by John M. Covaleski

New York - The accounting software industry wants to bring small retailers into the Digital Age, but accountants and resellers are balking at helping retailers and related companies join the movement, because the technology is too troublesome to add to their service menus.

The vendors leading the new wave of advanced point-of-sale systems are Microsoft Business Solutions and Intuit, which, last spring, introduced systems that cover all the aspects of handling cash and credit-card transactions in counter sales settings, and enable transaction information to flow into back-end accounting software. In Intuit’s case, that’s QuickBooks, and for Microsoft, it’s the Great Plains and Small Business Manager products.

While there are hundreds of stand-alone POS software systems on the market, including some with established integration alliances with accounting software vendors, Microsoft and Intuit stand out as the largest vendors to aggressively market POS products that are both integrated with back-end accounting and are targeted to smaller businesses of under $100 million in annual sales.

Other SMB vendors - Best Software, Cougar Mountain Software and Accpac International - were active with POS software long before Best or Microsoft. However, Accpac and Cougar Mountain are much smaller SMB forces, especially when compared to the approximately 2.5 million users of Intuit’s QuickBooks.

Meanwhile, Best’s POS offerings are available through alliances with several third-party vendors, and are not Best-labeled products. Microsoft and Intuit’s POS packages and names are clearly identified with those vendors - Microsoft Business Solutions Retail Management System and QuickBooks Point of Sale Solution for Retailers.

The SMB POS products provide the following abilities to varying degrees: recording sales transactions; accepting payments in multiple forms, such as food stamps; processing credit-card transactions; accessing and managing pricing; accessing inventory information; and collecting and storing customer information, along with updating sales and inventory information in users’ back-end systems.

Intuit is the only vendor to bundle hardware with its POS package. However, there is a standard, co-developed by Microsoft, which is used to ensure that software can work with the major hardware products used in the POS process.

All five vendors are bullish about their market opportunities. Microsoft reports 17,000 installations of RMS, while Accpac has scored some impressive large regional POS customers.

Still, the vendors’ foot soldiers in reaching the market -resellers and consultants - have, for the most part, expressed disinterest in and disdain over handling POS software.

  “I just don’t know of many people who do point-of-sale. Retail is a bad profession to support,” said Ron Eagle, president of the Information Technology Alliance and a Carmel, Ind.-based practice management advisor to technology consulting firms. “POS software is not a good reseller niche because your support systems have to be available during retail hours, which are more demanding than the hours of other types of businesses.”

However, the Intuit and Microsoft products hit the markets with a buzz that should have attracted attention from accountants and resellers.

The vendors each touted their systems’ abilities to eliminate nightmarish problems for POS companies and their accountants. By transferring sales data to the accounting software, the systems eliminate the arduous and error-prone practice of physically collecting paper receipts and then re-keying the information into accounting journals. Last year, Intuit estimated that 45 percent of small retailer company users of QuickBooks manually re-keyed their sales data.

For resellers, the vendors tout POS’s abundant market. Intuit says that 80 percent of the United States’ 1.4 million small retailers use calculators, cash registers or other “rudimentary tools” to handle counter transactions.

The products also seem attractively priced for the SMB market. Microsoft’s RMS starts at $1,295, while Intuit’s POS costs $799.95 for the software alone, and $1,499.95 when bundled with standard POS hardware.

Intuit’s product is sold at retail stores, but it provides ample opportunity for the company’s 20,000-plus consultants to step forward to recommend the products to their clients and to offer set-up services

The vendors report strong interest from their respective channels. Intuit, which recently established a consultant certification program for its POS product, said that “several thousand” accountants have expressed interest in the product. Microsoft reports that 300 Great Plains resellers have become certified to handle RMS.

Accpac resellers with big POS presences include Dynamic Software Solutions, of Miami, which has handled multiple-location POS engagements for Maison Henri Deschamps, a large bookstore chain in Haiti, and, in central Florida, the Fantasy of Light theme park and the store network of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kennedy Space Center.

Accpac reseller American Computing Systems, in Atlanta, has developed a variety of POS software products, including its flagship Ultimate Point of Sale system, which it distributes through resellers of SMB accounting applications. UPOS, which has 1,000 users, is marketed by resellers for Accpac and Softline Software.

Another Accpac reseller, Acclink, of Westerville, Ohio, is in the process of installing Accpac’s POS software at approximately 300 sites for Future Cellular, a Columbus, Ohio-based telephone systems retailer. “This has really made our business - we grew from two to six people almost overnight,” said Acclink managing partner Jackie Taylor.

However, Art Nathan, a CPA and the president of Solution Strategists, a Best Software reseller in Cranford, N.J., noted, “We don’t want to be a 24-by-7 support shop and, with retail, you have to be. Done right, POS can be rewarding, but for a reseller, you have to be focused on retail to take this to volume.”

Microsoft’s experience confirms Nathan’s remark. The majority of its RMS certified resellers have large retail-type client niches.

RMS product manager Brendan O’Meara said, “These resellers tend to focus exclusively on retail and to provide comprehensive solutions that include the hardware along with the software. Because they are specialized, they can have the economies required by the support demands.”

Even successful POS resellers warn that it’s not for the casual business consultant. Dynamic Software Solutions president Peter Kaufman said, “You have to really be serious about this and always be thinking support, because you can get a customer call at the most oddball hour.”

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