Forecourt Trader
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Computer logic

03 October, 2005
A first-rate epos solution equals a first-rate forecourt operation
Page 37 
Technology develops at such a speed that it’s sometimes hard to keep up, but for a forecourt to operate seamlessly, it has to. A busy site can’t afford for its systems to fail so it needs the best equipment the operator can afford. Likewise operators need to embrace new security functions to counter fraud and the bane of every forecourt trader’s life, the drive-off.
Thankfully the trade has a number of specialist companies who make it their job to keep forecourts up to date with all the latest computer-wizardry.Take Torex Retail, which this summer rolled out the latest versions of its Prism and Iridium petroleum and convenience solutions. The key innovation for forecourts here is the introduction of pre-pay technology, which the company says can play a crucial role in reducing drive-off fuel theft. Mark Sprigg, chief commerical officer of Torex Retail, explains: “The pre-pay technology system communicates automatically with the pump to set the pre-paid threshold thus preventing fuel from being drawn unless it has been paid for. Many operators are introducing this technology and activating it during the hours of darkness, when the majority of drive-offs occur, and following deployment have seen significant reductions in losses.”As well as introducing pre-pay technology, Torex’s latest release boasts a number of new features including a sophisticated search and export facility within Iridium Explorer, which allows the retailer to perform complex searches across transaction data, and export the results to a report or to an Excel spreadsheet.Pos functionality has been enhanced in several ways, too, so it is now possible to opt for automatic weekly reports instead of monthly ones. There are additional ways to scan goods for sale including the ability to scan outer case barcodes, which is particularly useful for cases of beer, and also to scan price override barcodes.Meanwhile, for your ‘cash-rich, time-poor’ customers, speed of service is a big issue. But technology specialist VBi has this covered with its new automated ordering and payment technology for the forecourt, fast food and leisure sectors.Its Illumina 3000 Outdoor Payment Terminal (OPT) can be wall or pedestal mounted and also fitted to existing pumps. It is ideal for many ‘queue busting’ retail applications ranging from fast food to leisure, as well as being configured for taking orders and payment on fuel forecourts to ease congestion.In a retail environment goods and services, such as food and drink, can be pre-ordered and collected in store. When the transaction is complete,the user can obtain a receipt from the OPT.In a forecourt environment, the EMV-compliant bank card processing service provided by YesPay allows customers to pre-authorise a payment card, fill up at their chosen pump and then receive a receipt. With its simple-to-operate touch screen interface, the system aims to help eliminate drive-offs and overcome the need to queue at a kiosk.VBi says both busy urban sites and cost-conscious rural sites will benefit from the option of running their site unmanned, with 24-hour capability, or throughout the night when it may not be viable to employ staff.Simon Hollingsworth, managing director of VBi, says: “Having now completed the first installation of Illumina 3000 we are very pleased with the positive impact that the forecourts have experienced.”Meanwhile, Htec’s forecourt control solution is being rolled out to the entire Morrison/Safeway and Asda petrol retailing estates, as well as being deployed in significant numbers by Murco, Malthurst, Somerfield, Fuelforce, Spar and a variety of independent retailers.The company’s HydraPos uses touch-screen technology which can be tailored to suit different types of shops. With touch-screen technology, the button layout changes throughout the transaction. The sales stage, for example, is different from the payment stage – so the buttons can be bigger. And a complete alpha-numeric keyboard pops into view for VRN-entry for fuel cards.All administrative processes are fully automated, including cash and shop sales. Details of all items sold can be sent individually to a stock-management system immediately the sale takes place.Credit card totals, along with cash and other methods of payment, are stored automatically, minimising the effort required for end-of-day reconciliation.It’s vital that busy sites never have to close because of equipment failure which is where Htec’s ‘Resilient’ Forecourt Controller comes into its own by eliminating the risk of ‘single-point’ failure at the filling station. The company says it was this benefit that was a key factor in Asda, Morrisons, Fuelforce and Murco’s decisions to install Htec products.New functions that have been added to the system include C-DONP (Central Drive-Off/Non Payment) database – a shared drive-off non-payment database with web interface. This automatically prevents fuelling when a problem history is identified; and OLL (On-line Loyalty) system – where points transactions are handled by a central host and data is available via the web in a matter of seconds.YP Electronics partners Htec to provide the back office solution. This now features YP’s