Managed Services for Companies with Multiple Locations

The Context

Retail and other businesses with multiple locations must be serviced in a way to maintain consistency throughout all. This is critical particularly when servicing the public and a consistent corporate image is to be kept up. The difficulty resides in inconsistent culture and procedure among the locations so that treatment of IT equipment is properly prioritized. The manager at one location may not emphasize to staff the critical nature of the IT systems as another manager, allowing known issues to be tolerated without alerting IT support staff. Eventually, the situation crashes at a critical time leaving a negative impression with customers not to mention the impact on revenue. IT equipment must be locked down tight to minimize the potential for user-related problems and closely monitored to ensure all systems are functioning optimally. If there is a failure, a system must be in place to quickly resolve it keep the store of office in business.

The Situation

Historically nail, spa, tanning and other types of salons have been mom and pop operations with little dependence on technology. Appointment schedules could be easily kept with a day planner and equipment use can be tracked with a simple spread sheet. Larger chainsmust be more sophisticated, however, to ensure that their customers have a consistently pleasurable experience with each visit. Just like the McDonald`s model where a Big Mac tastes the same in New York as it does in Los Angeles, a successful retail chain`s customer will have the same positive experience at a location on the north end of town as the southern end. If they visit store A in the morning, their customer data is available to staff if that customer visits location B an hour or two later.

The POS system must reliably interface with equipment while tracking customer use and accurately charging their accounts.

Senior management and accounting staff must have accurate, up-to-date sales and financial data gathered from the POS and accounting systems. Facilities should be in place for effective inter-office communications to ensure that all locations are properly stocked with products and supplies and equipment properly maintained.

The Problem

LA`s premiere indoor tanning company, California Tanning Salons (CTS), has been in business since 1985 and was about to nearly double its size from 12 to 20 retail locations. Before the acquisition, there were over 40 network end-points including salon POS systems and corporate servers and workstations. The main office consisted of a peer-to-peer network with a desktop PC hosting the company`s critical financial data, QuickBooks. With 6 regular office staff connecting, QuickBooks failed on a daily basis causing untold productivity loss. It seemed none of the office PCs had the same version of Windows or Office which lead to even more problems. For their machines to freeze or crash on a regular basis was normal to them.

The environment was swimming in paper as they received all salon supply orders, maintenance requests and sales figures by fax, plus each PC had a locally attached printer. Sales figures were phoned into an answering machine at the end of each shift from each salon. In turn, these messages were played and the numbers were transcribed daily into ledger books for the company owner to peruse later. This antiquated and labor-intensive process took at least two to three hours per day.

CTS`s existing computer support person had a full-time with another company and was only available nights and weekends. If a salon or office system went down mid-day, the soonest they could hope to get back in action was after hours. Obviously this could have a severe impact on business.

The Selection

Responding to an ad on the Internet, Plexus met with the owner and accounting staff and, after several conversations, came to fully understand the IT needs for their business model and why their current computer system was not able to measure up and routinely failed. CTS staff understood the kind of experience and skills Plexus brought to the table: strong references and certifications gave them the confidence to bring Plexus on board immediately to not only bring stability to their computers, but make the network scalable in preparation for an acquisition that would double the number of computers, data, locations and staff.

The Results

The pain points were easy to identify and, over the course of two weekends to minimize employee down time, Plexus installed a robust new HP server running Windows Small Business Server. With a 75-user capability, the server had built-in Exchange, SharePoint, MS SQL, file security, print services and more. Desktop PCs were replaced or upgraded with Windows XP Professional and Microsoft Office 2007.

In this short time the company went from using unreliable, difficult to manage POP email accounts from their web hosting vendor to enjoying the numerous benefits and features that come with Exchange Server and Outlook. Salon Managers were given email accounts and could quickly and effectively communicate with the office or other salons using Outlook Web Access or their mobile devices. With each PC joined to the new domain in Active Directory, the security and stability enjoyed by office staff was like a dream come true. With the office stabilized, Plexus moved to bring CTS into the new century by creating a SharePoint portal for salons to transmit their sales numbers. At the end of each shift, rather than make a call, staff enter their totals into the SharePoint site, giving office staff real-time sales data they did not have before. Gone were the daily voicemail messages and black ledger books. Using SharePoint to gather the information saves the company at least 20 hours per week in labor.

The addition of 8 new locations, including, software licensing, Internet connectivity and much more went very smoothly thanks to Plexus IT’s background in the design, build-out and integration of new and existing branch locations.

Eight years later Plexus continues to maintain the systems, backup their data and provide on-the-spot support to all of their locations. Such support does well to keep morale high, too.