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Executive Editor

Coffee chain brews up POS hardware

May 01, 20064 mins
Computers and PeripheralsEnterprise ApplicationsIBM

Caribou Coffee Company smells success with IBM's post-of-sale gear

To demonstrate the ruggedness of IBM’s point-of-sale gear, sales executives held display screens under running water. Steven Bolduc, senior manager of POS and technical support at Caribou Coffee Company, was impressed.

To demonstrate the ruggedness of IBM’s point-of-sale gear, sales executives held display screens under running water. Steven Bolduc, senior manager of POS and technical support at Caribou Coffee Company in Minneapolis, was impressed.

“For a coffee company, that’s big,” Bolduc says. Spills are unavoidable in Caribou’s 400 retail coffee shops, and the IT gear has to be able to withstand frequent dousing. Size is also a concern: Some of the retail stores are small, and service devices have to do double duty as managers’ workstations for handling operational and reporting tasks.

After researching its options, Caribou settled on IBM’s SurePOS 500 terminals and IBM Anyplace Kiosk units, both of which run Windows XP. The new SurePOS 500 terminals are for employees to take orders and payments. In prep areas, the Anyplace Kiosk units are Caribou’s kitchen video units, displaying customer orders waiting to be filled.

Caribou has used POS hardware from IBM since its first stores opened in 1992. Bolduc continually swaps out older gear for newer, often repurposing the older devices. “There’s always some sort of turnover,” he says. “When I get a new terminal, I try to change the other hardware to a different area and get some more life out of it.”

The SurePOS 500 terminals Bolduc is rolling out today have touchscreen displays and enough processing power and memory to eliminate the need for a separate back-office server. If a network connection is lost – the stores are linked to corporate headquarters via T-1, DSL or 56K frame connections, depending on service availability – the SurePOS terminals can continue handling customer transactions.

Expandability was a key factor in the selection. “It has to have enough power to last, and it has to have enough ports for us to add special things,” Bolduc says. For example, Caribou is working on adding labels to its cups, so the terminal may have to support a label printer. The company also is considering adding bar codes to some of its retail items, so a bar code reader could be added to the setup. “All these peripherals have to be able to attach to that system,” Bolduc says.

The SurePOS 500 terminal is designed to allow for future rollout of contactless payment technology, in which consumers make purchases by waving a specially equipped plastic card, key fob or mobile phone at a POS terminal. Account information is encrypted and transmitted wirelessly between the payment device and the reader. Caribou isn’t rolling out the technology yet, but it’s on Bolduc’s radar. “We are looking at doing contactless for speed of service,” he says.

Meanwhile, form factor drove Caribou’s selection of the Anyplace Kiosks. Their all-in-one design, in particular, appealed to Bolduc. “I like the size of the screen, and it’s compact. We didn’t have to get a PC base for it, and we don’t need to run cables down underneath the counter to a processor.” The kiosks also have enough capacity to act as backup stores for managers’ reporting applications.

In small shops, kiosks outfitted with a mouse and keyboard can do double duty as a manager’s workstation for employee scheduling, financial reporting and placing supply orders over the Internet. “Some of our mall stores have really tight quarters and virtually no office to work in,” Bolduc says.

Caribou’s POS software vendor is POSitouch, which specializes in products for the hospitality industry. Caribou uses a third-party outfit, RDS Systems, to install and maintain the new POS hardware. Before the devices go out to the field, however, Bolduc and his team iron out any kinks. “We try to spend as much time perfecting the systems here before they go out. There’s not much to an install except plugging in a cable and turning on the power. We’ve done all the troubleshooting and all the customization here.”

The most difficult part of the project is timing. All device upgrades have to happen after the stores close – and many sites operate from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. “Everything has to be operational when they open at 6,” Bolduc says.

Caribou plans to wrap up the first phase of the SurePOS rollout this month. Early next year the company plans to finish deploying the Anyplace Kiosks for its kitchen video units. Looking ahead, Caribou plans to deploy additional kiosks for customer-facing applications. For example, customers in a few pilot locations can use a kiosk to fill out a job application.