It’s impossible to add more hours to each day, but one tool retailers can use to mitigate time loss is a point-of-sale system integrated with inventory and accounting.

The available systems are endless, but the common features that most stores are utilizing include tracking sales by customer, inventory updates and reordering processes, and transfer of sales and work orders to the accounting software.

While it’s obvious the time savings is invaluable, finding shortcuts within the chosen system can help even more.

Templates are one feature Payne Pools & Spas, based outside Washington, D.C., is using to save time at all three retail store locations, said Karen Harris, retail store manager. Staff there use the tool on their RB Control Systems software to make billing for pool openings and closings easier.

“You click the pool opening template, and it puts in all of the items that are probably going to be used on each and every pool opening,” she explains. “So now, all we have to do on the billing is … adjust that particular sales order.”

While the time savings on each billing doesn’t sound like much, “it cut probably three to five minutes off of each invoice we did,” Harris says. And when calculated over the course of hundreds of pool openings and closings each season, the hours add up. “We would be staying until 8 or 9 o’clock at night after the stores closed just to make sure the billing was done,” she adds.

Streamlining billing is only one time-savings benefit of an automated system. Managing a manual inventory system has inherent challenges. Not only must a store owner fully communicate inventory count expectations to employees, but he or she makes a large time investment tracking the items in the store — and hoping that they’re all stocked and organized where they should be.

The time savings was a main selling point of moving to a point-of-sale system for Brian Hughes, vice president of Leisure World Pool & Hearth.

After 40 years of doing manual inventory, the Kansas City, Mo., store moved to a Quickbooks POS in April 2013. The system crashed in November and the data was lost, but the store’s now back up and running again.

“The real desire to go from a manual inventory system to a point-of-sale system had to do with time savings and ultimately cost savings of better inventory management,” he says. “We’re a company that prides itself on keeping a lot of inventory in stock for odd applications, and so I’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory.”

Because Hughes wanted to have items in stock, the store would reorder products if they weren’t found immediately. “Then, I’d have excessive inventory in some areas and deficient inventory in other areas because we didn’t have a good understanding of what we had,” he explains. “… It was a bigger problem for us not to have something in stock than to have too many of something in stock. The problem of not having it to sell to the customer, who is here right now, is a lost sale.”

Most manual systems are done by someone walking around the store and counting each item. But if the same product is in three places, it can cause a variety of problems.

Precise item counts is what led Leah Williamson to add bin locations to the inventory items in her store’s point-of-sale system.

“We’ve bin-located our inventory,” explains the owner of Splash Pool & Spa in Indianapolis. Williamson went live with an Evosus software system in April 2012 after using other point-of-sale systems that weren’t all-inclusive. “Our staff, whether they just started yesterday or they’ve been with me for five years, can type in an item in Evosus and it will tell them not only how many I have, but exactly where it is located,” she says.

This benefit not only saves staff time, but because much of the sales staff is seasonal, it also cuts down on the learning curve of new workers familiarizing themselves with merchandise locations in the store.

“The largest thing I hope to gain from it is that our uneducated staff looks more educated,” Williamson says. “They will be able to locate this part, type that number into our system, and say, ‘Yes, we have three of them; let me go get that for you.’”

Added professionalism and customer confidence isn’t a component built into the software systems available, but it is a byproduct stores experience from adding this automation to their business.

Being able to easily access the contact information, purchases and service history of each customer helps staff provide better service, says Hughes. He gave a hypothetical example of a 20-year customer calling for a pool opening who might get frustrated at providing those details after being loyal for so long.

“It changes the ability to interact with the customer that displays a much greater professionalism from our end,” Hughes adds.

Pulling reports is another vital feature of point-of-sale systems because a business owner can learn important information — from what’s in stock and what’s popular to comparing how a particular item is doing between store locations.

“Having that information at your fingertips just really lets you make better business decisions,” says Christina Braks, vice president of software products at Vancouver, Wash.-based Evosus. “Obviously going on your gut is sometimes necessary, but whenever you can get away from trying to make decisions about what you think your business is doing [and use] what you know your business is doing, that’s usually the best direction.”

