With 30-plus inches of snow in my yard, it’s easy to lose sight that spring will actually arrive – and it will be here a lot faster than we think. With spring a scant six to eight weeks away, what should a garden center be doing to prepare for the busy spring?
Whether you live in the frigid, snowy Northeast, the colder-than-usual South or the almost balmy West, a lot of your computer equipment has been in cold storage and needs to be taken out, tested and set up for spring.
The first step in putting your equipment back to work is to just clean all of it: computer, monitor, cash drawer, receipt printer, scanner and anything else connected to your workstations.
Never clean any piece of equipment when it is plugged in and never spray any liquid onto any computer component. Spray the liquid onto a cloth and then wipe down your equipment. Water, rubbing alcohol and cotton or foam swabs are some the most effective and least expensive cleaning tools you can use.
Also, when cleaning pieces like your keyboard or receipt printers, compressed air cleaners for computers are an excellent choice and can be purchased either online or at your local office supply store.
Many garden centers use touchscreen monitors, and these may require special care. Check with your manufacturer to make sure you don’t harm your screen.
After your equipment is looking spiffy again, you need to hook up your workstations to your network (if you’re running one) and the Internet.
Hopefully, everything will connect the first time, but if it doesn’t, you should check your network connections (on both ends) for a bad cable. A good rule of thumb: Any cables that are frayed should be replaced immediately.
Computer cables are not expensive and not worth the possibility of hazard. If you have trouble connecting your computer to the network, a call to your local computer technician may save you a lot of time.
After you have tested your network, make sure you can connect to the Internet (if that is part of your system). Whatever anti-virus software you are running should be updated when you re-connect to the Internet, but check your software to make sure you are current.
The Internet is also used by many point-of-sale (POS) systems for credit card processing, and a growing number of garden centers now take advantage of online plant libraries. If the Internet is part of your day-to-day operations, make sure your connection is stable.
A word of caution: some computers will try to automatically update their operating systems when connected to the Internet. If your PC hasn’t been connected for months, there can be a large number of updates. It’s a good idea to check with your POS provider before updating your operating systems.
Updating Your System
Now your computers are clean and in good working order. Your next task is to make sure your POS system is up to date.
Winter is the time to make sure you are on the current version of your POS software. Depending on your software, you may be able to run the updates yourself, or you may need assistance from your software provider.
Regardless of the method, allow yourself enough time to get the updates installed and thoroughly tested before you get busy. Installing an update the day before you open the store is always a bad idea.
Now that I’ve reviewed all the easy parts, let’s get to the important stuff (i.e. inventory). There is more to getting ready for spring than just stocking your shelves (although you still have to do that!). All items being stocked on your shelves need to be in your POS system with correct prices, costs, descriptions and bar codes.
Prices – If you have stock left from previous years, make sure the correct price is listed on the item or the shelf tag.
Cost – The most painful error I’ve seen garden centers make in their POS system is not keeping the cost of an item correct. The best way to keep cost correct is to receive it into your system. Regardless of the method used, keep your costs correct. All reports (informational and financial) come from this number.
Descriptions – In addition to the descriptions printed on your receipts, your descriptions are how your employees look up an item. Misspelled words and incomplete or improper descriptions are confusing and will cost everyone time.
Bar codes – if you are scanning your merchandise, the bar code on an item must be attached to your item.
If you have a new vendor, you may be able to get an Excel spreadsheet to upload into your POS systems (many systems allow for this). If no spreadsheet is available or this feature is not in your current system, you will need to create the items in your POS manually.
Don’t forget to include the bar code – There is nothing more frustrating (and time consuming) to a POS clerk than to scan a bar code at checkout and see the message “item not found.” Although verifying/updating your items may not be the most glamorous job to do during winter, it may be one of the most important.
Supplies are something that should not be neglected during the winter months. If you are generating your own bar codes, make sure you have enough labels and your bar code printer is in good working order.
In addition to bar code labels, make sure you have receipt paper and gift cards. With Easter and Mother’s Day being only two weeks apart, you’ll want to make sure your store is stocked, not only with product but with gift cards. Gift cards are basically free cash. Don’t miss that opportunity just because you ran out of gifts cards on two of your busiest weekends of the year.
The last item you should review is your loyalty program. Do you want to make any changes? How did the execution of your loyalty program impact your bottom line last year?
Now is the time for review and change. Make sure your systems are as well prepared as possible.
Happy Spring 2011!