PLASTER FUNTIME CHILDRENS ACTIVITY CENTERS
Their motto says a lot. Plaster Fun Time is the plaster painting place where kids do it THEIR way!
They are guided by a belief that creativity is important for all ages and that it should be exercised with freedom and diversity of approaches. They are positive and supportive of everything that kids create there, regardless of what it looks like or how "right" it is. They strongly encourage parents to step back and just let their kids go for it! (and to give themselves the permission to do the same!)
In 1995, Nancy Selvaggi and her partners wanted to create a place where children and their families could come in and relax. They created Plaster Fun Time (PFT) as a way for children to have fun by expressing themselves through painting. During the following 12 years, Nancy and her team opened more stores to test the process and discover which locations and processes were most successful. Plaster Fun Time, Inc. carefully developed figurines that children enjoy, materials that are safe and easy to use, and management and staff that are ideally suited to the needs of children and their families.
After opening 7 locations within the Massachusetts market, offering their successful model to franchisees was a natural step in extending the success of the original concept. PFT knew that they needed a better way of handling and managing all of the remote locations which would allow them the additional time to continue expanding company stores while offering franchise opportunities for faster national growth. The daily management of 7 separate locations - cash control, employee turnover and training, inventory control and product ordering, sales reports, reservations and scheduling birthday parties, gift cards, customer history (they pride themselves on knowing YOUR name – CHEERS), while staying happy, smiling owners began to take a toll.
There were several specific concerns that PFT had regarding any change in the operation of the stores and impact upon customers. First, and most importantly any new system had to speed up and simplify the entire customer experience at the register. In addition, cash control and employee accountability needed to be addressed since average tickets are lower than many other types of retail stores and based upon volume, each transaction had maximum impact on the entire operation. Shortages needed to be watched and explained. The proper level of inventory at each store and the ability to easily see what was on-hand at each location to avoid having excess inventory in one location while other locations were short was another item that was important in a new system. It was also desired that the new system would have the ability to track customer visits and provide a history of purchases. An item important for future growth was the ability to have cross-store Gift Cards that were easily tracked and accounted. All of this needed to be easily handled from a central location without significantly increasing the cost of operations. The length of time from idea to investigating solutions was 2 years.
Plaster Fun Time initially contracted with a software vendor in a remote area of the country with limited experience and a product that only partially handled all of the details PTF wanted in a new solution. The cost of inter-connecting each store to a central database for total transparency of sales, inventory, customers and employees was prohibitive and would have required a substantial investment in re-engineering the stores and the main office. It was not a viable solution.
Assured Computing Technologies was brought into the project to find a solution that would handle as many of the ‘needs’ as well as ‘wants’ without requiring infrastructure changes if possible. After meeting personally with the PTF Management Team and finding out what they were attempting to accomplish, Assured Computing Technologies presented a software point-of-sale product called ‘Cash Register Express-Enterprise Edition’ (CRE) which would allow each store and the main office to be connected via the internet in real time. Cash Register Express-Enterprise allows multiple connections from each store to a central database in the main office. Each store was set-up with a high speed internet connection for business. There was no need for a dedicated static IP address since part of the solution involved using an internet based VPN client called ‘Hamachi’ which created a virtual static IP address for each location at a tiny fraction of the cost of dedicated IP’s. Each store was fitted out with a new All-in-One Intel based POS station with integrated 15” touchscreen, thermal receipt printer, heavy duty cash drawer, customer pole display, Bluetooth hands free bar code scanner and a monochrome laser printer for printing bar codes and full format reports. Eight software licenses were purchased – one for each store and one for the main office. ACT technicians were able to easily inter-connect all 8 locations over a period of 4 days. Once the software was installed on the stations and configured properly, it was a simple matter of logging into each system and establishing the client portion which allowed all 8 locations to be seen as a single unit over the internet.
The final solution has resulted in a total integration of each store inventory, customer sales, employee files, store and company reports, gift cards and loyalty program which can now be viewed from the main office, while offering each store the capability of finding available inventory anywhere in the system. Customers that request a specific item at one location that is temporarily out of stock can easily be referred to another location or the store can request an intra-store transfer. Customer gift cards are now usable at any location and balance reports can easily be printed at the main office. All employee information is centralized and available in the main office which decreases payroll costs and speeds up processing time. The solution has proven so successful in both cost and function that Plaster Fun Time has already begun renewed expansion with store numbers eight and nine opening shortly. This solution can easily be duplicated for future regional franchisee’s own markets.