An Interview with Owner Joel Patterson about the Benefits of Automation.
Joel Patterson opened the doors to Nature’s Green Grocer Market & Café, located in Peterborough, NH, three years ago inspired by his culinary background, personal interest in natural and organic products, and entrepreneurial spirit. When deciding to move forward in a retail venture, it seemed that a full-service natural products marketplace was the perfect complement to his personal lifestyle, strengths, background, and interests. The formula worked as Nature’s Green Grocer is now the largest natural foods grocery store in the Monadnock region with over 15,000 products in inventory.
The following profile will reveal how Patterson implemented the ECRS® retail automation suite to help achieve his business goals and elevate his bottom-line success with continued focus on long-term growth.
Background and Business Philosophy
ECRS: Begin by explaining your personal background and what led to the opening of Nature’s Green Grocer.
Patterson: I am a culinary school graduate and chef by trade. I aspired to open a retail business for several years and already used natural and organic products in my daily life, so it seemed a logical pursuit based on my interests. I opened Nature’s Green Grocer Market & Café to provide complete green living options for people in the community, and the business has grown steadily since inception.
ECRS: What makes Nature’s Green Grocer unique?
Patterson: We offer a full-service health, grocery, and green living store. Customers can find anything from health and beauty items, fresh fish brought in daily, and green household items. We also have a full-service deli and café. From a business standpoint, we are different than most independent retail stores because of our use of automated processes and advanced software applications to run our business. This is where the ECRS system, especially their unique LogicSync® technology, plays a major role. It has streamlined business processes and provided us opportunity to focus on the things that make us stronger.
Deciding on a Point-of-Sale/Retail Automation Solution
ECRS: What were you using for point-of-sale (POS) prior to installing the ECRS system?
Patterson:We used basic, manual cash registers in the beginning. It was very important for me to wait until I could purchase exactly the system I knew was right for our business. I had specific business management and productivity aspirations and needed the best system for my enterprise goals. Many retailers just go out and buy a point of sale without considering what the right system can actually do for their business, or they settle for something less because it seems more affordable. The right system will pay for itself in the long run, so it is important that you understand what you want the system to do before going into the decision making process. I researched extensively and knew precisely what I wanted- a system that would help move the business forward, produce measurable return on investment, and protect my bottom-line.
[LogicSync®] has streamlined business processes and provided us opportunity to focus on the things that make us stronger.
ECRS: Why did you choose to partner with ECRS for your retail automation needs?
Patterson: As an ambitious business owner and forward-thinker, I knew Nature’s Green Grocer needed a system that would allow it to grow with ease while continuing to provide data consistency across the enterprise. I have big plans and need a system that can keep up. It is also important that I be able to maintain full control of retail operations from anywhere. From my research, ECRS was the only system that fit my business model and met my needs as the owner of a growing, busy retail establishment. ECRS provides a complete solutions suite – POS, back office management, inventory management, supplier integration – meaning, I could have everything needed to automate the store, and any future stores, with one system.
Inventory Management and EDI Supplier Integration
ECRS: In addition to the CATAPULT® POS system, you also chose to implement ECRS’ Logic-Sync®-powered ECRS Gateway™ EDI system. What were your goals in implementing this inventory automation technology?
Patterson: I wanted to take full control over my inventory and eliminate guesswork and human error from the day-to-day. ECRS Gateway, in combination with CATAPULT auto reorder, has already saved us substantially by reducing manual labor, pricing errors, inaccurate inventory counts, and ordering mistakes. I also wanted to automate inventory processes to expedite sales and produce higher inventory turns. LogicSync takes the in-and-out data between CATAPULT and ECRS Gateway and transforms it into results previously achieved through hours of manual labor. It ties everything together to provide quantifiable results.
ECRS: What were you using to manage inventory before CATAPULT and ECRS Gateway?
Patterson: We used a handheld scanning system that simply didn’t prove very effective for our business. We would walk the floor and scan low or out-of-stock items to determine our orders. It was tedious, time consuming, and involved too much guesswork and personal influence. It was also easy to make mistakes just by way of human error. The business lost a lot of sales during this time as a result of poor decision making and mistakes. It was evident we needed a system that tied everything together, provided more control, and embraced automation opposed to manual labor.
ECRS: Describe the current process for inventory management.
