An EPoS (Electronic Point of Sale) system is so much more than an electronic cash register. An EPoS system can improve management; generates financial information on all aspects of the business; and allow standardisation of in-store procedures.

It enables businesses to identify ways to improve service and create further opportunities for cost-effective marketing.

To some extent, whether your cleaning business needs EPoS depends on turnover, but most convenience businesses will benefit from EPoS.

When it comes to buying the right system, the question a cleaner should ask is not “Do I need it?” but “What do I need it to do?”

Analysts see business becoming more aggressive in the future. While EpoS systems have always given their owners opportunities to be competitive, DryStream, the specialist EPoS supplier for drycleaners and launderers, expects that more owners and managers will demand new technologies to help ward off competition and win new customers.

Every DryStream system has always been supplied with a delivery and installation service, training and on-site maintenance package which ensures every customer understands their system and can call for help if things go wrong. Additional features included features a loyalty card scheme function, bar code reading and automatic postcode searches.

Developing its own software gives DryStream a significant edge, says DryStream’s MD Jonathan Beach. It was the first to introduce integrated credit and debit card processing into their terminals, so saving drycleaners large amounts in bank charges each year. DryStream’s group users today process around £10million a year with their systems and all benefit from the same low commission rate.

The DryStream range includes a PC-based system with dedicated Dry Cleaners keypad (of which there is a DIY option) and the touch screen system – DryStream Touch.

Now DryStream has launched its DryStream Text, which it describes as a unique and revolutionary marketing tool for the industry.

DryStream’s Beach explains: “Sending text messages from a DryStream terminal is quick, cheap and easy. A text message costs much less than a stamp, window poster or newspaper advertisement and is far more efficient. You know that every message you send will be read.”

DryStream Text uses customer’s mobile telephone numbers stored inside its EpoS system to send text or email messages. Sending text messages to customers can help the drycleaner in three ways.

First, the system can send a text message for marketing purposes, perhaps announcing a special offer or new discount scheme. If required, DryStream can do this selectively – for example, by targetting frequent customers, infrequent customers or groups of customers based on individual cleaning trends.

A drycleaner could send a shirt cleaning promotion only to those customers who have never had a shirt cleaned by the dry cleaner, for example. “Imagine being able to specifically target a group of customers directly relevant to your promotion. That is what DryStream Text allows you to do, making it immediate and super efficient,” says Beach.

Second, DryStream can be set to automatically send a text message to a customer once their order has been cleaned, advising them their garments are ready for collection.

Third, a message may be sent to remind customers that they may have forgotten to collect their cleaning. The operator chooses how long orders need to be overdue before sending reminder messages. This again improves customer service and accelerates income by helping to speed up customer collections.

Presently, DryStream users wishing to use this service require no contract, no subscription and will pay no monthly charges. There is a small initial charge for the software and activation, then users may buy text bundles as needed. An internet connection is also required.

Although it won’t necessarily replace all traditional forms of advertising, DryStream Text will add a further dimension to the way a modern drycleaning business markets itself.

Since the messages arrive directly to the customer’s mobile telephone handset (or PC) it is certain they will be read and the marketing point delivered. Experts believe this is more effective than traditional static poster advertising.

“Marketing by text is a novel concept that has outstanding value,” according to marketing expert Jonathan Cobb of Lewis Cobb Associates. “Window posters are old hat and go largely un-noticed whereas every text message is read by its recipient.”

“Every new marketing concept benefits most in the early days as the customer enjoys the experience most for its novel value. This will be no different and drycleaners who latch on quickly will derive maximum benefit from that alone,” he adds.

Touchscreen sales grow

Touchscreen system goes from strength to strength, says Mark Reynolds, managing director of SPOT Computer Systems, with demand far outstripping sales of the earlier keyboard versions.

SPOT’s Retail Pro touchscreen software for professional drycleaners, launderers and photo processors has been available in Europe since March 2003.

The company is now winning repeat business. “Drycleaners have used the system, found it worked well, seen what else is available and are coming back to SPOT,” according to Reynolds.

Two of Northern Ireland’s most successful drycleaners recently upgraded to the latest touchscreen version of SPOT. Craftsman Cleaners in Belfast and Presto Drycleaners in nearby Lisburn first installed SPOT terminals in their shops in 1997.

After eight years use, the systems were still running well but both companies were attracted by the enhanced features of SPOT’s latest touchscreen technology.

Proprietors of Presto, Des and Kate Storey, opted for a three terminal system – two terminals on the counter and one in the back office. Craftsman proprietor, Gerard Dougal, likewise put two terminals on the counter of his busy Belfast store and a third networked terminal upstairs to handle back-office functions like monthly billing, stock control as well as processing of hotel/contract work.

