EPoS - to install or not to install? That has been the question for independent garden centres for around two decades.
There are plenty of products available offering PC-based till systems to control stock and ordering processes using barcode scanning and capturing sales totals to help with decisions on stock levels and profit margins.
Golden Acres operations director Simon Edwards introduced EPoS from G7 Computer Services to his centres in February and will have it rolled out by July. He says his hatred of shoplifting means it will be worth the effort to find out exactly how much has gone missing and be able to identify which stock areas to monitor more closely.
"We're doing it to improve our margins - not for stock control to begin with," he says. "We want to know that if something is priced at £2.50 that's what we're taking for it. The difference is what's being stolen and we want to see what is sold so we know what to buy."
But he adds: "If you use stock control you need to be very organised. It improves staff discipline. I'll find out when people are not doing what they should. It costs a lot - £80,000-£90,000."
Edwards chose G7 on the recommendation of Grosvenor Garden Centre managing director Iain Wylie at Glee 2008.
G7 sales director Rob Gentles says that if retailers manage EPoS systems properly they can "add five per cent to the bottom line". He adds: "EPoS is an investment. It can seem expensive but most people can control waste and improve stock control with it."
Gentles says understanding which products are fast- or slow-moving, and being better able to identify how well suppliers are performing are two of the advantages of EPoS. He adds that modern systems are now able to offer buy-one-get-one-free and other promotions.
Hillier has EPoS from Corby & Fellas and managing director Andy McIndoe says he trusts colleague Mark Pitman to take the lead on running the systems.
But dedicated staff are too much of a cost for some centres. Grovewell Garden Centres owner Edward Boult does not use EPoS because with only four tills, some of which are rarely open, he doesn't think he needs it.
He adds: "Garden centres are one of the last retail areas EPoS hasn't fully infiltrated. We're a quirky industry."
Open Retail Solutions founder Graham Stamper says EPoS should be self-financing. He warns there can be problems in buying it: "Most people see it from the point of view of hardware and software - they realise that's affordable. Then they look at add-on costs and staff to run it. The important thing is that the staff in charge have the ability to keep moving the system forward. You have to change company procedures."
Easitill managing director Rob Gardner says he is increasing the number of trade shows he goes to - he appeared at GAN for the first time this year. He says it is important to offer proper training and "hand holding", adding: "If you do a day's training and then tell them to get on with it, you'll have a disaster."
Gardner says that benefits Easitill offers are integrated EPoS/website/plant labelling with three days of training given and help with data entry.