OKLAHOMA CITY -- Fleming Cos. here plans to expand its range of services by marketing supermarket-specific information technology, both to its current customer base and to other retailers, beginning this summer.
Beta tests of two IT packages have been under way since late 1996 at two Salt Lake City chains that are Fleming clients.
Fleming plans to make its E-Store communications/human resources applications available by midsummer. Retail.net, which bundles store operations applications, will follow about two months later.
The technology packages were developed in conjunction with Tomax Technologies, Salt Lake City. They will be marketed in the United States by Fleming's Retail Technology Group, according to its president, Tom Dooner.
Besides providing marketing and sales support, "Fleming's development team worked with Tomax to make the applications more specific to Fleming customers and the grocery business in general," said Ken Pink, manager of retail automation and training for Fleming. Pink told SN a key aspect of both packages was that they could be housed at a centralized location, and accessed via the Internet or a company intranet. "We wanted to minimize the necessity of 'pushing' complicated computer server technology down to the store level," he said.
He explained that the application can reside either at a chain's headquarters or at Fleming. Individual stores only need computers equipped with web browsers, or they can use a chain's existing wide-area network. "The data is available at a local level, but we maintain the application and the technology," said Pink.
Fleming can also do store-level installations, he said, or a chain can have different application levels in different areas, depending on its particular technology needs.
"Pricing will be dependent on which method is employed," said Dooner. "Each installation will be customized."
If a chain opts to keep the technology at a central location, it can lower its hardware costs at the store level, according to Pink. Instead of computers capable of running complex software and costing as much as $2,500 each, "the new network computers designed to run web browsers cost about $500," he said.
"One thing these systems do is give anybody, anywhere in the country, low-cost communications access," said Pink, noting that dial-up Internet services are available for as little as $20 per month. When communication is this simple, "The concept of a physical location to do work goes away," said Pink. "For example, say a store owner splits his time between Salt Lake City and Phoenix. This system would allow him to take care of the Salt Lake pricing from a Phoenix store."
The E-Store package can be used internally for human-resources management, company guidelines, information distribution, forms management, performance monitoring, pricing and electronic order entry, according to Fleming. It also has an electronic catalog function that allows customers to access price lists, ordering guides and other data.
Retail.net offers a wide variety of functions, including point-of-sale systems support, direct-store-delivery and warehouse receiving, inventory management and data warehousing.
Each features web-style graphical user interfaces, according to Pink, which are familiar to more people thanks to the Internet's popularity. "What we found in the tests was that these applications are getting pushed further down in the organization," said Pink. "There are people using computer technology who never had before.
"We had to put additional workstations at the stores," he added. "That indicates acceptance beyond the management level and into the associate level."