Both companies now have many years accumulated experience with computerised EPoS equipment.

“Quite frankly, running my business without SPOT would be unthinkable,” says Gerard Dougal.

Des Storey attributes a large share of his business growth to SPOT saying that, “SPOT’s in-built promotional tools such as loyalty points and bonus schemes added more than 30% to our turnover in the first year alone – I am really looking forward to exploring the new promotional tools in the latest version such as the feature that allows you to automatically print your own coupons.”

The most basic terminals supplied by SPOT now have at least 3.0GHz Intel processors and a minimum of 512 Mb RAM.

The major danger is that retailers may be tempted to buy in a system that just cannot cope with the demands made on it. The environment may prove too harsh for computers that would have to be switched on for six days a week.

Lesser machines will just not provide the speed and data retrieval or graphics handling capacity required. “Buy equipment with too low a specification and you’ll watch it grind to a halt less than a year after installation,” warns Reynolds.

SPOT packages are covered by a four-year warranty, which speaks volumes for the confidence the company has in the system.

All features are based upon technology provided by Microsoft, Citrix and other leading manufacturers that allow cleaners to use SPOT from a single-user system to a networked across multiple users.

The key to the SPOT system is its flexibility – it will do whatever people want it to do. The script is easier to enter, so that promotional tools can be tailored to the specific requirements of each business.

Customer data can hold the key to valuable business growth – data that can be unlocked by using the automated marketing tools within SPOT, says Reynolds.

Part of the battle is persuading cleaners that offering discounts is not the only way to go, since “margins already low, without giving away discounts.”

Laundry and drycleaning will never be an impulse purchase, he says. Customers have to think about it and plan for it before they leave home. For that reason, direct mail can be one of the most powerful tools in a drycleaner’s armoury.

It enables cleaners to put a powerful reminder in front of their customer before they walk out of the house.

Direct mail will never replace the six foot high window poster advertising a “Special Spring Duvet Cleaning Offer” or “Soft Furnishings Promotion” but used in conjunction with it, carefully timed and precisely targeted, it can make sure the customer doesn’t walk out and leave the duvet, settee cover or curtains at home.

Some of the best direct mail doesn’t look like direct mail. It can be a simple, preferably short, personalised letter on standard letter-headed paper in a plain envelope. Direct, to the point and featuring a simple, attractive proposition, the reader will have read half of it before it occurs to him that it may be part of a mass mailing, says Reynolds.

“Given that 80% of business probably comes from only 20% of customers, why not just mail the top 20%? Certainly you’ll get the highest returns for the least cost and effort that way.”

However, to precisely target that top 20% means the cleaner must know who those top 20% are. To do that, says Reynolds, the cleaner really needs a decent computer.

For the typical drycleaner, this means installing a top quality EPoS system like those used by over 8,000 SPOT customers around the world. As well as controlling the cash till, the SPOT software enables a cleaners to build a customer database, manage special promotions and reward programs, and handle other tasks, such as payroll, accounts, internet access, word processing and solvent usage log, all on the same PC.

In-built direct marketing tools mean that the lead time from conceiving a mailshot to actually printing out the first page can be as little as five seconds, with the choice of sending it by mail, email or short text message.

SPOT software supplies a number of standard prescripted model mailshots including: “Thank You letter”, “New Customer Welcome letter”, “VIP and Loyalty Club circulars”, “Valued Customer letter”, “We Miss You (inactive customer) letter” “Apology letter”, “30+, 60+ and 90+ Days Overdue reminders”.

Even cleaners with the most basic word processing skills can modify any of the above templates to suit their own special requirements or create their own from scratch.

Galmington Drycleaners in Taunton installed their SPOT EPoS system in October 2004 and, although they are still building their database (it can take up to six months to see all the “regulars” at least once) they have already sent out their first direct mail shot – a difficult-to-ignore proposal to try their curtain cleaning service.

Most SPOT mailshots require only four clicks of the mouse and SPOT manages the mailmerge automatically. There’s no need to launch the word processor – just make sure the printer is switched on and loaded with paper.

Automated promotional programs can be created as a one-off or else accumulated over time to increase customer loyalty and enhance visit frequency.

If cleaners want to send a single letter to an individual customer, they can do this from within the customer’s record screen and SPOT’s inbuilt Contact Record Manager (CRM) will keep a history record of the date, time and reason for the letter as well as a note of who originated the communication.

“It’s a competitive world out there and, whatever your sphere of business, everybody is fighting for their share of the market,” says Reynolds.

“There will always be those who lag behind and miss opportunities while others will grab all the tools at their disposal to gain and maintain a competitive advantage.”