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Unbridled Enthusiasm

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It’s a common misconception that small, independent stores don’t use cutting-edge technology — it’s too expensive, nobody services single stores — so they don’t appeal to a consumer population increasingly perusing stores while iPhone-shopping.

But little guys are out there, changing with the times, remaining technically flexible and competing with the big boys at every turn.

Phoenix-based little artika is one such merchant. A high-end baby clothing and accessory store, it had two locations but closed the second store after other retailers pulled out of the mall in which it was situated.

“The mall opened during the Fall Market Crash of 2008,” owner Ron Barry says. “The anchors that were supposed to be right outside our front door — Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s — were never built.”

He focused on his main store, in a location anchored by Macy’s, Saks and an Apple store. A former Apple store employee, Barry knew the market lacked luxury baby items, but if his customers didn’t perceive an engaging experience, they wouldn’t come back.

Across from his store, Apple associates walk around with mobile devices that also serve as point-of-sale machines. Customers asking sales reps for help receive it instantly. A number of retail analysts believe the Apple store experience is the future of bricks-and-mortar retailing, and Barry wanted that same kind of hip technology for his store.

The hipness factor
“If space is at a premium and you’re looking at the economics of expanding your POS, it makes more sense to go mobile,” Barry says. “For us to add another register, you’re looking at investing in ... a Mac, another drawer, another credit card processing terminal and the wiring. All that space could be valuable merchandising space.”

The LightSpeed Mobile Solution by Xsilva Systems, developed specifically for Mac, fit Barry’s needs. The mobile retail extension to the LightSpeed Point of Sale system for Mac, LightSpeed Mobile Solution includes a hardware kit with a supported iOS mobile device and a sled that adds a 1D barcode scanner and magnetic stripe reader. It works on the fourth-generation iPod touch or the iPhone4.

“It takes up almost no space and it’s just right in your hand, leaving a good square footage of our counter open for merchandising,” Barry says. “It allows us to go out on the floor with a customer and engage them directly in front of the product.”

If a customer wants pricing, inventory levels or product color variations, the sales associate can research those queries and show the results on the spot, without dragging customers to a computer screen.

“This is a more personal way [to interact] with our customers, just like the Apple store experience,” Barry says. “That same kind of check-out experience makes an impression on our customers, especially customers in the modern realm.”

Barry says the hipness factor wasn’t the primary reason little artika sought a mobile solution, but it was a factor.

“Our store is about design,” he says. “You can have this great store full of great products, but if you have an ugly beige PC box sitting on the counter, that looks like a relic.”

Instead, little artika boasts slick iMacs for cash registers, flat screens for product display and mobile checkout devices that send receipts to a nearby printer.

“The whole look and feel is a part of our brand,” Barry says.

The iGeneration
Lifestyle apparel retailers that use Macs are quick adopters to LightSpeed’s mobile solution. Those retailers also come from the iGeneration — people who’ve grown up on Apple products since the iMac.

“They’ve had iMac, iPad, iPhones, iTunes,” says Xsilva CEO Dax Dasilva, “so there’s a generation there that’s either starting stores or working in stores that are used to this level of user experience, and we’re bringing that to retail software.

“Once you’ve started to use Apple products you get spoiled by the fact that you can mostly do a lot of stuff yourself or with minimal IT intervention,” he says. “They’re much easier to maintain and not going to get taken down by a virus or security hole.”

LightSpeed’s typical customer is an independent store owner with one to seven locations, says Dasilva, whose company was recently rated the fastest growing company in Quebec by Profit magazine.

Dasilva says there are heavy levels of encryption between the client and the server. “We had a couple of people with hacking experience hired on to test the limits,” says Dasilva of his PCI-compliant solution.

And that cyber crook who hangs in the mall lobby searching for soft servers from which to steal data? Barry’s not worried.

“Even if somebody threw a rock through our window [and] grabbed our computers and iPhones, they’d get nothing of economic value,” he says. “They’d get the $400 in our till.”

Breaking away
As a single-store owner, Barry can find himself glued to the physical location. How are sales? Who’s on shift today? What items are trending? These are questions almost all retailers ask, but most are forced to get the answers at the store. “That’s ultimately at the core of the greatest part of the mobile solution,” he says. “I can go anywhere and still be connected to the data.”

Without bothering his staff and possibly interrupting a sale, Barry can pull out his phone and view his store’s activity.

“I habitually check the status of the drawer,” he says. “If we’re having a booming day or if things are starting off slow and picking up, I don’t have to call the store and bug staff. It makes it a lot easier to be a storeowner when you don’t always have to be there.”