Which technology is right for your pub?

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Related tags: Licensees, Public house

There's a big stumbling block when it comes to licensees embracing new technologies. And that's time. There's a constant supply of new gadgets and...

There's a big stumbling block when it comes to licensees embracing new technologies. And that's time. There's a constant supply of new gadgets and gizmos on the market, all claiming to save you time, organise your business better, and so help you make more money.

But the problem is that it takes time to find out about them. Reading up on what they offer is important in order to work out how much they're going to cost you and if they're right for your business.

With this in mind, we asked Enterprise Inns tenant Lucy Davies-Coward from the Bell Inn in Buckland Dinham, Somerset, and Sell More Save More freehouse licensees Mark White from the Cross Keys in Henley, Ipswich, and Graham Bulpett from the Priory Arms in Stockwell, London, for their thoughts on a range of products that aim to tackle issues all pubs face.

Payroll systems

What the licensees say:

For many licensees, sorting out their payroll themselves is a burden. There's not only the problem of taking time out from the pub to work all your staff's wages out, but also the constant need to keep an eye on employment legislation.

For licensees who run just one or two pubs, it can be cost effective to have an accountant take care of wages rather than try to keep on top of it themselves.

Mark White from the Cross Keys says that he uses the free Employer CD-ROM from HM Revenue & Customs to work out his payroll. "It allows you to work out taxes and National Insurance and keep track of it," he says. "If the government actually gives you something for free that works, then use it rather than pay for it."

Lucy Davies-Coward from the Bell Inn says: "If there was a really easy and quick system that was targeted towards publicans then I would use it. But I've been put off in the past by the price and having to go on a day-long course to use it."

What the suppliers say:

Payroll software programmes are popular with managed pub estates or bigger pub companies, which large numbers of employees as they benefit from economies of scale.

It is generally considered that the software or services are, at the moment,

a little too expensive to be of any real benefit to individual licensees.

Simon Palmer, operations manager for payroll software company Qtac, says: "With the government making all these different rate and tax cuts, it can be beneficial for smaller businesses to outsource it, so they don't have anything to cope with all the amendments."

However Colin Charlton, business development manager at web-based payroll service firm Ciber, predicts that cheaper and easy to use software designed specifically for small businesses would be available in the future.

EPoS

What the licensees say:

For those unsure of exactly what EPoS is and what it does, it can be loosely defined as a till system that has the capabilities to authorise card transactions, provide sales reports and monitor stock levels - although more recent models can have a much greater and more sophisticated range of features.

It is now commonplace to see EPoS systems in pubs, including in two of our Sell More, Save More pubs where licensees have been using an EPoS system provided by Mission Integrated Systems as part of the campaign. But there are still many who do not use EPoS.

At the Bell Inn, Coward-Davies monitors her stock the old fashioned way - manually. Stock levels are monitored by looking at sales figures and checking the cellar for how much they have left.

Both Mark White and Graham Bulpett however, say that they found one of the biggest advantages of having an EPoS system was the amount of free time it gave them to concentrate on other areas of the business.

Bulpett says: "I couldn't be more pleased with it. You get the normal things you would from a till plus you get control of the business from stock control, sales and shift reports."

He also says it has made life easier for his staff as the system is very simple to use.

But do the licensees think there is anything more EPoS systems could do to suit a pub environment?

Mark White thinks so. He feels that it is important that EPoS is able to run loyalty card membership schemes and keep track of the purchases of individual customers.

He says: "EPoS systems that can run a complete membership scheme and collect information about customers, including birthdays or text numbers, so we could be a bit more personal with regulars, would be great."

He also wants it to be able to keep track of things such as trade dropping off from a certain customer group, to help him target promotions.

What the suppliers say:

Cardsave, suppliers of card processing services, said that they were working on a system to do just that. The system doesn't use EPoS but rather a card terminal meaning it can work alongside existing systems.

A spokeswoman said: "Cardsave is currently trialing a loyalty card scheme with the pub and restaurant sector that enables all licensees to gain data from birthdays and how many people they live with.

"Essentially it works like a Sainsbury's Nectar card, through the card terminal. The licensee can decide the value of the points and how and what they are redeemable on." The system will launch in spring 2009.

Steve Madden, deputy managing director of EPoS system and software provider Micros, says for licensees worried about cost, EPoS systems can be rented from Micros from £5.23 a day, which can be paid monthly. "This means that there is no initial capital outlay and customers can get tax relief on their IT systems," he says.

He also confirms that Micros is developing software that will be able to help licensees text and email people promotions on products that are the focus of a national advertising campaign. The new technology is expected to be available in early 2009.

Online purchasing

What the licensees say:

Doing things online, such as online banking or indeed online purchasing, can help free up time and save on costs on things such as paper and postage. Yet not all of the licensees I spoke to chose to order their stock online.

Bulpett says: "We're a small business so it is easy for us to keep on top of it. Every Monday I have five people call up so it is really easy to have everything ready and just do it over the phone."

But Davies-Coward says: "There is a definite perk to ordering online. You can see all the prices, you can do it in the middle of the night when telesales are closed if you like.

"Over the phone there is always an element of error and you can get the wrong stock. Also you can see the special offers straight away and only have to click your saved list of favourite products, so it saves time.

However Mark White says that ordering over the phone is still sometimes an easier option for him. "Online ordering can be great," he says, "but sometimes, especially when you have to be very hands-on with the business like me, its just not practical. It can be much quicker to pick up the phone."

What the suppliers say:

Steve Madden of Micros says that there are definite time saving advantages with online purchasing that licensees should consider.

"You can set up alerts to remind you to place your orders," he says. "And you do have the right to override an order before it is sent to the supplier, which gives you control over the ordering process."

Geoff Nicholson, head of marketing at iTradeNetwork, owners of online ordering system Barbox, says that online purchasing among licensees is well established and has been for many years, but that there are still large numbers of licensees taking it up for the first time too.

But he says that there are still barriers for licensees trying to use such systems.

"The pub sector may have been slow to embrace the internet but our experience is that they are all fast catching up.

"I would agree that there are still too ma

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