Despite mixed views in the media, there is clearly an air of optimism for many retailers. Reports have suggested that Aldi has plans to open 70 new stores and John Lewis has ambitious plans for expanding their bricks and mortar portfolio too. Not to mention jewellers RH Hinds setting themselves the bold challenge recently of opening three new stores in one day! But behind all the celebrations, the reality of making retail expansion a success goes far beyond what you see on launch day.

More to the point, it can be an extremely testing and stressful time for retailers, particularly when trying to balance ongoing costs with new expenditure. I’d even go as far as saying that most multi-store roll out plans are a logistical nightmare! Having been involved in this process for a number of mainstream retailers, I’ve devised this tried and tested 8-step plan to ensure the process goes as smooth as possible.

1. Start With The Correct Hardware Choices

Expanding store operations can bring with it additional challenges when it comes to finding the right solutions, from new multi-store reporting requirements through to solutions which can embrace new technology concepts such as beacon technology, Wi-Fi capabilities and so on. Seeking independent advice from a neutral source is usually the best way to go, as manufacturers aren’t likely to recommend a competing brand over their own models!

2. A Full Tech Assessment Saves Time & Money

There are many factors that will affect the choice of equipment used in a new store and even the positioning, which is why it is critical to have a site assessment conducted early. Independent IT support companies usually provide this, but some retail equipment manufacturers will also offer this service too. During an idea assessment, specialists will audit what you already have, ascertain what you need and provide cost-effective planning to ensure the deployment goes smoothly. For all new projects there should also be a roll-out programme, risk register, change control and action log, installation procedures, build instructions, site sign-off documentation, schedule installations and any other ad-hoc requirements, such as an wireless survey. Be sure to ask for a full breakdown of how your chosen supplier will manage your new store assessment to ensure there are no hidden surprises as you approach launch day.

3. Assign Responsibility For Key Tasks

When it comes to setting up your new store, or any project for that matter, you really need to have a clear idea of who is responsible for doing what. External specialist installation engineers are often the preferred solution to in-house provision as they are trained to provide reliable and consistent data migration, customise your hardware with site specific detail, loading your data and testing via your network, to ensure the correct view of your estate. By having a third party manage the point to point logistics, you can help to minimise any deployment-related downtime. When it comes to launch day, it is also important to plan for who will have responsibility for walking the floor to solve any teething problems during the first few critical days.

4. Refurbish Existing Hardware

It is well worth exploring the pros and cons of recycling your existing hardware within your store network, as there could be significant cost savings to be made compared to buying in completely new equipment. Some IT support providers (like Barron McCann) can provide repair and refurbishment services with built in warranty periods, meaning that you may not have to purchase additional hardware as your number of stores rises. That said, with the rapid pace of change when it comes to the technology that consumers are demanding, it may also be necessary to check that current systems can handle any new requirements you might require. It might mean that your existing provisions, contracts and suppliers, may need reviewing to ensure they can still meet your full needs as your business expands.

5. Can You Afford To Ignore Security Issues?

PCI Compliance continues to be a major issue for retailers, as is P2PE (Point to Point encryption). Whilst these are the standards that the bank asks all retailers to meet, they are expensive and we know that some retailers are still choosing to take a risk of exposure over the cost of being compliant. However, as your store portfolio grows, this becomes a risk you simply cannot afford to ignore. The good news for retailers is that there are lots of flexible solutions that enable them to be P2PE compliant whilst also fitting in with their existing procedures and processes.

6. Think Beyond Basic Staff Training

Many retailers often underestimate the level or scope of training needed, assuming that it is limited to understanding how to operate the cash register. The reality is that there is often a need for more detailed equipment and procedure training to ensure the smooth running of the store on open day. In fact, in a recent assessment of one major retail client, we found that 8,000 out of the 12,000 IT support calls placed were for printer-related issues! Often, training is conducted locally and from one staff member to another, so a more structured external approach to training can often work out more cost effective in the long run, particularly when dealing with a multi-store operation.

7. What Technical Support Is Needed?

Things will inevitably go wrong at some point and so it is important to understand what technical support is required and who will be delivering it. Multi-store operations clearly have more intensive requirements as they are dealing with enquiries from many different stores and long waiting periods for help or call-backs can be detrimental to both new and existing stores. Third party technical support desks are available for retailers who want to outsource this element of their operation and can often work out as far more cost effective in the long run, due to the quality of support provided, the quicker response times and the more specialist product knowledge. If you decide to manage the technical support in-house, be sure to assess current capacity and if necessary, bring in additional resource to cover any new store openings as demand is likely to increase during these periods.

8. Prevention Is Key

As your portfolio of stores increases, so does the need to take preventative steps to ensure your systems remain up and running for as much of the time as possible. Again this can be conducted in-house or outsourced to a third party provider. Some IT service suppliers can provide a separate team of “Intelligent Preventative Maintenance” Technicians who can visit sites in order to carry out cleaning and basic repairs at pre-arranged dates and times. Whichever way you choose to manage this process, it is an approach that has been proven to reduce failure rates, increase reliability, and “bring forward” potential equipment failures in order to protect your IT systems for those peak times when downtime could severely impact performance and sales.