Embracing Automated Cash Control

More convenience store operators are phasing out their drop safes and replacing them with sophisticated cash management systems that perform a variety of functions more easily and quickly than ever before. One of those is the linking of computer networks for easier access to information throughout the organization. In doing so, cash shrinkage due to theft and counterfeiting can be markedly decreased.

According to retail experts, the benefits of integrated cash management systems include improved security for both employees and customers; reduced shrinkage; labor savings; improved counterfeit detection; real-time balancing and shift reconciliation; improved cash reporting for daily cash balance information; better management reports; and safety from loss or fire once the cash is inside the safe.

Unlike some other c-store operations, results are both quantifiable and immediately apparent. VERC Enterprises in Duxbury, Mass., a privately held, 30-plus-year-old c-store/gasoline station group, which operates 20 stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire along the Interstate 495 corridor, has been using its cash management system for at least five years.

“The first reason we did it was that we wanted to free up our store managers from having to deal with cash,” said President Leo Vercollone. “Now they don’t have to count the cash every day or make the deposits. It’s all done automatically. The other thing we wanted was the peace of mind that comes with knowing that as managers go on vacation, handle personal issues or have to be out of the store for a while that the cash would always be taken care of. That was the main driving force.”

Controlling Costs
Managers have come to not only like the system, but depend on it for easing their tasks and freeing up time. As Vercollone suggested, “I would say that if I went to my store managers and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have to take something away from you because of the recession,’ probably the last thing they would want to give up would be that cash management system.”

The system and service, from Brink’s, costs VERC more than $600 a month. “Multiply that by 22 stores and it’s not cheap,” Vercollone said, “but it’s worth it.” Indeed, it comes to $13,200 per month and $158,400 per year.

Additionally, with the system, VERC’s managers are free to focus on their people, their customers, the stores, planograms and inventory. As a result, store sales have benefited. “Sales are up and customer service is above what it used to be,” Vercollone said. “These are all positive side benefits.”

Vercollone said that he and his executive team are more than satisfied with their cash management system, though he admitted it has proven to be “a very expensive procedure. If you look at it dollar-and-cents wise, with a chain my size this is costing us about $160,000 a year. That’s new cost; it’s a cost that didn’t exist before we did it, so it’s expensive,” he said. “But when you look at how a cash management system frees the store manager to focus on all his other responsibilities it is clearly worth the expense.”

For operators trying to decide whether or not having such a system would be beneficial, Vercollone said first, he would ask how many stores they have. “It also depends on how far they are spread out, but I would think that if you have three, four, five stores you wouldn’t need it and the expense that goes along with it. Once you start getting into double digits in terms of stores, however, it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “This system will absolutely be part of all our new stores.

Don’t Rush to Purchase
Mary Vinson, director of operations for Donnini Enterprises and Reliance Petroleum in Lake Park, Fla., said her company has just a single integrated safe at present, located in one of its Sunoco stations in Tequesta, Fla., which the company recently took back from a dealer. She likens it to Donnini’s money order machines: in years past, an operator didn’t have information about who sold a particular money order and when. “This gives you that information so you can pinpoint who took it or did what they shouldn’t have done.”

The difference in having an integrated cash management system is as fundamental as “doing everything manually or going computerized,” Vinson said. “It makes things easier because if you have a dishonest manager–not that I ever would–then as he’s counting things there is some back up for the cashier, who can now say, ‘yes, I really did put $60 in here even though you’re only counting $40.’”

While Donnini’s plans include adding such systems to all seven of its existing units and all new stores going forward, the company’s executives are not in any big hurry to add them to existing units, for two reasons.

“We really don’t have problems with our managers,” Vinson said. “That’s the only situation that I can think of that we would be running into that problem. If we had a manager who was being dishonest and a cashier whose cash count ended up being short, we would surely reconsider this issue immediately.”

Then there is cost. “If we were buying equipment for a new store I would include such a system. But it’s not worth it, to me, buying all brand new equipment right now because of the uncertain economy,” Vinson noted.

Though the cost has dipped somewhat of late, she added, the prices she has been quoted range in the neighborhood of $3,500 to $4,000 per unit depending on how complicated the system is.

“In addition, one of the things that we have noticed when you get into these systems is that they have a limit of how many bills you can put in,” Vinson said. “During a busy weekend or another high-traffic period the cash drawer quickly fills up. It is kind of limited.”

Another factor in Donnini’s decision on whether to purchase such a system for its seven existing units is the fact that the company is considering moving out of direct operations and instead turning the stores over to dealers.

“Since we’re larger as a wholesale distributor for a few of the brands—CITGO, Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Sunoco—we tend to lean that way because it is less labor-intensive, and of course, you don’t have to worry so much about your employees and their honesty.”

Vinson’s advice to operators? “If they’re going to make an investment in a safe, my experience shows you can’t beat the advantages of an integrated cash management system.”

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