Truckstop Point-of-Sale Systems Complexities

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For truckstop operators, building a powerful point-of-sale (POS) and back-office system is a lot like assembling a puzzle. From the register where operators take information in, to the personal computer where they pull it out, there are several pieces that need to fit together seamlessly to present a complete picture. By arming themselves with information, operators can best determine exactly what pieces they need and how they connect together.

When operators are ready to start looking for a new system, they may look at replacing the POS, back office or both. Darren Schulte, vice president of membership, NATSO, said there are several factors that can ease the transition and help operators get the system best suited to their needs.

Question compatibility
If operators are looking to replace one piece of their overall system, such as just the POS on the retail or fuel side or just the back office, they need to make sure their potential system is compatible with the portion they’re keeping.

“The truckstop needs to have a good back-office system that works well with their point-of-sale. Square pegs in round holes still don’t match. When they don’t match, it creates huge administrative problems,” Ernie Betancourt, president, QuikQ, said.

Schulte said, “Sometimes if the new back-office system isn’t compatible with the current point-of-sale system, operators will say it is OK because they’re planning to get a new POS system eventually. They need to at least decide on a range of POS systems and make sure they’re compatible.”

Betancourt suggests operators be realistic about the value of pairing an old system with a new one. “If they have a 10-yearold back-office system and they’re trying to fit a new POS system into it, maybe that isn’t fair to either system,” he said.

Before committing to any particular system Terry Weisner, vice president, Store Chek, recommends operators get a list of references within their industry. “Call your competitors and ask them how they like the system they’re using. Don’t call a tobacco retailer when you’re a truckstop,” he said. “A truckstop is a very complicated beast out there when you’re talking about the multiple profit centers.”

Select the right system
Knowing what questions to ask can help operators when they start talking with potential providers. Brad Prizer, a spokesman for Retalix, said potential clients most frequently ask if their product comes with a back-office application and what reports it has available. They also typically want to know if Retalix’s program integrates with other third-party applications.

To help streamline operations, some operators turn to providers that offer both POS and back-office systems.

Philip Moore, president of Fis-Cal, said, “I think the most significant value we bring to a customer is that we have a point of sale that not only operates the fuel desk but also the gasoline and the retail sales, and we interface that to a real-time back office with scanning and retail inventory control down to an item level.”

For operators who choose to maintain their existing backoffice system when updating their POS, Tony Burks, Fis-Cal’s  vice president of sales, suggests they factor in the true costs of having multiple vendor relationships. “There are a lot of hidden costs in running two systems. You have to maintain knowledge of both, train two cashiers, and you have to have one person run the diesel desk and one run the retail desk,” he said.

Comdata offers POS systems that interface with other backoffice system providers. Its SmartDESQ POS allows operators to combine the fuel desk and other profit centers into a single system, SmartConvenience processes both fuel and nonfuel transactions with a single system, and SmartAuthorize delivers functionality and authorization for locations that require basic processing for diesel fuel purchases. Operators can choose the product they need based on where it is going to be located and where will it be used, said Ken Patton, a vice president with Comdata’s merchant solutions group.

Because Comdata’s systems are all very similar, cross training is easy, Patton explained. “The cashiers are not going to see the difference. It is all behind the scenes,” he said.

Being able to mine data is an important feature for operators. QuikQ’s fuel payment product DF Connect comes with its own back-office system that makes it easy for operators to view the details of every transaction, Betancourt said.

“We break the transactions down, and at each event the transaction is identified and closed,” Betancourt said. That means that if a driver gets fuel, it is a subtransaction, and then if he goes inside to get cash, it is another subtransaction. “Those are then combined to get one transaction. That makes reconciliation easier.”

Betancourt said DF Connect attempts to realize that there is a difference between what the truckstop does on the fuel island and what they do inside. “In our view, the truckstop on the fuel island is a supplier and they need to have a direct connection with their customer. Inside, they’re a merchant just like any other merchant,” he said.

Focus on features
From integrating loyalty programs to managing inventory, POS and back-office systems can tackle a variety of tasks. Operators can determine their goals and priorities and then find the products that allow them to meet their objectives.

For example, Store Chek can automate inventory management. Weisner said, “POS takes it out of inventory, we reconcile what took place down to the penny by tender type, replenish inventory and provide a perpetual inventory function,” he explained. “We bring everything into a common back-office PC and at the end of each shift, all sales are reconciled and inventory is updated based on what was scanned at POS.”

Other features that operators should seek out are the ability to audit the work of anyone who does the books and being able to access all of their data. Kevin Struthers, executive vice president of Fis-Cal, said, “We believe the data belongs to the customer, so we make all of that data accessible to them, but that isn’t always the case.”