Patterson: Our entire store inventory, with the exception of consignment items and fresh foods, are set up as auto reorder in CATAPULT. This means that when it’s time to place an order with a vendor, myself or another manager opens a new Purchase Order worksheet within CATAPULT and clicks the “Auto Reorder” button. The system auto- fills the PO [by supplier] using real-time forecasting engines that determine our optimal merchandise mix and stock levels.
This system gives me the time; time to spend with my family and time to focus on the things that seed new ideas and business growth.
Once the order has been reviewed and confirmed, we are ready to send the completed order to the supplier. For our primary supplier, the order is automatically picked up and transmitted electronically through the ECRS Gateway system in real-time. We simply click “Submit” and our supplier receives the order. This integration works both ways as the invoice generated by my supplier after order fulfillment is also handled by ECRS Gateway. The Gateway picks up the invoice and automatically updates the CATAPULT purchase order with actual shipped quantities and costs. If my costs have changed, Gateway generates a Price and Cost Change Worksheet prompting me to update my prices and maintain margins where I want them. Updated shelf labels can be printed from this same worksheet. Finally, a web-based dashboard is also available to track the order process from beginning-to-end. With our primary supplier, it now takes about 20 minutes to fully build and place an order and 10 minutes to receive. It used to take two hours or more to complete the same process. With our smaller suppliers, it takes even less time. It also eliminates inventory ordering and receiving errors.
We also use the ECRS WebCAT™-powered hand-held terminal to perform “Zero-scans” throughout the day. This easily lets us detect discrepancies between what we should have in stock, what is in back stock, and what is on the shelves. It removes the guess work involved and quickly lets us know what to pull from the back.
ECRS: What impact have these new inventory processes had for your business?
Patterson: This system gives me time; time to spend with my family and time to focus on the things that seed new ideas and business growth. As business owners, time is our most valuable asset and is irreplaceable. Critical store processes are now automated, which opens the door to give new initiatives a chance, such as creative marketing to customers. If I’m constantly occupied with tedious processes and mistake-fixing, I can’t achieve my long-term business goals.
I was blind to my inventory before implementing this system. It has provided me with control and insight to make smarter business decisions and better detect and This system gives me the time; time to spend with my family and time to focus on the things that seed new ideas and business growth. Nature’s Green Grocer is located in Peterborough, New Hampshire. explain discrepancies. It has almost eliminated human error and poor decision making influences. This doesn’t happen overnight, but if you invest the time and effort to properly set up your system, it [the system] will love you for years. ECRS automation has already saved me quite a bit in dollars and cents.
Back Office Management
ECRS: How do you use CATAPULT for back office management?
Patterson: With the push of a button, CATAPULT’s reporting functionality provides an overall awareness as to what is going on inside my business. It sheds light on what’s going on today, last week, or over the past year. The data goes in, CATAPULT pulls it together, and you see the results.
Some of the reports we use on a regular basis include: Department Productivity, Daily Sales, Hourly Sales, Weekly Sales from the Previous Year, and Item Movement.
ECRS: Explain how you use the data provided to improve day-to-day operations and foster bottom-line results.
I have just started using weekly sales reports from the previous year and current department sales to schedule staff. So far, this has worked very well for us. I can see how the store and each department should be staffed based on data from the exact same time last year and current sales trends. This helps ensure we are fully staffed as needed to provide excellent customer service without over-staffing.
I know which items to market based on information gained from Item Movement reports. This also helps to better leverage suppliers for deals and advertising. I sell advertising space on the POS customer information display (CID) monitors to vendors, and I also use the POS ad space as a value-add to vendors who advertise in the store flyer program. They send an ad to promote a product at the POS which is a win-win for everyone. I get additional revenue from both the ad space and increased product sales, the vendor increases their product sales, and customers are made aware of new products they may want to try or forgot to purchase. This marketing program has helped pay for my ECRS system.
I use the Movement report by Manufacturer to better leverage suppliers and place better orders. I can look back and see what is selling and what is not to decide what should be on the shelves. This information provides a tool for me to make the best deal possible on inventory, and it’s all there with the push of a button.
Overall System Benefits
ECRS: How has your decision to implement and maximize functionality from your ECRS system facilitated your future business goals?
Patterson: As a SMB business owner, time is everything. ECRS’ system gives me the time to manage and grow my business. It provides insight to guide better decision-making and gives me control over daily operations, even when I’m away. The benefits of automation and the resulting bottom-line impact encourage growth and long-term success.
Joel Patterson; Owner of Nature’s Green Grocer.