- Party City franchise innovates custom ordering kiosks
- INTELLIscribe ensures the order is printed in the kiosk and warehouse within moments
- System performs admirably during peak ordering times
Manager seeks ways to optimize custom ordering
Founded in 1947, and headquartered in Elmsford, NY, Party City Holdco Inc. is the leading party goods retailer in North America. With about 900 retail stores, Party City has a coast-to-coast network of party superstores that make it easy and fun to enhance special occasions. The Company also franchises individual stores in areas throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
Gary Curtis, general manager of SecurTek, an IT and security solutions vendor, was formerly general manager for a franchise of seven stores in California. He explained the in-store ordering, fulfillment, and purchasing process was labor-intensive and sometimes error-prone. “Floor staff used walkie talkies to talk to stock room order fillers and communications would get garbled, so the wrong items would be delivered to the customer, or customers would receive costumes out of order. Shoppers would wait longer than necessary and watch as other customers were served before them, even though they placed their order earlier,” said Curtis.
In 2009, Curtis began researching retail kiosks, so customers could enter their order and have it filled exactly and quickly from the stock room. He found ready-made kiosks were over-priced and unlikely to handle busy shopping days without breaking down. Brainstorming with his cousin, programmer Josh Lytle, and IT colleague Debra Weber (now Securtek president), they began developing a customized kiosk system with heavy duty processors, ticket label printers, an Apache server, Windows OS, a sales logging and analysis application, touch screen monitor, and the overall ability to operate at high volumes.
“Customers loved the new system, and even began racing to the designated pick up area to try to beat their order before it got off the conveyor."
Printing the same document in multiple locations
Another feature needed to be added. “We wanted the ability to simultaneously print a customer ticket at the kiosk and on fulfillment printers in the stock room. That way, by the time a customer made it to a pick-up area, their exact purchase would be ready for them, and we could stop using walkie talkies for orders,” said Curtis. “We were using Zebra KR403 kiosk receipt printers, which were simple in design, but able to operate in challenging printer environments. I took one completely apart and was impressed right away – the motors were over-engineered, the server could quickly detect paper jams, and overall it was really structurally sound.”
Like most printers, though, this kiosk printer wasn’t designed to easily print the same label on multiple printers, so Curtis began researching solutions online. “We needed a system as reliable and scalable as the rest of the kiosk components – there couldn’t be a single weak link,” he said. Curtis soon found RPM Remote Print Manager® and INTELLIscribe® from Brooks Internet Software. The software applications provide a variety of specialized printing functions, including printer failover, distributed printing, and destination balancing, the ability to handle a wide variety of printing sources and formats, and printing on multiple printers.
“Initially, we adopted RPM, for our USB network, but then we switched to INTELLIscribe, when we upgraded the kiosk system to TCP/IP networking. Brooks Internet Software completely understood our switch, and changed the licenses so we didn’t lose our investment in the software,” he said. “Now we had kiosks that would print a copy of the same ticket, with the same label and customer numbers, costume image, order date and time, and bar code, at the kiosk and at the Zebra label printers out back.”
Faster (correct) orders a hit with customers
Curtis and his team installed about one dozen kiosks at the six franchise locations and had immediate results. “Customers loved the new system and even began racing to the designated pick up area to try to beat their order before it got off the conveyor. The system was so efficient and accurate in the stock room, we went from needing 5-10 people pulling costumes to two. After about two weeks, we also determined the kiosks paid for themselves by dramatically reducing the number of customers who would leave the store with incorrect orders or sizes,” he said.
Working with Brooks is like a breath of fresh air compared to other vendors.
The Halloween season is the busiest time of the year for the retailer, as customers flock by the thousands to the stores for that perfect costume. “Beginning the last week of September, and through Halloween, customers were buying costumes. Data from six stores’ kiosk activity for the last week before Halloween in 2014 reported a total of 87,423 successful orders as well as 75,644 out of stock requests. A successful order meant the costume was pulled from stock and made it to the register for purchase. It was not unusual to have a store’s total sales of over $10,000 in one hour. Keeping track of data from out of stock requests really helped with reordering costumes or transferring costumes from other store locations," Curtis said.
While the kiosks used parts and software from several reputable, brand name vendors, Curtis singled out Brooks Internet Software’s support and service. “Brooks’ support staff was absolutely amazing. Every time I called, I had A+, knowledgeable service, in plain English. Working with Brooks is like a breath of fresh air compared to other vendors. I never got stuck in an automated phone system, or waited for ‘the next available representative,’ or listened while someone checked a manual. Whether guiding me through a fix by phone or doing it remotely, Brooks’ reps addressed issues ASAP. They are exceptional.”