Share the Pain, Share the Gain: Co-ops network to improve Point of Sale

Changes to POS systems are inevitably stressful, as Liz McMann notes in her article. Anticipating such challenges, Andrea Becker, who provides technical support at Bloomingfoods in Bloomington, Ind., proposed that her co-op host a multi-store installation when it made the switch to Catapult/ECRS in June 2007.

What made the event unique was the involvement of a dozen other co-ops. The installation doubled as a learning workshop, with many participants, including Tim Blair and others from ECRS, on hand for training and troubleshooting.

Co-ops already using the Catapult/ECRS system-Middlebury Co-op and Outpost-brought lessons from their own experience and suggestions for further modifying the system. Becker also made a preinstallation visit to Ocean Beach People’s Co-op, and consulted with Skagit Valley Food Co-op, other early Catapult adopters. Front-end staff and systems managers from Good Foods, Green Star, La Montanita, Mississippi Market, New Pioneer, Wheatsfield, and Wheatsville used the installation to evaluate the applicability of Catapult to their stores.

The days-long event was fueled by the enthusiasm that typically accompanies a co-op gathering of the tribes. That provided the group with good energy and endurance for problem solving.

“It was great to be in Bloomington with all of those minds,” observed Chris von Rabenau, NCGA director of information technology. “I’ve been charged with setting up an IT think tank for NCGA, and there was a lot of good thinking going on there. Many of the participants are interested in the ECRS system, and the installation gave them hands-on involvement. It was a win-win-win, a symbiotic situation where we came together to create another level of IT support.”

The Bloomingfoods installation was complex, involving three sites, including a new store due to open on July 4, 2007. The team began by setting up equipment at the Bloomingfoods administrative offices, creating a learning laboratory in which to give basic training to front-end managers and cashiers. They then moved to the co-op’s smallest location before bringing the system to the largest store. The last challenge was the new location, where the POS system went in amid other equipment installations.

In-store signage and articles in the co-op newsletter had informed customers about the upgrade, detailing its advantages and asking for patience regarding changes to the check-out process. Said Becker, “Suddenly we had the most up-to-date POS system of any grocery store in town, with new computer screens allowing customers to view their purchases and prices.” The Catapult screens also feature customizable rotating images, allowing stores to display messages and photos.

“Catapult allows for much more sophisticated reporting than had been possible with our previous system,” Andrea added. “It has ripple effects throughout the entire business-from finance to human resources to purchasing to member services and marketing. It takes time to adjust to all of those.”

ECRS has been working with the National Cooperative Grocers Association to design membership modules specific to food co-ops, whose requirements may vary from store to store. One of Andrea’s jobs since the installation has been to evaluate that module. “ECRS has invested a lot of time and energy into making this work for us, and the installation was a terrific example of leveraging peer support within NCGA.”

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