Handheld Value

Acceptance of new technologies across a retail enterprise, particularly by store-level associates, can make or break the effectiveness of a rollout.

Beall’s Department Stores, a subsidiary of Bradenton, Fla.,- based Beall’s, Inc., has equipped its entire portfolio of 85 stores with wireless handheld devices. Following a pilot of wireless handheld technology that was begun in 2004, Beall’s outfitted the majority of its stores with four to five units per location.

Store associates enthusiastically embraced the new technology and requested more units, driving a corporate decision to double the average number of units per store. Today, Beall’s has successfully implemented more than 685 wireless handhelds, giving each store an average of eight units.

“The stores love the system, evidenced by the fact that after they were in use store operations requested the additional units,” confirmed Louann Brekhus, VP store systems at Beall’s. “The benefits included operational efficiencies, [improved] fulfillment of Internet orders and on-the-floor access to inquiries such as returns.”

“We especially liked that the browser allowed us to interface directly with hardware features [such as the scanner] and that it has the ability to generate tone-based feedback within our applications for our users,” she continued. “The use of these audible signals results in greater efficiencies since it eliminates the need for a visual check of the data.”

The browser-based handheld applications operate on a widearea network, providing on-line access to Beall’s merchandising systems. “All associates in the stores can use the handhelds for various item or pricing inquiries, plus standard stock-taking applications,” said Brekhus. “Promotional-pricing inquiries and ad-setting are heavily used.”

The retailer selected a wireless handheld system from Denso of Southfield, Mich., because the display was crisper and it offered more control over the browser. Additionally, Beall’s was able to work with its existing infrastructure because the CE.NET device allowed the retailer to port its existing applications with few programming changes.

“The Denso units communicate with the previous wireless access points on the same network,” explained Brekhus. “However, we found it desirable to move to a wireless printer solution at the time of the implementation.”

Building Virtual CommunitiesMySaladworks.com is a forum for information sharing

On-line gathering places such as Facebook and MySpace have altered the communications model forever and set the stage for corporate intranet communities. Saladworks, a franchisor of health-conscious, fresh-tossed salad restaurants based in Conshohocken, Pa., recently launched its version of the communications trend—MySaladworks.com. Through this custom-designed internal Web site, Saladworks encourages and facilitates increased dialogue and information-sharing with its 75 franchisee locations in seven states.

In addition to accessing corporate information such as new-product introductions or using tools to assist with store operations, members of MySaladworks.com can communicate more easily with other franchisees. Through the on-line community, they can e-mail one another utilizing the franchisee address book located on the site, or access the “live-chat” feature to conduct an instant, real-time conversation.

When the company announced its new communications platform, Saladworks CIO Tony Scardapane, said, “MySaladworks.com was the answer to widespread requests for additional means of communication. The site has become an invaluable asset to both the Saladworks’ home office and our franchisees.”

The secure site also has a photo bank and information on public relations, marketing and development. Saladworks uses the community platform to host live seminars on business topics for its store owners and associates, and to relay company news and updates. Members can post messages on a community forum called “Salad Talk.”

In the company’s prepared release, Carol Salera, owner of two Saladworks’ stores, praised MySaladWorks.com, and said, “It helps not only the individual stores but also the community atmosphere of the entire system.”

Saladworks expects to sustain a 30% growth rate over the next five years, growing to more than 200 units in that time frame.