A fully-computerised, electronic point-of-sale terminal (EPOS) gives drycleaners a powerful tool for improving the day-to-day efficiency and also for increasing long-term profitability by opening up routes to additional business.

On a daily basis, the first advantage of a computerised sales system is that it ensures accurate and consistent pricing and, for this reason alone, such systems can have a significant impact on turnover, almost from day one.

Increased turnover

Typically, says Mark Reynolds, MD of Spot Business Systems Europe, a business can increase its turnover by between 5 and 12% and improvements of 20 to 25% are not uncommon. Jonathan Beach, MD of DryStream reports that one of his customers saw an increase of £7000 a quarter merely by getting the pricing right.

Pricing accuracy can be affected in two ways. First an electronic system makes the price list available instantly and cuts out accidental mispricing by staff who may be too rushed to refer to a written list.

More importantly an electronic system provides a menu of prices for each item, prompting staff to add the extras with each transaction.

Colin Edwards, MD at TP Data points out that going electronic will also allow a business to increase its price options. Where a standard till system might cater for 60 different prices, an EPOS system could hold 1000 plus.

Lost tickets

Tracking down lost tickets is another area that can be handled more efficiently, points out Mr Edwards. Full ticket information can be retrieved by keying in just one detail, such as name or phone number.

EPOS also brings substantial improvements in stock control, as a list of the customer’s items held are displayed with each new transaction and a reminder to collect can be given.

In the longer term, a full EPOS system can provide an effective management and marketing tool, promoting the business and opening up the route to fresh opportunities. Neil Drinkall, technical services manager at InfoPos says that even single-unit shops are beginning to take electronics on-board as they increase their range of services offering extras such as shirt services, shoe repair and photo processing.

However, opportunities exist beyond the high street. Hotel or office contracts can provide significant business, says Mr Reynolds but the paperwork would be impossible to handle without an electronic system. A well-written program should produce the bills for an almost unlimited number of contracts in just 15 seconds a month.

Lost cleaners

Indeed, EPOS is fast becoming a must for drycleaners who are serious about the business. There is a steep learning curve, but once the system is established, many cleaners would be lost without it.

Mr Beach at DryStream also points to the effectiveness of an electronic system in marketing and promotion, allowing special offers to be targeted more accurately via a mailshot.

Many drycleaners have still to be converted to an electronic approach and so DryStream is piloting a scheme in its head-office area by offering customers the services of a marketing consultant who will look at the business reports and recommend appropriate action. Drycleaners who have already moved on to an EPOS system endorse its advantages.

Harlequin Dry Cleaners made its first moves to EPOS in 1998 and now has systems (by Spot) in place at Haywards Heath, Cobham and Woking branches, with others planned.

Director Carey Phelan told LCN that the main benefit on the shop floor has been consistent pricing. Now the business can have a standard policy on charging for extras, taking the onus away from staff to decide when these were justified. It also allows add-ons to be charged as a percentage, rather than a flat-rate, often more acceptable to the customer but not always easy or convenient to calculate individually.

Rush in

The EPOS system also allows tickets to be amended and any corrections are timed. Customers often want to rush in and out quickly, so counter staff have little time to examine clothes properly. If an assistant notices a tear or other damage, after the customer has left, the ticket is edited the timed amendment will help to avoid quibbles about when the damage occurred.

Stock control has also been improved. In the past, items could occasionally be left so long they got dusty and needed reprocessing.

Summing up the day-to-day advantages, Ms Phelan says that EPOS allows items that are out of the ordinary to be processed quickly and efficiently.

Harlequin links its branches into the head-office system and uses the report functions to build-up a picture of business trends. However, Ms Phelan does not use the mailshot feature at present, as customers are not always willing to give their full address.

James Koumis, owner of Ocean Dry Cleaners in Potters Bar installed an EPOS System (in this case by DryStream) in September. He made the move because he felt that it would make processing easier. The business also has a laundry operation and here, in particular, writing tickets was time consuming.

Pricing too has been much easier and the price list is now held on computer and staff don’t have to worry about charging the correct price.

On the marketing side, Mr Koumis has already used his system to introduce a loyalty card scheme. The ability to introduce this kind of scheme is a distinct advantage in this highly-competitive location. Potters Bar has seven drycleaners, and three of these in the same high street as Ocean, It’s too early to make any judgments on the scheme, but in just two months Ocean has issued around 500 cards.

Mr Koumis is considering mailshots, but he too has doubts as some customers are reluctant to give any personal details.

Ersan Mehmet of Oval Drycleaners, New Addington, has been using EPOS since 1996 and summed up the advantages as being ‘speed and convenience’. Customers who have lost a ticket can now be served as quickly as those with one.

The ability to have a wider price structure is also mentioned, there are now several suit classifications, including designer, and Mr Mehmet brings out another advantage of such a system, greater security.

A more precise garment description helps to minimise problems if an item is lost.

Systems report

DryStream Dedicated terminals will withstand the extremes of heat and humidity of the drycleaning business. The T3 provides a number of special features including on-card barcoding, loyalty, security and credit/debit card reading and also has the capacity for an integral smart card reader. Additional software includes Windows 98 and Microsoft word processing, spreadsheet and database programs.
InfoPos Customers have three options: the Value system, which uses industry standard hardware; the Classic with dedicated garment keyboard, customer display unit and report printer; and the agent/factory system which allows sub-contractors or agents to have individual price lists. Modules for operating a collection/delivery system and for links to head office are offered.
SPOT Systems are based on industry standard hardware and can be tailored to requirements. Minimum spec is now 400mHZ Pentium 11 with 32MbRAM. Range additions include space-saving slimline flat screens and high-speed thermal printers with a 27.5 line/second output. Software updates include extended special offer and coupon options, a wider range of report functions, improved on-line credit card and e-mail features and the ability to deal with barcoded merchandise.
TP Data Infotex systems cover both modular and all-in-one, standalone variants, the latter now being the main focus and including a 128 key keyboard customised for the drycleaning trade. An agent-invoice function and work planner report have been added to the software. Systems also provide the full range of sales functions, management reports and mailshot and database features.