Stokes stocks up on ThinkCentres for desktop refresh

A tabletop and giftware products retailer is in the process of upgrading its point-of-sale hardware at its 80 stores across Canada that will allow it to offer new products and services to its customers.

Stokes, which was founded in 1935 by watchmaker Philip Shiveck, has signed a five-year contract with Lenovo (Canada) Inc. for installation and support of 134 ThinkCentre desktops. The Montreal-based retailer began rolling out the machines earlier this month with the help of IBM partner NexInnovations and expects to complete the first phase of the project by the end of next month. Stokes has also loaded a patch onto its existing Datadvantage POS application and new terminals that will enable it to create gift cards for customers to purchase. The total cost of the project, including hardware, software and services is approximately half a million.

“In the past we tried to go for cheapest, most basic solution and we realized in long run it doesn’t always pay itself off the way we expected it to,” said Stokes MIS director Alexander Popov. “Management at Stokes has come to understand that IT is not just a cost thinking exercise. It’s something that actually can deliver value to a company.”

To compete against big box retailers like Wal-mart and Price Club, smaller retail chains like Stokes need to focus on customer service to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, said Popov.

“We feel what we do best is bring quality and service to the customer,” he said. “To be able to do that we’ve realized that information is key in being able to service the customer.”

A store manager, for example, needs to know as soon as possible if she doesn’t have a certain item, Popov added.

Likewise, Lenovo (Canada) national sales executive Wayne Flanigan said the retail environment is often a distributed one where responsive service can make or break a company.

“When you do this kind of roll out in advance of their busy season, it’s critical that we were able to help them with NexInnovations to do a national roll out and to provide them a national service and support,” said Flanigan. “It’s also important that they have a great deal of uptime.”

Following the hardware implementation, Stokes will, in March, begin rolling out the latest version of Datadvantage POS to the new machines. In addition to the gift card feature, Stokes will also be able to create a new gift registry service.

Popov, however, said retailers in the past have been reluctant to offer gift cards as it’s pricey and may not pay for itself.

“Anything you sell after Christmas is of much lower value so you lose margin,” said Popov.

Stokes is also looking into building out a Web portal that will allow employees to connect to other stores as well as its corporate headquarters in Montreal.

“We want to be able to give more into the hands of managers to allow them to actually manage their store,” said Popov. “In the past stores have been strictly controlled by the head office.”


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