Starting a small business can be a daunting task. Thankfully, there are a few tools that can help new business owners get off on the right foot. In the first of a two-part series, we will be speaking with executives at start-ups that provide helpful tools to small businesses.

The ShopKeep Point-Of-Sale System

The ShopKeep Point-Of-Sale System

First up is co-CEO Norm Merritt at ShopKeep, a cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) intelligence system available to small business owners with iPads and other Apple devices. In addition to POS transactions, ShopKeep helps with inventory and employee management, customer tracking, and reporting and analytics. Founded in 2008, the company was launched in the back room of a Brooklyn grocery store by co-CEO and Founder Jason Richelson.

While ShopKeep is focused on three main verticals: restaurants and bars, quick-serve restaurants, and specialty retailers, there are a few other types of businesses that have adopted the flexible system for their own needs. For example, the recent boom in vape shop openings (there are currently 3,500 stores in the U.S.) has resulted in a ready adoption of ShopKeep’s technology, along with retailers from bike shops and chocolate shops to small coffee shops. A typical user has between one and five retail locations.

ShopKeep works on all Apple devices, and has different pieces of hardware that will help owners use the system, including cash drawers, receipt printers, credit card swiping devices, etc. The company also publishes the Counter Culture news site, which offers advice to small business owners, from content marketing, to financial budgeting and planning, to operations and inspiration.

Can you give us an overview of ShopKeep?

Norm Merritt: ShopKeep is a company that is really focused on helping the small business. Our whole DNA from the very beginning has been about helping the small business and “taking back Main Street.” Our founder, Jason Richelson, owned a wine shop and grocery store in Brooklyn, and could not find tools that he felt should be available for the small guys. So he decided to create a company that would, in a way, democratize this toolset that’s available for large businesses and make it available to small businesses. You know, if you look at a Walmart or an Amazon or some of the other large companies, they have the scale to hire data analysts and have programmers do custom things for them, and small businesses don’t have that ability. What we are doing through the toolset is making the big guy tools available to the small guy via the cloud.

How popular is ShopKeep?

Merritt: We have about 10,000 users and are growing very rapidly. We should double this year and it’s a wonderful company because I think we really have, at the core of our being, this desire to help small businesses. I joined the company about two and a half months ago to really help the company scale, help it grow, and take advantage of the tail winds. Since joining, I’ve met with every employee of the 100-person company. Every single individual here is driven by this mission to take back Main Street, to help small businesses reassert themselves through the toolset that we have available, so it’s pretty cool.

We try to be very merchant friendly. Part of the DNA of ShopKeep is that from the very beginning, Jason recognized from his time as a small business owner that he could never get the help he needed from the POS suppliers. When a point-of-sale system is having difficulty, it really affects the business, and owners are not able to sell. One of the things that we’ve done from the very beginning is build a really high-touch customer care division. We’ve won the Stevie Award for excellence in customer service; our folks really take care of the customer, and we’ve made that investment. Customers like that they can get a hold of us any time of day or night, and that we’re going to take care of them. When they get off the phone, they’ve got a smile on their face, and that’s how we grade how well we’re doing.

How can retail owners use ShopKeep to promote their business?

Merritt: One thing that’s important to note is that point-of-sale systems historically have been very static and not useful, and nothing more than a way for business owners to process transactions without a whole lot of intelligence coming from them. What’s interesting about the new cloud-based approach and in particular, what ShopKeep is offering, is that there’s so much more that comes from this point-of-sale system. It’s not only an accumulation of transactions and what your revenue was for a day, but it’s what SKUs sold, when they sold, what employees sold those SKUs. These owners can now check on operations remotely, so they can be at the beach with their kids and they can check in on how sales have gone for the last three hours since they’ve been away. If you talk to small business owners, they’ll tell you that one of the worst parts of starting a small business is that they’re married to their small business. They can’t leave without feeling like they’re going to be losing something and what these remote POS systems do is give them the flexibility and ability to remotely monitor what’s going on. They can tell which employees are productive. They can do some fraud and pilferage detection, just based on movement of inventory and voids and so forth.

Then there’s also a real capability now to connect with customers, as we’re an Apple-based, internet-based system. We’re increasingly adding features to the product offering that will allow our customers, the merchants, to connect with their customers. We’re launching a virtual receipt, which is usable on any device, and has the capability to allow the customer to “Like” or Tweet about their experience at the restaurant. In sending the electronic receipt, you are capturing the email of your customer, and then there’s an opportunity to do some marketing to those customers. This lays open capabilities to small merchants that they never could even have imagined before, and it’s just changing the whole landscape.

How much does ShopKeep cost?

Merritt: The basic offering is $49 a month, and that’s unlimited use of the entire product. There’s no contract, and assuming that most people using our technology have an iPad, they can buy the hardware for as little as $400 in terms of the package with the credit card system, receipt printers, etc. We also have the ability to finance the upfront costs of the hardware and charge owners $99 a month for 12 months, and then it will revert back to our normal $49 a month pricing, so they’ll pay for that hardware over the course of 12 months.

ShopKeep already has add-ons to integrate with QuickBooks, PayPal, AppCard, and LevelUp. What other popular service partnerships are in the pipeline?

Merritt: We have some APIs, some interface protocols that we use with various suppliers. In the case of QuickBooks, we have an ability to integrate in with not only QuickBooks online, but also the PC version. We have a broad array of other partnerships in varying stages of development that we’re putting in place. We have an open architecture, and we’re hardening the API and the methodology for interfacing with even more and more services.

What we’re finding is there’s a lot of development on the CRM side, and given the way marketing trends are, they kind of go in waves and have things that are in and out of fashion. The way we’re approaching this is to integrate in with the latest service using these APIs, and then to the extent that something kind of falls out fashion, we’ve got the ability to slot in the next big thing. It’s all ultimately integrating with the dataset, which is what makes this system so powerful --you’ve got incredibly rich data. What I often say is that there’s so much hoopla about Big Data and the only companies you hear taking advantage of Big Data are big businesses that can afford it. Shopkeep allows us to make Big Data available for the small business, and part of that is through some of these integrations.

We’ve also noticed that you offer a Small Business 101 Guide on your website. What tips would you offer to small business owners?

Merritt: As I said earlier, we want to help owners take back Main Street. I would say that being really proactive as a business leader, not just accepting that things are the way they are because that’s the way they are, is important. Being proactive and recognizing you really do have your destiny at your fingertips, and finding and using the latest tools is a way of being proactive. A lot of small players, they’re content with an electronic cash register, or they’ve got the old PC-based POS system, and they are almost afraid of change. I would say that the businesses that are going to win in this environment are those that embrace change and are willing, ready, and able to find ways to utilize the new toolset, and this gives them the competitive advantage.

ShopKeep co-CEOs Norm Merritt and Jason Richelson chat with Ike Escava, co-owner of The Bean Coffee Shop near New York City’s Union Square

Visit their website find additional resources for software developers, retailers, and other small business owners. Stay tuned for Kimco’s second post in our series on small business tools, to be appearing soon.

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.