When the lights went out at a Hamilton specialty food chain last month there wasn’t a transaction missed or a customer who went home hungry thanks to a point of sale system that let the store’s cashiers go “”offline””.

Just as the dinner-time rush was about to begin Aug. 14, family-owned and run

Zarky’s Fine Foods was hit by the blackout that affected all of Ontario and most of the eastern United States.

Zarky’s prepares and sells Italian food and other home style fresh foods in addition to operating a catering and restaurant business. The company is run by the three Zarcone brothers age, 30 to 43, who are on an expansion fast-track with the family business. There are two franchise stores, the company is currently building another store and beginning construction on a restaurant in Burlington. In addition to selling product to its franchises, Zarky’s also sells wholesale to the Sobeys and Longos grocery chains.

The corporate store has been in business for 18 years and last year sales for Zarky’s Fine Foods reached $10 million.

The company’s controller, Katherine Gulley, joined the Hamilton, Ont.-based retailer last September just as full implementation of ePos Accpac software was winding up. In the past the wholesale business was being run by Accpac Plus for DOS and the retail business was going through a point of sale system from Sweda Canada with no integration between the two.

“”At the end of the day when we figured out the retail sales it was just a journal entry into the DOS system,”” said Gulley.

Gulley’s relationship with the company began first as a customer in 1985, then as the reseller who sold the Zarcone family the Accpac upgrade package last February.

About 18 months ago Gulley was the person Zarky’s turned to when it was time to bring the systems together. The relationship with the family grew when they later asked her to come work for them.

“”I was an Accpac reseller and certified consultant. I worked for Grant Thornton LLP, a national CA firm selling accounting systems software (mostly ACCPAC International products) and I was called in and asked if I could come up with a system that would handle all their wholesale and production and retail,”” said Gulley.

But the company’s big concern was they wanted only one item database to maintain because maintaining two is duplicate work and errors would happen.

“”They had a system where a price would be adjusted in one system and not the other so it was about coming up with a solution that would handle everything they do from one piece of software. That’s when I introduced them to Accpac Advantage and the ePos system. It’s the only software I found that seamlessly integrated with an accounting system that could handle everything else they did,”” said Gulley.

On Aug. 14 the system was really put to the test when the blackout hit.

“”We were really pleased with how well it did because with the ePos software you have an offline mode,”” she said. “”Every time we have price changes we send an updated copy of the database to the (cash register) till and it holds it on the hard drive so when the power goes off and we lose our connection to the server that till can run completely separate. It has all the items there and all the prices and doesn’t need to connect to anything.””

And because cashiers are running strictly off the Dell computer registers (Zarky’s put uninterruptable power supplies on all of its cash registers), the UPS gave the stores up to two hours before running out of battery power.

“”What we did with the blackout is we switched everybody over to offline, which is as easy as clicking on a button. Once we found out it was going to be a long-term blackout we shut down two of our registers to save the battery and ran the other two. Then once those batteries ran out we switched over and put the other two back up and we managed to keep the customers going through until the store closed,”” said Gulley.

An icon in the top corner of the cash register screen says ‘offline’ and when a cashier clicks on it it automatically switches over to work off of its own hard-drive.

“”Once power has come back you go to each register and tell it to update offline transactions and it sends everything through.

“”It was a big test – especially since I sold them the system a year ago February and then it took until September of last year to convince me to come and work for them fulltime,”” said Gulley.

The family also owns a restaurant that is not running on an Accpac compatible product (they took it over from someone else).

“”Right now I have to take that restaurant information and put the days sales into Accpac so I will be looking for something for it in the future,”” she said.

Gulley says the company has reached return on investment goal because it can capture more information.

“”The big part with expansion in the business is keeping the control over it and at the rate prices fluctuate in the food industry you really need to keep on top of things,”” she says. “”With the system being integrated, I just pulled a report off that compares our actual cost to our landed cost and to our retail and wholesale, because these are all customized reports that easy to make in Accpac. From week to week buying a loaf of bread the price changes and all of a sudden you are losing money on that loaf of bread because you weren’t on top of it.””

Being able to keep on top of things has been the best part of the new software, says Gulley.

“”I say to them, ‘What do you want to see? And either the report already exists or it takes 15 minutes to write it and that’s the nice part of Accpac — we now have all the information -— wholesale, retail, all flowing into one database.””

Gulley says that while the company is rapidly expanding, the number of people required to manage the accounting system is not. It speaks to a growing demand from small to medium-sized businesses.

In November of 2002, Gartner Inc. asked SMBs about their spending outlook for 2003. In their answers, the companies indicated the drivers for investment included a need to enhance revenue generation, lower operating costs and extend the useful life of existing IT.

“”What is driving SMBs to look to business management solutions is not the ‘my company versus your company’ attitude, but ‘my supply chain versus your supply chain,’ and how well the team works to deliver the goods,”” said Robert Anderson, research director with Gartner’s SMB applications.

By 2005, Gartner says SMBs will comprise 57 per cent of IT service expenditures.

Anderson said in general there is a drive to cut costs on the client side.

“”Companies have moved from big bang solutions to tactical solutions and those are the ones CEOs are approving,”” he said.

When the Burlington Zarky’s stores come on board the company will be running point of sale over the Web so all information will be fed back to the corporate office, eliminating the need for an office in that store.

When she worked at Grant Thornton, Gulley was the manager of the information technology advisory services for Ontario and the national rep for all of Canada. Today, she manages the books for a growing family business.

“”Out of all the clients I set up over 10 years of selling the product and working as a consultant theirs was the most challenging because of what they wanted to do and what they wanted to see from the customization point of view. That’s the part that was the big challenge and to be able to view it will all the plans that were coming up.””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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