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Mobile sale systems open up new possibilities [The Virginian-Pilot :: ]
[July 06, 2014]

Mobile sale systems open up new possibilities [The Virginian-Pilot :: ]

(Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 06--Curt Wynn can plan his daily schedule in moments after looking at his cellphone.

The owner of Strawberry Fields, a gelato, smoothie and juice store located on Colley Avenue in Norfolk, keeps track of what's going on at his business even while he's away through an online marketplace and point-of-sale system called Square.

Part of the system tracks sales hourly, so Wynn can tell when customers are craving a cool treat.

"It updates in real time. So I'll be at home. At some point, I can be like, 'Oh, I'm not going to go up there yet,' " Wynn said. "Then all of the sudden it'll start getting kind of busy, so I know I got to go up there." The apps are among new mobile technologies that have revolutionized the way many Hampton Roads entrepreneurs run their businesses. Wynn said the advances have made accomplishing things easier, faster and -- most important for small-business owners -- cheaper.

Wynn and his wife, Heather, thought about designing their own point-of-sale system, but then Square was created. Square is a company that created a reader that attaches to devices like the iPhone and iPad, making it easier for businesses to accept credit cards.

The couple bought a refurbished iPad for around $300. Then they ordered an iPad stand for about $100 from Etsy, an online marketplace.

The Square system is at the center of their business. They can track every transaction throughout the day and update inventory via the Internet through what's known as a cloud-based system. In such systems, business data is stored on external servers. That has allowed more and more businesses to operate without investing in their own computer networks.

"I used to keep really detailed spreadsheets ... but the [system] does it for us now," Wynn said. "It breaks it down by category. We sold this many gelatos today, this many smoothies, but not a lot of juices or not a lot of bowls today." The Strawberry Fields recipes are stored in the cloud, so employees can pull the lists up at the grocery store when they're buying ingredients, while Wynn updates the recipes at home as he tinkers with flavors. Strawberry Fields employees clock in and out through the iPad as well.

Wynn and his wife especially like the feature that helps them closely track sales. Last month, they cut a couple of smoothies from the menu because they weren't selling well. And statistics compiled through the system have given them a better idea of when to expect crowds.

"We kind of already knew peak hours," Wynn said. "There are certain days that we wouldn't have necessarily thought of, like 3 p.m., would be busy -- or 1 p.m. on Sundays." Barbara Densley and Sloane Solanto, co-owners of The Creative Wedge in Virginia Beach, opened their colorful artisan market a little over a year ago.

Densley consulted another merchant who recommended using an iPad-based point-of-sale system called NCR Silver.

"I had managed and worked at different places that had the regular system, and I knew how expensive they are," she said. "Being a startup, we said, 'Hey, we gotta find a different option.' " Densley and Solanto spent about $500 upfront for the system, in addition to what they paid for an iPad and cash register accessories.

They pay about $83 monthly for NCR Silver services, Densley said.

Even if both owners aren't in the store, they can communicate virtually and stay updated on what's happening.

"Today is Sloane's day off, so she can be at home on her iPad," Densley said. "What I'm looking at here, she can be looking at home on what I've sold." They run their business from the palms of their hands.

According to a national survey, three-fourths of small businesses said their use of mobile devices has increased "because it allows them to operate remotely." The 2014 poll from AT&T and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council reported that 61.7 percent of small businesses use tablets.

The Creative Wedge's owners begin their mornings by checking emails and putting new products in the inventory system.

"We can check social media. We can switch over and ring a customer out and then switch back and post on Facebook that we have sale items," Densley said.

Local business owners said that the tablet-based point-of-sale systems do have some kinks. Right now, Densley would like even more specifics, like hourly sales figures.

"Maybe a PC-based system might be better for that," she said. But it also would be more expensive.

The good news, she and other business owners said, is that tablet-based app providers continually come out with upgrades.

Wynn said Strawberry Fields has benefited from the frequent updates. When a storm rolled through Norfolk one day, the gelato shop temporarily lost the Wi-Fi connection to its pay system.

Square "just added something called offline mode, which allows you to still process payments," Wynn said. "We processed all night and were able to regroup in the morning. They're getting smart." Georg Seyrlehner, the owner of Artisans Bakery and Café in Portsmouth, switched from a regular point-of-sale system to an iPad system called POS Lavu in 2012. He repurposed his personal iPad and set it up in the café on Washington Street.

Managing his business by mobile device has made it easier to juggle many responsibilities, he said. He can go right away from helping employees produce more than 260 loaves of bread to processing the times they clocked in.

His business has been bustling, with Seyrlehner now selling his goods at six farmers' markets in the area. When employees are out at the markets, they can use their smartphones and the Square app to accept credit cards from customers.

"We used to turn away a few sales per market because we couldn't take cards," Seyrlehner said. "Now it's a lot easier for us to the manage the market, too." Kara Driscoll, 757-446-2326, ___ (c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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