Magazine Article | September 1, 2005

Improve Your Customers' Experiences With Wireless Network Access

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Wireless security appliances not only protect the integrity of EZ Lube's data, they allow customers to surf the Web while they wait for their cars.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, September 2005

Founded in 1988, Santa Ana, CA-based EZ Lube has fast become one of the largest privately owned quick oil-change companies in the United States. The retailer currently has 70 stores and continues on a rapid expansion course, with a total of about 90 units expected to be in operation by the end of 2005.

Three years ago, at the behest of new IT Director Bruce Carter, EZ Lube deployed a DSL network to facilitate the transmission of POS and other data captured in-store to corporate headquarters. Carter proposed installing a firewall to protect the network, but management nixed the idea due to cost concerns and a lack of familiarity with the technology. Then EZ Lube was hit with the infamous Sasser virus, which caused computers around the world to crash and slowed Internet traffic to a crawl. "It was awful," Carter recalls. "Our domain was down and our stores started accidentally transmitting spam to America Online accounts. It was the last straw."

EZ Lube set out to find a solution that would protect the integrity of its data as well as support future Wi-Fi applications. It investigated several options, some of which were disqualified because their price exceeded the retailer's admittedly modest budget, and others because their scope of capabilities was too limited. After evaluating various options, Carter and his colleagues deemed TZW Series wireless security appliances from SonicWALL, Inc. an appropriate fit for the merchant. Working with reseller VL Systems, EZ Lube used the appliances, which are now installed in each of its stores, to configure a secure distributed network. Each EZ Lube store connects to a SonicWALL PRO series gateway at corporate headquarters via a secure VPN (virtual private network).

EZ Lube had about 46 stores when the deployment occurred. The implementation took nine days from start to finish. "We preconfigured the appliances here at headquarters, and they were installed by one of our district managers during his scheduled visits to each location," Carter states. "Every unit was up and running in about 15 minutes. This type of configuration can be difficult for the inexperienced, but the appliances were pretty much plug and play."

He adds that the devices provide impenetrable wireless security for every location. They also deliver the proper signal strength, despite the numerous barriers, walls, and metal flooring plates typically found in every oil change facility. "With this kind of network, we have a VPN tunnel that enables us to transfer data over the entire network without worrying about security breaches," Carter observes. "We have a wireless backbone, secured with a firewall. And since the rollout, there have been no instances of data being visible where it shouldn't be."

Wireless Security Appliances Enable In-Store Wi-Fi Service
Additionally, with the appliances in place, EZ Lube has been able to set up wireless hot spots in each store so customers can use their own handheld devices to access their e-mail and surf the Web while waiting for their cars to be serviced. "In a competitive business, it is important to keep ahead of the curve and continually find new ways to improve the customer experience," says Carter. "We feel we have added another exceptional customer service by making guests' waiting time productive and more pleasant."

Future plans call for using the appliances to securely connect wireless handheld POS devices to the retailer's host system. "Our aim is to have wireless service bays where we scan the VIN (vehicle identification number) of each car that's driven into one of our stores and bring up its service history to get work going faster," Carter explains. "However, there is no way we would consider doing that in an unprotected mode. We have come too far for that."