new Sinqua system. Integrating the two solutions means that forecourt retailers who deal with ambient goods, fuel, and newspapers now have total control of the operation.Sinqua’s newspaper management module automatically cuts administration, wastage and sell-outs to increase overall news category sales and margins. The system can even produce news rounds, and help in reducing news account debt.And multi-site operators can have better control of their business centrally thanks to the Sinqua head office system. All branches can be connected, allowing detailed trading information to be sent and received with ease, keeping the owners up to date with each store’s activities. Changes to product range and prices can be automatically processed in-store overnight, leaving the store managers with the simple task of printing new shelf-edge labels.Meanwhile, Passport Resolution from Gilbarco Veeder-Root is a new back-office system specifically designed for the independent group dealer who needs central control at minimal extra cost. It is now available with a head-office application that automatically collates wet stock, dry stock and local account sales information across a group.The company says it’s a cost-effective solution as all you need is one Passport Resolution system at your head office and Passport Europe tills in your shops. It is said to have significant advantages over conventional systems including ease of setting up, increased centralised control and added convenience for local account holders.James Read, RS business development at Gilbarco Veeder-Root explains: “The head-office application gives a dealer the big picture across all his sites at the press of a button – it’s invaluable when negotiating with suppliers and managing prices across multiple sites.”An additional benefit is that it allows local accounts to be set up for customers across the group – they can purchase at any group forecourt and receive just one centralised monthly invoice.Efficient data capture is one of the things that makes investing in decent epos equipment so worthwhile.The EKW Group is renowned for making sense of all the volumes of data the forecourt industry generates. Simon Lurie, director of business services at EKW, knows what his customers need: “They need a pos system that is robust, fast and simple to use yet capable of handling multi-payment methods, complex promotion construction and discounting functions. The pos should be interfaced to a back office system to pro-actively manage the investment in stock and, for truly astounding benefits, a seamless link to bespoke accounting is essential for savings in time and money as well as avoiding duplication and improving accuracy.“The pos needs to be supported effectively, not just the equipment maintenance but also in a development sense to make it future proof. For instance our MiPos features the ability to produce and print local vouchers and gift cards and is already configured for our customers to account for fuel where it exceeds the £1 per litre threshold.”Finally, Background2 offers a new back office system that links to the pos. The company moved into the petrol retail industry in response to what it considered were deficiencies in the current crop of available software. Director Keith Carsley explains: “None of the back office systems available offered a complete accounting solution, nor did they support concurrent access for any number of petrol stations. It also seemed to us that existing software had not been developed with sufficient input from the end-users. By making use of the expertise of petrol retailers we have been able to design interfaces that are both comprehensive and time-saving.” Today Background2’s Flow system is installed at 25 sites across the UK. From this month, Flow v1.2 will be on general release, with updates being issued every quarter.Carsley explains the main advantages: “Flow has been built on .Net, the latest Microsoft development framework, ensuring fast performance and future proofing. It has been designed as a true scalable solution: one database can cater for hundreds of sites and, providing the security settings allow, users can operate any site from any other.“In addition, Flow offers a full accounting solution from profit and loss to balance sheet. All aspects of the program have been designed in co-operation with forecourt dealers, and this has led to the inclusion of a range of features including the ability to run two months concurrently, reconcile fuel cards to the litre, manage prepayments and accruals, and unreconcile days.”The standalone software is priced at £1,950. An annual maintenance fee of £350 entitles users to ongoing software updates and technical support.Says Carsley: “Flow has been designed with customisation in mind, and we expect to invest a significant amount of development time into meeting the specific requirements of larger head office operations.”MAKING A CONNECTIONTransaction Network Services (TNS) has launched a new initiative aimed at helping retailers eliminate the risks associated with communications and transaction connectivity implementations. The initiative has been launched in response to research in which retailers called for faster, more secure transactions and enhanced communications capabilities.According to TNS’s survey of leading UK retailers, 68% said they