By David Hochman, owner of DJH Marketing Communications
I recently had the opportunity to attend the BIG Show, aka the NRF Annual Convention & Expo in New York City. The expo is called the BIG Show for a reason. The NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, with members including department store, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, and independent retailers, chain restaurants, and grocery stores.
I received an avalanche of PR pitch emails in the weeks leading up to the expo. My standard reply was along the lines of…. “thanks for contacting me, does company X have any end-users in the convenience store category? If so, please provide me with a list and then I’ll let you know if I’d like to schedule a booth visit.”
One company called Vend U.S., a provider of cloud-based point-of-sale software that enables small-to-medium sized retailers to process sales, track inventory, integrate e-commerce, as well as manage customers and loyalty programs, stood out in particular, for three reasons. First, the PR firm told me that there was going to be waffles available at the booth, and hey, what sane person would turn down free waffles? The waffles were courtesy of a Vend user, N.J.-based WaffleMe, a small store (such as one would find in a mall or airport, or maybe co-located in a c-store) that sells waffles. Along with crepes, and ice cream, with a variety of toppings.
Second, they did have a few convenience category customers, and third, they were from New Zealand and looking to expand quickly in North America, starting with an office in San Francisco and one in Toronto.
One of many fascinating facts about New Zealand is its status as a near-perfect testing ground for global companies to launch new technology. A small (relatively) prosperous and well-educated population that speaks English, which has a modern, developed economy, and the isolation and distance enables tech firms to test out new and innovative solutions there without spending a ton of money. If the release is plagued with glitches and tanks, well, back to the drawing board. The worst that can happen is 4 million Kiwis think your brand is, as they might say, “rubbish.” The upside? If the solution gains traction in the New Zealand market, then it stands to reason that the lucrative Australian, Canadian, United States and British markets will do likewise.
Most of the major Social Media platforms trial-launch new features in New Zealand. Facebook likes New Zealand so much they launched user-sponsored posts and several iterations of its Timeline profile layout there. The bottom line is that if you’re interested in innovation, keep an eye on New Zealand.
So back to Vend (whose booth I visited) which is in fact a New Zealand tech firm, one that claims over 8,000 retailer customers in more than 100 countries. The Vend platform works on any device—all the retailer needs is a Web browser. The solution integrates with the existing POS system, including barcode scanners, cash drawers and receipt printers as well as cloud based small business apps, including e-commerce, accounting, foot traffic analytics and loyalty. I saw a demo, and it looked almost frighteningly simple to use.
As for their application in a C-Store space, a New Zealand company called Gasoline Alley Services (GAS) had identified the urgent need for a single POS system for all of its 115 GAS fuel stations located across New Zealand. With the GAS businesses all independently owned, operating a wide range of systems (some still using cash registers), many of which were over 10 years old, the major issues in this project were to overcome cost, ensure simplicity and minimizes disruption to business.
The reality is that trying to do business with an outdated and obsolete POS system will put you at a serious competitive disadvantage. At the same time, unlocking the potential of a mobile POS can seem like a complex and expensive challenge, especially for the independent operator. You may want to check out what the friendly Kiwis who run Vend have to say about that —and you may be very gad you did.
David Hochman, former Marine and Ohio University graduate, is the owner of DJH Marketing Communications, a PR & Content Marketing firm located at the Jersey Shore. Follow him on Twitter @davehochman