Can’t afford a cash register? Think again

2 Jan

The Royal 115CX cash register seems to work fine, but the instruction manual and phone support leave much to be desired. (Geoff Meeker photo)

January 2, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

A good number of small business operators (like myself) use hand-written receipts and calculators to process customer transactions.

The idea of using a cash register never occurred to me. I just assumed it was a luxury that was out of reach of small business owners like me.

Early in December, I attended a craft fair in St. John’s, to market my Jellybean Row home décor line. In the booth next to mine was a local company called Beautiful Rock. They produce some wonderful bath and body care products, but what really caught my eye was their cash register.

It was not a rinky-dinky little contraption. This was a full-sized machine, with all the bells and whistles. It looked expensive.

I wanted to know more, so I struck up a conversation. During a slow moment, I inquired about how they managed to power the thing, since our booths had no electrical service.

“It runs on batteries, as well as electricity,” said Michael, “and that was a lifesaver, because we were expecting power when we booked the booth.”

Michael went on to explain the many advantages of the cash register, including quick processing of customer sales, instant calculation of taxes, and end-of-sales-period summaries that make it easy to compile HST reports.

I added one more plus: it’s fun. What child hasn’t gazed in wonder upon the neighbourhood shopkeeper – in my case, it was Mr. Fowlow – and thought, “Gee, I’d love to do that!” And there is a bit of the child in all of us, is there not? A cash register allows us to look and behave like real business people. (I’m sure most business owners feel that way, on acquiring their first cash register, but most won’t admit it.)

Then, a brazen but important question: “It must be expensive?”

“Not at all,” Michael said. “We bought this online for something like $140, plus shipping.”

No way! There was a ka-ching sound inside my head. That very night, I went online and ordered the Royal 115CX. It came to $195, including shipping, and when it arrived two weeks later, there was a $29 brokerage fee. All considered, it was still a reasonable price – assuming that it works properly.

I unpacked the cash register, excited beyond description, and opened the instruction manual to the “quick start” section.

I managed to program the date, time and percentage of tax. After that, the child in me became totally confused. The instruction manual was badly written, with no clear way forward. What I needed was step-by-step instructions on how to ring in my first sale. The manual didn’t offer that. It might have made sense to someone who was already familiar with cash register operation, but I was a newbie. I needed a “Cash Register for Dummies” explanation, and I wasn’t getting that.

I called the 1-800 number, to get some tutoring from a real person. That was when the fun really started. I reached an overseas call centre, and was talking to someone with a thick foreign accent. I explained my predicament, and he immediately started telling me to press a succession of keys on the cash register, without any context. I was confused, but played along. And when I hit the “total” key, I got an error message.

This happened several times. The person on the other end became increasingly irritated at my apparent stupidity, while I became frustrated at how quickly he talked, and mispronounced his commands. While I managed to be patient, I cannot say the same for him. At one point, he sighed, clearly exasperated, and said, in a patronizing tone, “Now listen very carefully, sir…”

“I will listen carefully if you can talk carefully,” I replied, raising my voice. His tone changed, and he slowed down. We both took a deep breath, and started again. This time, he explained what he was trying to tell me, and then did so, in clear steps. I successfully rang in my first sale! I was in business.

He asked if I had any other questions, and I had many, such as how to void a sale, how to ring in multiple items, how to run end-of-day totals, and so on. But not now. Not with this guy. I would call some other day and hopefully get a different service rep.

And there was also Michael, my trade show friend, who I might also call for advice.

So, to summarize, the Royal 115CX seems to work very well. However, the instruction manual is useless, and the telephone help only marginally better. If you buy, brace yourself for a rocky initiation process. I suggest you recruit a colleague, who already owns one, to answer your questions.

Happy New Year, and happy sales!

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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