The playoffs are crunch time in Major League Baseball.
Systems Technology Group can relate. The South Buffalo-based company didn’t have to face big-league pitching, but it had a taste of postseason pressure last month.
Just before the playoffs began, Delaware North asked STG, a business partner for several years, to find a way maximize sales in stadium stores in three cities hosting games. Buffalo-based Delaware North operates stores in a variety of settings, including sports venues, national parks and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The playoffs alter the sales environment at a baseball stadium. Team stores are more crowded. The commemorative merchandise has finite appeal, and employees have an uncertain number of games to sell it, since the season can end abruptly. And fans don’t want to miss the game action while in a line to buy things.
With those time pressures, technology has to help keep the sales flowing.
Delaware North was impressed with mobile point-of-sale technology used in Apple stores. “They challenged [STG] and said, ‘Mobility is a big concept, and we want to embrace mobility and show that we’re a forward-thinking company to our patrons and to the executive management team at Delaware North Companies,’” said John Kielich, president of retail operations at STG and vice president of the company.
Delaware North, which already uses point-of-sale systems implemented in stores and supported by STG, gave STG three or four weeks to come up with a solution. Kielich admits the “wheels were spinning hard,” but said it was the type of project STG prides itself in taking on.
The company calls itself a “value-added reseller,” pulling together different components to create a technology package that suits a customer’s needs.
STG’s solution to maximize playoff sales was a handheld unit featuring an Apple iTouch, with software connected to the point-of-sale system used by Delaware North at the stadium stores. The iTouch was tucked inside a Honeywell-made “sled,” a protective case equipped with devices to scan items for purchase and to encrypt a customer’s credit card data when swiped.
Employees using the devices did not have to stand behind a counter to ring up customers, which cut down on lines, Kielich said. And they printed receipts for customers with another device that attaches to a belt.
“It gives that cashier freedom or mobility to roam and transact quicker, better, faster,” Kielich said.
STG rolled out a total of 14 of the units in stores at baseball stadiums in three cities hosting playoff games: Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis.
While STG was confident in the technology, the real test would not come until the games started, when a flurry of other wireless activity at a stadium might interfere. But the system was not disrupted, said Thomas E. Lansing, senior account manager at STG.
“This was the ultimate test, and it was a flawless production,” he said. “We really had no issues.”
The Detroit Tigers lasted the longest of the three teams, advancing to the World Series before being swept by the San Francisco Giants. Though the Tigers fell short, STG came away with positive impressions of its mobile units’ performance. Store employees learned to use them quickly. And the units protected customers’ credit card information, which Delaware North considered paramount, Lansing said.
“(Delaware North) didn’t deploy this solution until we had this point-to-point encrypter, because they didn’t want to risk putting cardholder data in jeopardy,” he said.
Jeff Hess, vice president of retail for Delaware North Sportservice, said the company needed “a fast and reliable solution that could be implemented quickly” in the stores for the playoffs and that STG’s mobile system “delivered on all counts.”
Bob Grabowski, Honeywell’s vertical marketing manager for retail markets, drew this comparison, in a statement: “If you think the Christmas holiday shopping season is too short, imagine how Delaware North feels when they may only get 18 innings to clear out that season’s merchandise.”
Kielich said Delaware North plans to expand its use of mobile point-of-sale devices in other sports venues next year.
STG pursued Delaware North as a client for about 10 years before winning its business. A company like STG needs credibility and references to persuade a customer to implement the technology it provides, he said. As Kielich likes to say: “You don’t trick anybody into buying these things.”
“It’s a mission-critical business, because we’re counting your money, we’re counting your materials, we’re counting your taxes,” Kielich said. “It’s a high degree of trust.”
Mobility for all
STG was formed by Kielich and his brother, Gary, who is the president, in 1996. The company has 38 employees; it does not disclose sales figures, but Kielich said sales are expected to increase 20 percent this year from a year ago.
Kielich said the business has benefited from developing relationships with partners like IBM, RetailPro, FoundryLogic and Honeywell. The benefit is mutual: STG taps into those companies’ expertise, and STG creates solutions that use the partners’ products.
Mobility is a “big push” in retailing, Kielich said. “All of my customers are clamoring for this technology.”
At the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario. STG integrated the point-of-sale system used in the commission’s stores.
Kielich said the commission regretted not selling more food and souvenirs when Nik Wallenda walked the high wire last June.
“They did a little bit of [mobile selling], but the problem is they had no credit card capability,” Lansing said. “It was a cash transaction, so they didn’t have that much penetration.”
The commission wants better results when the “Crashed Ice” tour visits Niagara Falls, Ont., on Dec. 1. (Crashed Ice competitors wear hockey gear and race down on a frozen course.)
“Niagara Parks has said, ‘We need to capture those people, we need a mobility solution.’ And we’re talking to them right now about this,” Kielich said.
Lansing said all kinds of retailers – Urban Outfitters and Oakley stores, to name just a couple of them – are entering the mobile point-of-sale realm. Retailers like the technology’s convenience, ease of use, and the ability to improve a customer’s experience. All those attributes matter as stores strive to keep customers coming through their doors.
“When the employee becomes mobile, they’re on the floor with the customer,” he said.