So you’re busy and you want a quick snapshot of how your business is doing. Not just headline sales figures for the forecourt, shop and car wash, but a deeper insight, such as what the current biggest sellers are as well as the under-performers.
But wouldn’t you also like to know how your business performance compares to what your peers are doing? For example, wouldn’t you like to know if they’ve had the same lousy week of fuel sales as you? And what about site-by-site comparisons within your own group?
This is all possible with the current roll-out of Flow Web, a system described by one of its co-creators, Keith Carsley, as a reporting and alerts system that helps you to manage your business more effectively by giving you immediate access to the data that matters.
"It is the only solution that can connect to any of the main UK forecourt pos systems, and it then allows you to monitor your business directly from your iPad, smartphone or portable computer," he explains.
"Flow Web can offer you a range of quick-to-access, web-based reports such as fuel, shop and car wash sales for this week compared to last week and the same week last year. It can show how the percentage increase or decrease in volume last week compared to that of other retailers. It can also show customer count and hourly sales figures, which can give an indication that you may be opening too early or too late."
Carsley explains that through its real-time email and text messaging alerts feature, Flow Web will tell retailers whether or not their forecourts are running properly, for example: have they opened and closed on time?; were all of their best-selling lines in stock yesterday?; were fuel prices changed on schedule?; and are they aware of the upcoming heatwave?
"Flow Web is not designed to replace your existing back-office or head-office system," stresses Carsley. "It simply adds a new layer of reporting and analysis to give you greater control of your business."
Flow Web works by running a small application (normally on the back-office pc) that channels a retailer’s raw pos data directly to the Flow Web servers.
Once the data has arrived Flow Web is then in a position to provide the retailer with answers to a variety of important questions, such as: ’Are we stocking our group’s 10 most profitable cold drinks at each of our sites?; should we expect sub-zero temperatures at any of our sites this weekend?; when was our first sale at each site this morning?
"This is a tool to help independent retailers not just survive, but thrive," says Carsley. "It’s a very cost-effective way of upgrading your business technology and reporting systems at a cost of only £19 per site per month. It also represents an opportunity for members of the independent forecourt retail sector to work together more closely in order to maximise the value of their data and offer an even better customer experience to the motorist."
And Carsley should know all about serving the motorist. He is the son of Top 50 Indie Mark Carsley who has 12 sites in the East Midlands and is a member of the Hazelwood Group: "I’ve grown up in fuel retailing because of my dad’s business," explains Carsley, who set up his company Background2 in 2004 with his colleague Alvin Ho whom he met while studying philosophy with mathematical logic at Cambridge University. "Dad suggested we write some software for the fuel industry, as there wasn’t much available. So we wrote something for him which evolved into a back-office system we sold to forecourts. When reached 150 sites Tokheim stepped in and offered to invest in us, hence it owns 60%.
"Then about two years ago we came up with the idea of Flow Web, and following a year or so of development launched it in 2011. I would like to see as many retailers as possible using it, as we will be able to use the data in so many different ways, which will ultimately help their businesses."
Indeed, Flow Web comes highly recommended by the many forecourt retailers who are already using it and enjoying the benefits, including none other than former Forecourt Trader of the Year and Lakeside Group member Robert Fraser, who has been instrumental in its development.
"One thing independents don’t have is a high standard of reporting on fuel and shop sales," says Robert. "We have no way of comparing with the rest of the industry about what’s going on. We want to be able to benchmark our performance. It has helped us become better at what we do.
"Developing the system has been an evolutionary journey; we’ve focused on making it easy for people to use. Flow Web gives you a barometer as to how your business is going.
"It means you don’t spend time compiling the information you’re free to spend that time acting on it."