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During Progressive Grocer's Oct. 3 roundtable on "Technology and the Independent Grocer," seven retailers discussed an array of technology topics, from loyalty marketing to biometric payments to POS systems. In this preview excerpt, Larry Foster, senior director of e-commerce and retail services for Edina, Minn.-based Nash Finch, provides an inside peek at how the wholesaler works with its retailer customers when it comes to retail technology.
"We kind of picture ourselves as a private reseller," notes Foster. "We're only as successful as our retailers are. If our retailers aren't successful, we go away. So our real goal is to help them in any way we can.
"We're all for technology, but I'm also a big believer in the fact that you can hurt someone with too much technology, as well as with too little technology," he continues. "So we try and take a different approach. Rather than go out and market the application of the day, we sit with the retailer and see what they want to do. We ask them, 'Are you interested in a loyalty program?' or 'Are you interested in service?' or 'Are you interested in an ethnic program?' We want to learn their technology interests and what they want to do. Then we try to center the technology around that.
Two of everything
"We do have a set of recommended applications—we try to pick two applications in every area," says Foster. "Two POS systems, two back-office systems, and so on. That way we give them an option, and each option usually covers a different area. For example, some POS systems are really strong in accounting, and some POS systems are really strong in reporting. So we try to tailor that to the retailer's needs.
"We also try to be really aware of interfaces," he adds. "There are a lot of pain points when you try to interface the different applications, like linking a POS system to a DSD application. We talk to everybody. We're hardware-agnostic. Retailers often go out and buy an application, and the vendor says, 'We're 70 percent of the way there; we were looking for a customer to help us with the last 30 percent—now you're it.' Well, that last 30 percent is 90 percent of the work.
"If you buy anything outside of our offerings, we'll do our darnedest to make it work," he adds. "But if you stick with what we recommend, we guarantee you a better price than what's on the street, and we guarantee that it'll work with the next version or whatever the next thing is—we have a staff that does the interfaces, so that way when you do get it, it works for you.
"Our relationship with retailers helps them get to where they want to be," observes Foster. "And we can leverage our size, where we can go out and buy 1,000 lanes of registers and can get a better deal than a retailer with just three lanes.
"We'll get involved at any level our customers want," he notes. "We'll install systems. We'll train their employees, we'll do the integration, all the way to recommending applications they may not have considered. And anything in between. When you get a POS system, there are something like 3,800 to 3,900 variables you can set, all the way down to, 'Do you want to accept $100 bills?' When you buy one of our applications, we give you a standard configuration. Something to get you going. Because when you install a new POS system, it can be really nerve-wracking. We can get you that basic configuration set, and then later, if you decide not to take $100 bills, it's easier to go back and uncheck that option. But you don't have to go through all of those pages and pages of configurations. We'll do anything where we think we can be of assistance."