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    C-Store Industry Gathers at NACSTech 2004

    Show kicks off with information-packed workshops and sessions.

    GRAPEVINE, Texas -- NACSTech 2004 may be at a different location this year -- moving from Dallas to Grapevine, Texas at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center -- but the workshops and sessions are as informative as ever.

    Retailers, technology vendors, consultants and analysts gathered to share knowledge during workshops and sessions that offered a variety of tracks, covering topics from implementing scanning and pricebook technology to PCATS standards demonstrations.

    On Monday, John Rossi and Patrick Raycroft of W. Capra Consulting Group spoke at the session entitled, "Selecting the Right Vendor: RFPs, Demos and Partners." Rossi explained key considerations when creating RFPs (request for proposal) for vendors, including focusing on vendor partners that are best for a c-store's individual business.

    "During the RFP process you need to decide what you want or need in order to eliminate some of the vendors out there," said Rossi. "Ask yourself, 'Do I want hardware from one vendor and software from another, or do I want everything from one vendor?' Try to get it down to seven or eight, or even three or four vendors, and then take it from there to make your decision."

    He also gave tips regarding evaluation criteria for vendors, and on asking for the best price up front in the RFP rather than the list price. "It will get you through the process much quicker," Rossi explained.

    However, once the vendor responses are in, he warns not to settle on one vendor too quickly. "The goal is to get down to two vendors as quickly as you can, but you don't want to get to one vendor too quickly or you will eliminate your negotiation power," he said.

    Reaping Rewards
    During one of Tuesday's sessions, "How To Benefit From Your Technology Investment," various small-chain retailers spoke about what they are doing to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies, and how they are benefiting from them.

    Danny Norris, controller for Fast Petroleum, a 42-store chain based in Dalton, Ga., implemented scanning in 18 stores, both in and out; a wide area network (WAN) for all stores; and an EDI pricebook with its grocery supplier. The company also has a money-order system with payroll printing at the store.

    "The number-one reason we implement store-level technology is to improve our bottom line," said Norris. "We also hope to improve customer service and efficiencies."

    The WAN alone reduced the company's long-distance costs by $6,000 annually, and reduced phone-line expenses by another $6,000 annually. "We wanted to have a WAN in place before we started scanning," said Norris.

    Pricebook Panel
    Although scanning and pricebook technology have been around for a while, many c-stores are still not taking the plunge -- especially the smaller chains. "I have no smaller competitors who scan and use a pricebook in my area," said Donna Perkins, pricebook coordinator at E-Z Stop Food Marts, a 19-store chain in Maryville, Tenn. "And it is the only way to have control of your retail stores."

    Having a centralized pricebook is the first step toward other new technology, including electronic invoicing, item-level inventory and supply-chain analysis, according to Perkins, who urged stores of any size to get involved in scanning and pricebook technology if they have not already.

    "If you think any technology is out of your grasp as a small retailer, it's really not," she said. "A lot of retailers begin the process and pull out. They need to understand they will face challenges, but they need to stick with it. It's worth it."

    Another chain reporting benefits from pricebook implementation is Riiser Energy, a 22-store chain in Wausau, Wis. "We saw our gross margin greatly improve and our shrink decreased," said David Simonis, retail area manager. "Also, our promotions start and stop on time now, price changes happen when they should, and all the data is at our fingertips to make decisions. We are not doing item-level purchasing as a result."

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