EPOS - Focusing on flexibility

New point of sale systems are combining stock control and e-commerce as smaller garden centres and nurseries look to integrate management processes, reports Matthew Appleby.

G7: running software on tills helps data processing - image: Golden Acres
G7: running software on tills helps data processing - image: Golden Acres

With most big garden retailers having established electronic point of sale (EPOS) systems, installation companies are working on replacements and are targeting smaller customers who may not have considered EPOS within their range before.

Greenfield Software managing director Daniel Harris says its nursery management system Growmaster is being developed for wholesale nurseries to expand into the cash and carry market and other retail sales. "We have two software systems for horticultural customers," he adds. "Our labelling system can be supplied with a comprehensive database of plant names and descriptions and can be linked in to the GAP Photos picture library for high-quality images. Labels can be printed on OKI colour printers or thermal transfer printers for long-lasting black and white labels."

A new version of Growmaster released in June has features to make it even more user-friendly, Harris says.

These include:

- Enterprise database for enhanced performance and resilience.

- Enhanced filtering for all listing screens.

- Improved system configuration.

- More system utilities including ability to configure import file mapping.

- System security overhauled to enable greater control.

Additional modules are also being released during the summer including a production planning module and an EPOS module which will enable the system to be used for retail and wholesale, says Harris. "This should prove popular as more wholesale nurseries try to expand into cash and carry or retail sales and more garden centres start to grow their own plants. Growmaster can be used with handheld units, which enables quick stock control and order entry while walking the nursery. The new software will be shown at Four Oaks."

Easitill managing director Rob Gardner is another long-established industry figure. He says providing flexible systems for smaller businesses is the way ahead.

Recent installations are at Doremoor in Sheffield, The Barn Plant Centre in Essex and Dennetts in Daventry. "A lot of garden centre specialists in recent years tended to ignore the smaller end of the market," he says.

"Many EPOS systems are assigned to the back office. We find in many cases the small businesses that haven't tackled EPOS so far don't want to employ someone to sit in the office and someone to sit on the counter so we put back office and till functions on the same machine on the counter itself. We have another till alongside, which means the operator can do database maintenance when there are no customers in."

Integrating stock control

The other thing Easitill is doing is integrated systems for companies maybe not wanting to do e-commerce but doing plant availability online, adds Gardener. "It's a major aspect of doing business for companies that can't afford someone to list and delist, because the system automatically includes whether there product is in stock or not.

"Smart cards like chip and pin allow loyalty to be recognised with cards charged with bonus points when you spend. The system also has automatic cost-price updating without having to import the whole file."

Replacement or new EPOS installations for larger garden centre customers account for a large part of business but smaller businesses are now finding the technology irresistible, Gardener says. "Under pressure from the current economic climate they want to ensure that the stock that they are selling and just in time ordering is built into their systems."

G7 sales director Rob Gentles finds EPOS business is becoming less seasonal. "In the past year we have been busy all year. We're either seeing people who have not had systems or who want to change. We're working a lot more with smaller turnover companies - sometimes less than £500,000 - who are looking at EPOS, which is encouraging. It is because they know they have to grow and need to understand margins. They want to match the High Street discounts with buy-one-get-one-frees and 50 per cent offs and they have to understand how that affects their margins. With younger blood coming into the industry they are not going to put up with a calculator and a biscuit tin."

Blue Diamond is one of G7's larger customers and is swapping a legacy G7 system for a Torex system, says Gentles. "We are doing the cafes to start and later in the year we are rolling it out to the rest of the garden centre."

Gentles says the number of lines that garden centres sell means data management is important. "Smaller garden centres can have 30,000 and larger ones 100,000," he adds. Data management systems can import supplier catalogue details straight into the EPOS system and will show the differences when the supplier makes updates, he explains.

Running software on tills or in the back office are options to help flexible data processing and product updating, he maintains.

Open Retail Solutions is another company reporting healthy interest in its systems. Managing director Graham Stamper says: "People are suffering economically but last September we had the best Glee ever.

"We were flat out from then until April with installations and new business. Now we have longer-term people coming round for renewal. Most are considering how to get customers to come in either by having a better website with newsy and social elements to drive people in."

Stamper reports that retailers want their sites to be customer specific so they can tailor their offerings to them. "You have to get to know that customer better. There is a move towards click and reserve websites to link e-commerce with making a visit happen."

Customers increasingly want the reassurance that a website has a store behind it, he explains: "Otherwise manufacturers think that you are just slashing prices and upsetting customers." Among other new trends he maintains that retailers are looking towards "raised tablet-type equipment as a viable option", as an "upmarket stocktaking gun". They also want the flexibility of having a back office system at the retail till, he adds.

Tracking trends Shoppers' rule

Scott Storey, managing director, CTS Retail

"Technology is radically changing the face of retail and the pace of change is getting quicker by the day. The consumer of 2011 will be best known for their ability to call the shots, having more control over their shopping experience than ever before. So how will the garden retail industry evolve its EPOS offering to keep up with an increasingly in-tuned customer?

"I believe online stores will gain greater share of sales. With reports showing that more customers than ever are turning to the web as their destination of choice, garden retailers will need an EPOS offering that enables them to embrace the online world. Solutions that include embedded webstore technology mean that garden retailers have everything they need to reach a wider online audience, sell more effectively to existing customers and keep inventory information up to date.

"But the garden retail store is certainly not dead. Moreover, customers want to engage with a hybrid retailer that is able to combine the experiential benefits of the bricks and mortar store experience with the flexibility and 24/7 nature of the web.

"Retailers should therefore focus their efforts in 2011 on striving to consolidate systems and maximise return on investment through the integrated use of all sales channels. Homebase is a great example of a retailer that has truly embraced the cross-channel service model and is clearly reaping the benefits.

"In the current environment, a seamless integration between online and bricks and mortar offerings is key to building customer loyalty and truly understanding your target audience. An EPOS solution which helps them align their working processes and values across their entire offering will ensure they can deliver a true cross-channel customer experience.

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