were looking to implement broadband technologies in the next year, with ‘speed of transactions’ and ‘better internal communications’ being the most common reasons for upgrading.TNS responded to these findings with a four-stage initiative to identify, design, implement and manage a communications and connectivity solution.Each of these processes is matched by a guarantee to ensure that retailers can improve business efficiency and lower operation costs.Ray Low, managing director of TNS, explains: “We have responded to retailers’ needs with a raft of measures that completely eliminate the risk of implementing a new connectivity solution. Retailers want technologies such as broadband and wireless to help them make their businesses more efficient, so with broad experience in both the retail and banking markets, we’re taking this to the next level to truly enable the retail world to connect.”In addition to credit/debit card and ATM transactions, TNS also supports a wide range of additional applications including the transport of prepay, loyalty card and gift certificate transactions.CHIPPING AWAYRetailers need to start enforcing use of chip & pin technology with their customers if they want to see a significant downturn in criminal activity, says Mark Sprigg, chief commerical officer of Torex Retail.“Chip & pin is reducing fraudulent transactions but only in cases where it is actually being used and too many retailers are still reverting to signatures when customers say they don’t know, or have forgotten their pin number. Unless retailers recognise this and start to act, they will not see the benefits of the technology. If they continue to take consumers on trust about forgetting or not knowing their pin number, they will lay themselves open to fraud. The approach by retailers is actually quite surprising. Considering the deployment of chip & pin technology starts from £700 upwards you could build a strong case for the return on investment based on reduced fraud, yet many retailers are choosing not to capitalise on the technology.” Despite this Sprigg says the technology has been well received and when deployed has greatly increased overall transaction speed.SAFETY FIRSTInternational security group Gunnebo has signed a framework agreement with Statoil Retail in Sweden, Norway and Denmark for the supply of its sealed and secure SafePay cash-handling system.The contract covers all elements in the SafePay system, including note and coin units, intelligent cassettes containing colour-staining units and cash transfer units integrated into burglar-resistant safes.Michael Johansson, head of health, environment and safety, at Statoil Retail Europe comments: “Improved security for our personnel, especially at our petrol stations that are open in the evenings and at night, is an extremely important factor. With SafePay’s totally sealed system it is impossible to get hold of any cash, which radically reduces the risk of robbery.”Using SafePay means there is no need for forecourt staff to handle cash, apart from entering and paying out notes from the equipment’s note recycler. And by automating cash handling, SafePay keeps a record of all transactions and the amount of cash transferred to the bank.CASE STUDYGloucestershire-based Guy Warner is the owner of Warners One Stop and Mitton Manor Garages. Both of these businesses are Shell sites with Spar-branded neighbourhood stores. Keeping a tight control on both operations is essential to Guy so when he realised his ageing epos system was not capable of delivering what he needed he had to shop around.“I was looking for an organisation with proven technology and a good track record of growing with, and supporting, businesses such as ours. Plus I was looking for a solution that was able to integrate fuel and shop sales. Another key consideration was that of independence. We did not want to have our systems tied directly to Spar but we were looking for a provider that was recommended and recognised by the symbol group.”The solution was offered by Torex Retail, and Guy chose the Windows-based Iridium epos touch-screen system with integrated fuel and shop sales and supporting chip & pin capability. This has been deployed across two lanes and runs on Epson IR320 touch-screen hardware.Behind the scenes Guy’s outlets are utilising Torex Retail’s Prism back office management solution. As well as offering comprehensive reporting, Prism features stock management and replenishment and product and price updates. This is supported by electronic delivery notes which eliminate the need to book stock onto the system manually.Says Guy: “The systems from Torex Retail have revolutionised our business and helped increase efficiency. I now feel I have much greater control of every aspect of the business from stock to staffing and the reporting modules allow me to look at every aspect of the performance of the business and spot issues before they become problems.“The ability to review ranges and conduct profitability analysis as well as analyse promotions is absolutely invaluable and the business reporting tools enable me to get a very quick fix on the issues specific to each business which is vital to me because I am not always on site. I can identify all of the key issues within five to 10 minutes of analysing a report and this allows us to address potential problems.”