks!"

Details, Details

Having that kind of access to so much data is all good and well, said Bronson, but an operator still has to mine it. "The key for a great pizza operator is to know how to extract this valuable information from his POS and use it effectively in marketing."

That process starts with the collection of vital customer information during every transaction. If that step is neglected, even in part, the marketing muscle of the strongest POS system will goes soft.

"It's important to get all the information, especially the correct address and complete ZIP code," said Brad Van Parys, vice president of SelbySoft in Puyallup, Wash. He said that his company's POS can be programmed to require data input minimums that, if not met, "the user should be prevented from going further until he does so."

Once the information is collected, the power of marketing is in the operator's hands.

"It just makes it easy to determine who your customer is, and where she is," said Arthur Karolemas, a former independent pizzeria operator turned customer service agent for Rockland. While in operations, Karolemas could locate his ideal delivery customer base by keying in a specific distance away from his store and then pulling information on customers living within that radius.

"Normally, you'd never see that customer again, but if you're able to go back in the system and pull up every customer that ordered that type of dough during that hour, you've identified a group that can be won over."

Brad Van Parys
VP, SelbySoft

"I used the marketing functions twice a month, and that allowed me to conduct very current and targeted marketing programs," Karolemas said.

Karolemas used that same information to fax coupons and other promotions to businesses in the area. Those promotions also turned out to be a boon, which he said data from his POS verified.

Software in some systems help track and isolate problems by allowing operators to pinpoint when the problems occurred. For example, a manager becomes aware that an inferior batch of dough was used for pizzas between 7 and 8 p.m. on a Friday. And thinking his pizzas may have been sub-par, a proactive operator could call his customers, see if there was a problem, and, if so, make amends.

"If a new customer tries you out and gets a pizza from that bad dough, all they know is that your pizza tastes like cardboard," said Van Parys. "Normally, you'd never see that customer again, but if you're able to go back in the system and pull up every customer that ordered that type of dough during that hour, you've identified a group that can be won over."

Gionino's Evans said she also uses her system to "check the results after advertisements have hit the streets. A coupon report tells us how effective each advertisement is based on how many coupons we get back."

The mapping features her POS system also allows her to pinpoint areas where she has few customers. Armed with that info, she knows exactly where to target her door-hanger campaigns.

"To this point, it has proved to be very effective," Evans said.

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