Remote ski resort connects POS system via satellite

People say they go to pristine but remote resorts to get away from it all – but they don’t really mean it entirely. They still expect their money to work fast.

Ski Wentworth Resort, located in a rural area halfway between Halifax and Moncton, had trouble fulfilling that fundamental expectation. Guests use credit or debit cards to pay for most services, but no high-speed Internet or cable service is available in the area. Dedicated bank lines are prohibitively expensive.

In the past, the resort had to rely on telephone dial-up lines to process transactions. This could take up to 30 seconds per transaction, resulting in bottlenecks during the busy ski season at all its point-of-sale (POS) locations: check-in, bar, rental shop, ski school and cafeteria. “People are in a hurry to get what they paid for. And they hate waiting for food,” says Lynn McWaters, office manager at Ski Wentworth.

Satellite communication was the only option to solve the speed problem, says Eric McGill, POS sales manager at AM/PM Service, a Vancouver-based POS system integrator. Ski Wentworth’s system was more than 15 years old, and a major overhaul was needed to bring it up to speed.

And that happened last December when AM/PM implemented a suite of products to upgrade the system, says McGill. NCR provided the tier one touch-screen POS hardware. The software selected was Store Management Suite (SMS) developed by Loc Software. Application provider Eigen Developments supplied the link to Global Payments Inc., which provides electronic payment processing services that link to banks.

Last but not least, a SonicWall firewall provides security and dial-up backup in case the ExpressNet satellite fails.

Transaction time was reduced to about five seconds, but the system provides many other benefits, says McGill. Satellite services can be shut down during the off-season and reactivated for a small fee in late fall, unlike phone lines, which need to be paid for even when dormant. The resort is now able to provide new services, such as daily Web site updates of ski conditions on the hills, in addition to Internet services for guests.

However, the implementation project did not go smoothly, says Ken Melanson, staff accountant at Ski Wentworth. “This was partly our fault – we didn’t get back to them with our go-ahead until September, and this left little time for training and set up,” he says.

The project was also plagued with cabling problems during the early stages. “We like to give our business to local contractors, but in this case it backfired. The independent contractor we used did a shoddy, unprofessional job,” says Melanson. Faulty cabling resulted in some initial communications breakdowns between the POS terminals and servers, which were resolved when the wiring was corrected. “We recommend using a reputable cabling company,” says Melanson.

But the system was worth the initial hiccups, agree Melanson and McWaters. The satellite worked reliably, even after huge snowstorms. And the SMS software allows them to run the business more efficiently. “Closing the tills is so much faster and more efficient now. It’s rare to have mistakes,” says McWaters.

SMS has powerful reporting capabilities they’re just starting to delve into, says Melanson. Information is tracked and broken down with great precision. “I can tell how many chocolate chip cookies we sold on whatever day you ask,” says McWaters.

The resort plans to implement SMS’ staffing and payroll functions in the next phase of the project. “We plan to start e-mailing department heads with staffing hours and revenues on a daily basis. It’s the real-time information we get that I find beneficial at the back-end. Everyone will be on the same page going forward,” says Melanson.

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