Magazine Article | December 20, 2006

Improve Data, Voice Network Efficiency

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

A carpet and flooring retailer reduces maintenance/labor costs and improves communications among locations with a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) solution.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, January 2007

Having disparate systems, specifically phone and data systems, among retail locations is difficult to manage. In addition, when that situation affects your customers in a negative manner, it's time for changes. McSwain Carpets & Floors encountered this problem when customers called its retail locations. If customers called the location where they made a purchase, they had to call a different number for delivery/installation information and another one for a billing discrepancy.

McSwain has approximate annual sales of $50 million and does business through 20 showrooms in three states. All stores are run independently, which also means their data and phone systems were not at all integrated, as hardware was installed at different times using varied POS and inventory equipment. This added to maintenance complexity, which was already cumbersome due to McSwain's stand-alone analog telephone system that required updates to be applied in person. This became expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, communications between the main office and some retail locations required long-distance charges.

Knowing that they were outgrowing their existing telephone system in their main office, Jay Meinking, VP of purchasing and IT at McSwain, began discussing options with Larry Van Tuyl of Full Service Networking (FSN), a company that specializes in designing, installing, and maintaining integrated voice and data systems for specialty retailers, with whom the retailer had already done business. Meinking sought to achieve several goals with an upgrade. "Not only did I want to improve our customers' experience, but I hoped to reduce maintenance costs, improve productivity, and find a way to integrate sales activity that existed separately in each location," says Meinking. "I also wanted to reduce communication costs between showrooms, improve data transfer, and speed up our handling of credit card transactions."

FSN proposed a single integrated telephone system, the 3Com NBX V5000 IP Telephony Solution, running over dedicated T1 lines hosted at the main office. These lines were installed (via Time Warner) in a spoke-like fashion with the main office as the center. T1 lines are capable of carrying up to 24 digitized voice channels and can transfer data at a rate of 1.5 megabits per second. The line is plugged into the telephone system for phone conversations and through network routers for data transfers. The solution is managed through a 3Com NBX Communications System that allows the transfer of voice, data, and video over one network, which is administered through a single-point browser-based system.

VoIP Reduces Maintenance Costs, Increases Reliability
The NBX system enabled McSwain to use multiline telephone sets with caller ID, an auto attendant, voice mail, LAN/WAN connectivity, and CTI (computer telephony integration). "This system has proven more reliable than our old equipment and has enabled us to provide the absolute best customer experience," says Meinking. "When customers call, they can easily be transferred to other offices, and long distance charges have been eliminated. The maintenance costs of the phone system were reduced, and we've freed up 85% of the receptionist's time for other tasks." The line also acts as a network connection for McSwain's line-of-business applications (e.g. POS, customer relationship management) and provides Internet access to the sales offices.

According to Meinking, the communications between the sales staff in the showrooms has improved, as has the sharing of data (e.g. spreadsheets, pricing information). "Reporting, specifically on sales data, is almost immediate now," says Meinking. "We've dramatically reduced our maintenance costs and are better positioned to expand to future locations." Meinking also eliminated the costs of separate analog lines for credit card modems at each POS.

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