Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of a story in PizzaMarketplace's Guide to Purchasing the Right POS System. The guide contains extensive advice and instruction for making the best decision when buying a point-of-sale system. To download a free copy of the 43-page guide, Go To Pizza POS Download.
It's one thing for a pizza operator to think, "I need a POS system." But it's another thing to know exactly what system is needed for his business. Bells and whistles are exciting, but the question, "Do I really need all this?" can't be ignored.
Many operators recommend no less than a few months' investigation to find the right POS system, while others stay in the hunt as long as a year.
Barckley, products manager for FireFly Technologies in Hillsboro, Ore., said a good place to start is by letting your business demands guide you.
"Take a look at what systems and processes are in place now in your business, and then learn how that will change with a new system," he said. "That might be in the way it takes orders, generates reports, does back-of-house administrative work — whatever it is, you need to know that."
The problem, he said, is very few operators do that. Most often they're focused on the system's attributes, such as its ease and speed of use, etc. Those qualities are important, of course, but they won't change the way your business runs. He suggests shoppers take the time to write out a detailed analysis of how their business runs today, and then estimate the impact of a new POS system.
Operator Marico Thomas owns the five-unit Upper Crust Gourmet &
Pizza company in Bermuda. He has used four different makes of POS systems in his restaurant career, and he believes the "wants and needs list" is essential when researching his most recently purchased system.
"Write it down before you start looking, and when you know what you want, visit every provider online to try and get as much information on what features are available that fit your needs," said Thomas. "Do a comparison on how important each feature is to you and your business, and if it's missing a feature, evaluate how valuable that feature really is. The question I ask is whether it'll cost me money to not have it."
Get what you need
A turnkey POS system is expensive. At a cost of $10,000 to $20,000 for a three- or four-terminal system that might have a central server, wise operators should focus on buying what they need before buying what they'd like. In conducting a needs assessment, FireFly partner Holscher said operators should analyze their business's current requirements for a POS. Second, they should project how much the business is expected to grow in the next one to three years, and then factor in some wiggle room for even more growth.
"That's the challenge: buying enough to help your business and accommodate for growth, but not so much that you've got way more than your business needs," she said.
Having such information about your business handy during the research process is important. To help make a recommendation, a POS provider should ask for your weekly sales average and your average sales on your busiest day. Why the latter number? Because the system must be able to handle peak demand.
"Buying a POS system that can't keep up on your busiest night is like buying an oven that's adequate during the week, but can't handle the load on Friday night," said Thomas.
Additionally, beware of the multitude of systems on the market designed for general restaurants but that address pizza delivery with add-on components. Brad Ridgeway, director of operations for 11-unit Mackenzie River Pizza Company in Bozeman, Mont., said his company made the mistake of buying such a system several years ago.
"We do delivery, pick-up and dine-in, so we needed something to handle all three," he said. "But what we got just was not very compatible to what we're trying to do. It functioned more like something designed for a steakhouse, and it was not delivery friendly or pick-up friendly."
Shawn Pratt, operations partner with Pizzicato Gourmet Pizza in Portland, Ore., oversees the company's 15 stores, all of which have several POS terminals in each. Tired of making system updates at each individual store, Pratt sought a centralized server system that could be managed via the Web from Pizzicato's headquarters.
"All our pages are loaded from that centralized server to the Web and then to every terminal; we don't have servers in the stores," said Pratt. "That cuts the cost of replacing hardware, which breaks down in this environment."
But those hardware savings come at a price, said Knudsen, vice president of DaVinci's
Pizza in Lincoln, Neb.
"There are some downfalls to this new technology," he said. "If the centralized server loses its Internet connection, then all the stores are down. Still, the benefits outweigh the risks, and at the end of the day, not having the hardware in the stores and opening up the space to use for storage is a huge benefit."
Seeing is understanding
Cheech Kehoe, owner of Big Daddy's Pizza in Burlington, Vt., said he spent about a year looking for the perfect POS system. He immediately weeded out systems not specifically designed for a pizzeria, studied the attributes of each finalist and then auditioned some systems at tradeshows, online or through DVDs mailed to him.
"Being (at tradeshows) gave me a chance to talk to other users there in the booth, guys who use it now," said Knudsen. "I'd tell them I was looking for more information and they'd answer my questions, too."
Kehoe and Knudsen both asked providers for references to users who could verify whether their sales pitches were true. Holscher said a company's willingness to let their customers talk to prospects is a good measure of a vendor's confidence in a product. A crucial question to ask, she added, is about support.
"You want to know if they're going to be there for you when you have trouble on a busy night," she said. "Were I looking into it, I'd call their support team on a Friday night and see if you get an answer."
Pratt learned the hard way just how bad customer support can be. Not only was Pizzicato's former POS system difficult to use, getting timely help was next to impossible.
"Sometimes it would take four hours to get a call back," said Pratt. "If you needed to add an item or make changes to your system, it took a day to generate. We need things to happen immediately."
It can happen to you
If you think your system will be the one that doesn't malfunction, don't fool yourself, Holscher said. Computers break, especially in the restaurant environment, where the toughness of tech gear is tested to the max in such a setting.
"You need to look at their warranty policy and see what happens when a terminal goes down," she said. "If you have five terminals, you can almost bet that one is going to go down in a 2-year period."
Debbie Taranto-Antoun, who co-owns one of three Taranto's Pizzeria's in Powell, Ohio, is in the market for a new POS system. Not surprisingly, good support is at the top of her demands list.
"I have such lousy tech support with the system I have now that I hesitate to call them anymore because it's a huge headache," she said. "I'm not a computer person and I don't expect my employees to know them either. So when our system goes down, I want help right then. I don't want to wait all night."
But since nothing is
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permanently perfect, operators like Kehoe say there's a balance to be struck between needing help and expecting to get it.
"When I got the Phoenix system, they were up front about the fact that learning and maintaining this system is a process; it's not as though the machine just shows up and everything runs smooth and beautifully forever," he said. When problems have occurred, he said he's always gotten the help he needs.
"If I don't get someone on the line immediately, I never wait more than 20 minutes to get a call back. And I really love the fact that when I call there for help, I talk to a human being who knows me. It's cool to hear, 'Hi, Cheech.'"