Just because you run a tiny high-touch, small-town business doesn’t mean you have to forego the benefits of automation. Some people would even argue it’s all the more reason for automating to the hilt.
Kimberly Kennedy, owner of The Silver Basket, a gift basket shop in Presque Isle, Maine, may be the ultimate case in point. Kennedy’s business, which she launched three years ago in this town of 10,000, is about as low-tech and high-touch as they come. She custom assembles gift baskets filled with gourmet foods and snacks.
And it’s certainly tiny enough. She has one full-time employee, her mother. During peak periods such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas, she might bring in as many as three part-timers.
The Silver Basket pretty much caters to people in and around Presque Isle – within about a 60 mile radius, she says, though she’s now working on a Web site. The company had less than $100,000 in sales last year.
Kennedy is nobody’s technology wiz either. She prefers in any case to stay focused on her very people-oriented business. But that doesn’t mean she was blind to the potential of using technology to make it run better.
When she started, she knew she needed a computer and knew she wanted a computer-controlled cash register, but that was about as far as it went. A local reseller suggested QuickBooks Point of Sale software from Intuit Inc.
The entire set-up – computer, printer, cash register, barcode scanner, QuickBooks POS and installation – cost Kennedy about $3,500. “It really had everything I needed,” she says of QuickBooks POS. “It saves a lot of time on my end and delivers many, many benefits.”
QuickBooks automates virtually every aspect of the operation, not just controlling the cash register and accounting, but also inventory control, financial reporting and even business intelligence.
In fact, it enables the very feature of The Silver Basket operation that Kennedy believes is her competitive advantage: it makes it dead simple for her to assemble from scratch — and bill for — a basket that contains just the items her customer wants.
Not that Kennedy has any real competition anywhere within a three-hour drive, but offering customers absolute flexibility has helped make her successful, she believes.
She doesn’t stock any ready-made baskets and doesn’t even insist on a minimum price. Customers can tell her how much they want to spend – $50, say, or even $10. They might give her a general idea of what they’d like to include in the basket, or a very detailed list of items.
Or they might leave it entirely to her discretion. “A lot of people just trust us,” Kennedy says. “We’ve built a reputation.”
As she adds the individually priced items to the basket – usually while the customer waits – she scans their barcodes and they’re automatically added to the receipt. She can see on the screen when she’s reached her dollar ceiling. And she can print off an itemized bill for the customer in seconds.
“If I had to write down 10 items on a paper receipt every time, it would take a lot longer,” she points out. “But I can scan in a number very fast. And that means customers can get in and out quickly without having to wait.”
As well as using the system to generate receipts for retail customers, she can take sales orders over the phone from customers to be invoiced later. QuickBooks will even cue her if the customer is eligible for a discount or tax exemption.
And the program makes closing, a task that in the past often kept retail owners and managers working late, a breeze. “At the end of the day, it takes me about five minutes to close,” Kennedy says.