Getting More Out of the Back Office

Today’s fast-paced retail environment demands that convenience store owners invest in retail systems that not only speed up service, but do more to help chains reduce operating costs. Back office isn’t backstage. What happens there directly affects customers, so retailers need to get it right.

Today’s systems must be able to offer useful services, such as tracking inventory, managing payroll and labor hours, performing detailed accounting and even monitoring each transaction in real time for unusual register activity.

“I’m in the middle of transitioning my current system because it just doesn’t do enough to enhance our customer service,” said Scott Zaremba, president of Zarco 66 Earth Friendly Fuels, which operates eight stores in Kansas.

Zarco is in the process of upgrading to a new system that also offers point-of-sale (POS) capabilities that cover his growing foodservice program.

“The system I’ve got now does not have the back-office experience that the new one does,” Zaremba said. “We decided it was time to partner with a technology provider that is also in the foodservice business, and that’s what we’re looking for. Now we will be able to track our cost-of-goods inventory and do it through a back-office system. That lets us track it by the pounds of product we have, and by using recipes, in order to take the cost of goods out of our inventory.”

The change, Zaremba noted, is costing his company “a bundle.” Nor will ROI be easy to calculate, and for a very practical reason. “We’re not heavy enough into the food business right now, but this is the first step to growing that aspect of our business.”

The primary motive for the change is to be able to service the customer more efficiently using the POS and then to track the back-office system more efficiently.

Why is Zaremba so zealous about back-office systems? “Because we have moved from being in the convenience store business to being in the customer service concierge business,” he explained. “We need to be taking care of our customers, and to do that you’ve got to get out of the back office and onto the sales floor. It doesn’t do us any good to have someone sitting in the backroom five hours a day seeing what happened yesterday. That’s old news. We need live, we need accurate and we need up-to-date information so that we’re not worrying about yesterday, we’re worrying about the customer standing in front of us now and preparing for tomorrow.”

Automated Tracking
Until now, Zarco personnel had been handling these tasks manually. “With some of these older systems you’re using manual spreadsheets and manual forms in order to track everything in the store,” Zaremba said. “When you put the items in manually, you’ve got to take them out manually and you have to inventory them manually. With the new system we’re scanning everything in, scanning everything out and scanning inventory. It’s live and perpetual.”

Another plus: Zarco no longer has servers in-house to support the back-office system. “I’m in the virtual world, and that helps also. We don’t have the overhead of having to keep our servers up and running, and keeping all those things functioning. Being a small business, that helps us.”

Another bonus, according to Zaremba, is what he called a “huge” labor-saving component. “We can do a perpetual inventory all the time. That means better tracking for us, better inventory control and less chance for error, because we’ve automated a lot of the systems that used to be manual.”

Going forward, Zarco is considering moving its fleet card out of house. “I consider that a back-office system because part of the back office is maintaining our fleet transactions,” Zaremba explained. “We’re automating that, and I’m also going to the virtual world to lighten up on our load in the office.”

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