Tracking the items that fly off the shelves — or don’t — is crucial information for a store. But in a manual system, following trends is much more complicated than using the reports of a point-of-sale system to find out instantaneously how product lines are moving.

“If I have 12 of something and I sold one last year, I’m not going to bring in anymore,” Hughes says.

Pulling reports also benefits a stores’ tax records.

“If it’s your end of fiscal year, when you go to take your inventory you can manually punch in the quantities that you truly have,” Harris points out. “Then if you don’t want all 500 pages printed off, you just do a physical value, and for your tax purposes, it will give you the value of inventory you have on hand.”

The immediacy of the reports is a major advantage, says Rachael Pritz, executive director of North Versailles, Pa.-based RB Control Systems. “You’re able to streamline your business because you see anything that has to do with your business at a glance,” she explains.

In addition to helping customers buy the same products they’ve already used, liked but can’t remember the names of, the purchase record also can help the store track purchases that might be covered under warranty that the customer doesn’t have the receipt for.

“This allows us to go back and look and say, ‘Yes, that motor is covered under warranty because it’s only been six months,’ or ‘Wow, time flies because it’s really been a year and a half since you bought that motor,’” Williamson says. “It allows us to provide a better service to our customers that’s relevant to them and not just recording a transaction. It allows us to make it more personal.”

The systems also generate product order forms, making reordering stock as simple as emailing or faxing the list to the distributor — or having the system set up to order automatically.

“If we run out of a product that we have a minimum or a maximum set on and we’ve reached that minimum level, then [the system] sends an action item to my purchasing clerk that says, ‘Hey, you’re out of these, it’s time to reorder this,’” Williamson says. “It definitely helps from an inventory management perspective [to] be aware of what you have available and when it’s an appropriate time to reorder.”

Hughes says that recording the customer’s equipment helps his staff know immediately whether the parts are available to fix an issue, making scheduling faster and easier.

Loyal customer

Competing with the deals a megastore can offer can be tough for a small retailer.

But, like the larger, all-purpose cousins, specialty pool and spa stores can offer a customer loyalty or rewards program.

“It’s a way for small businesses to compete with the big-box stores by creating loyalty with their customers to get them to continue coming back to them and not going and buying potentially cheaper product down the road at Home Depot or something,” says Christina Braks, vice president of software products at Evosus, based in Vancouver, Wash.

Before going live with Evosus, Leah Williamson, owner of Splash Pool & Spa in Indianapolis, spent $100 per month for a rewards program with cards that customers swiped through the store’s credit card processor. “It was really just a hassle and people did not embrace it,” she adds. Now, the system automatically calculates the rewards points, whether the customer remembers to bring their reward card or not.

An easier rewards system also is a byproduct of the Quickbooks POS system implemented by Brian Hughes, vice president of Leisure World Pool & Hearth in Kansas City, Mo. Prior to implementing the system, staff would write down and keep track of the dollar values of chemicals purchased. For every $150 of chemicals a customer bought, they would get a $15 credit toward their next chemical purchase.

“Those were all on index cards alphabetized through, for lack of a better term, seven plastic boxes that covered a quarter of my countertop. And through various people’s inability to properly alphabetize, or put cards back in the wrong spot or lose cards … it was a very challenging thing to keep track of,” he says.

Now, the purchases are automatically tracked in the system, and the customer’s receipt shows their running total.

In RB Control Systems’ software, the rewards program works with keytags, much like those large retailers give customers.

“The advantage for the pool store is that their pool store name and logo is in front of that customer all the time on their keys,” says Rachael Pritz, executive director of the North Versailles, Pa.-based company.

Payne Pools & Spas near Washington, D.C., uses the RB rewards program, and is working on making adjustments, says Karen Harris, retail store manager for the company’s three locations. Since implementing the RB system in 2005, the stores have offered a $25 coupon for every $500 spent in retail products — excluding pools, spas and service. If a customer didn’t spend the whole $25, the balance was applied to their account as a credit.

Now, Harris says, a spend limit will still apply, but when the coupons are redeemed, customers will have to spend it at one time and a minimum purchase amount will apply.

“Over time, things need to be freshened up and revised based on your company and the growth and financial situation,” she adds.