Operators will also want to ask providers how they handle loyalty programs, such as partnering with grocery stores. Patton said Comdata built its system to interface with other loyalty programs based on the locations’ needs. Their systems can also interface with other areas, such as the car wash, security, etc.

POS at the pump
POS systems at the pump are handled somewhat differently in that oil companies aren’t willing to accept transactions from everybody.

“POS at the pump is a little tricky because you need to be oil company certified as well as pump compatible,” Weisner said.

Store Chek’s system interfaces with a variety of POS systems that have been certified for use on gas and diesel pumps and relies on those devices to handle the pump portion of transactions.

Fis-Cal also handles POS at the pump and has certifications from several major oil companies. “Many of our customers just use one checkout because our POS can do the major oil transactions and the retail side,” Struthers said.

POS at restaurants
Restaurant sales typically require different POS technology than fuel and c-stores. Store Chek has a table service and fast food service software that will also support store merchandise. “We scan their dinner ticket, but if their eye catches something in the store or under the counter, you can scan that candy bar and Coke to go,” Weisner said.

Fis-Cal offers a solution that is ideal for delis where operators offer prepared foods.

Consider overall costs, long-term support
Operators should also look at the overall costs of operating the systems they’re considering. “The cost of the system, the fees you pay in maintenance and the fees you pay to stay connected need to be factored in. You also need to factor in how hard it is to train your cashiers on your systems,” Patton said.  “Find out how long it will take to get a problem fixed. You may pay less for a system that doesn’t have support, but over a year, your time, energy, lost sales and angry employees take a toll,” Schulte said.

Struthers said upgrades are included with Fis-Cal’s system as long as operators are paying for support.

Plan for the future
Technology changes quickly and operators want to ensure their investment isn’t going to be obsolete. They also want to stay on top of current trends.

In a recent blog post, Schulte outlined the growing number of retailers that are experimenting with POS on a tablet, such as an iPad. In addition, Fis-Cal is rolling out web interfaces so operators can have remote access from a tablet, home PC or additional stores.

To boost the longevity of a system, operators should ensure potential back-office systems can handle certain POS features even if their current system doesn’t have them, such as tracking markdowns and buy-one-get-one-free offers.

“They need to think whenever they are buying a POS system about what there will be in the future,” Patton said. “They want to think about what future technologies will be out there and what type of reporting they’ll need.”

It is likely new payment technologies will be rolling out in the next few years, so Fis-Cal’s system is capable of being upgraded for pin and chip and RFID. “We integrate all of that capability into our core product,” Struthers said.

However, Schulte warns, “You want to buy a system that has future capabilities, but don’t pay for features you are never ever going to use. Being able to accept information is different than paying for the system to run reports. If you don’t ever need it to run those amazing reports, don’t pay for it.”

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Minimize additional spreadsheets: To get a sense of how well their current POS and back-office systems are working, operators should look at how many spreadsheets they’re creating outside of their system, which is labor intensive and increases the risk of human error.

Maximize automation: In a good back-office system, everything is as integrated and automated as possible. Operators don’t have to manually enter data and should be able to avoid using separate systems and piecing information together at the end of the month. Automation can also extend to other areas, such as automated stick readings that allow the back-office system to communicate with automatic tank reading systems.

Ensure compatibility: If operators match POS and back-office systems from different vendors, to ensure systems are compatible, operators should check with providers and call references. As a best practice, operators should speak with the people who are using the system on a daily basis not just the owner of the company. 

Consider cross training: Some systems are best suited for the fuel desk while others work in retail operations. Operators may want to consider the staff resources necessary to maintain two separate systems.

Take it for a test drive: Once operators have narrowed their options, software companies will typically set up some registers and a back-office system at a location so operators can run BETA tests before making their final decision.

Look for exception alerts: In good systems, operators are able to set parameters and receive alerts if data is out of that realm.

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Comdata
Ken Patton 
(615) 370-7000 

Fis-Cal
Kevin Struthers 
(256) 772-8920

NATSO, Inc.
Darren Schulte 
(703) 739-8562 

QuikQ LLC
Ernie Betancourt 
(615) 435-3287

Retalix
Brad Prizer
877-573-7193 

Store Chek Systems
Terry Weisner 
800-338-8331

 /// Photo credits: Ira Wexler/NATSO

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This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watchsubmit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a memberJoin today or submit a request to receive additional information.

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
Source:
Stop Watch Magazine
Supplier Focus:
ComdataFis-CalQuikQ LLCRetalixStore Chek

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