High Tech Keeps A Retailer From Wilting

It's a jungle out there in retail land. And the only way to stay ahead is to keep the customers happy, the inventory fresh, and the checkout lines short. That's why Frank's Nursery and Crafts Inc. has reworked its 287 plant and crafts stores with the help of the latest information technology--including wireless scanners and a satellite network.

Workers used to spend hours every day laboriously recording the status of thousands of craft items and plants. A year ago, they got handheld scanners to read universal product code labels on merchandise as they roam the aisles. If an item is out of stock, they can transmit orders to headquarters right on the spot. That has eliminated cumbersome paperwork and cut by 75% the time spent replenishing inventories. The payoff: more time for such tasks as teaching clerks about the products.

Technology solved another problem, too. Frank's used to be plagued by long checkout lines. The culprit: card authorizations via a credit-reporting agency. Getting through on the phone took up to 45 seconds. To solve the problem, Frank's installed a $4 million satellite system connecting its stores directly with Visa USA Inc. Now, authorization comes in a mere seven seconds. Better yet, cutting out the middleman's fees paid for the satellite system.

The satellite link handles other chores, too. For instance, headquarters can control advertising messages piped in over in-store speakers. It can even select background music and control the volume at each location.

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