Austin Gunter is the U.S. senior marketing manager for Vend, one of the fastest growing point of sale products in the industry. They Austin and I spent a few minutes talking about brick and mortar versus online retail, how to start a SaaS, making great videos and Vend’s future in the POS universe.
SPN: For the better part of a decade online shopping dominated brick and mortar retail spaces to the point that many didn’t survive. There seems to have been a sway back to brick and mortar establishments in part due to the desire for better customer service. How have POS systems like Vend aided the trend?
AG: At Vend, we don’t think that brick-and-mortar retailers have ever been in danger of dying out. There will always be a demand for entrepreneurs in local communities who are woven into the cultural fabric of their towns and neighborhoods, and no big box retailer can take that way. Local shops provide not just an amazing personal experience, but they also contribute to the experience of living in a neighborhood. For example, it doesn’t matter what Wal-Mart or Amazon happen to do, I still prefer the experience of buying jeans made locally by a particular retailer near my apartment in San Francisco.
Cloud-based point-of-sale systems like Vend are part of a global trend where powerful cloud technology that was previously only available only to huge companies with massive budgets has become as cheap as $30 per month. At that price, a local retailer can afford to take advantage of the benefits that cloud brings to their business.
And what does all this mean for day to day operations?
Vend saves retailers time by automatically keeping track of their inventory, showing them the cost of goods sold on a graph so they know where their profits are coming from without having to wrangle spreadsheets, and helping them manage customer accounts and loyalty. The time they save goes back into growing their business, and the added insight allows them to refine their operations the same way that a large retailer might.
The appeal SaaS products is generally in their ability to find simple ways to solve complex issues. Vend, as an example, ties in a number of softwares that most small brick and mortar operations rely on, cutting down time and brainspace needed to run day to day operations. What advice would you give someone looking to develop a SaaS product to best identify a need worth solving?
My first recommendation would be to start in a domain where you have some experience or some passion. If you’re successful, you could end up spending the next 5-10 years of your life in that industry!
My second recommendation is to start as small as possible with your solution. Find a single customer and test your product with them to work out the bugs. The goal is to do everything manually in order to make sure you understand the problem you’re solving before you spend money to build software. You don’t need the business to be scalable at this point in time, you only need to make sure you’re actually solving a problem. Manually solve someone’s problem, and then ask them, “Would you pay me $30 a month” for software that performed the same task?”
If they’re willing to pay, then you’re onto something! If they aren’t, keep adjusting the process until you find something they WILL pay you for.
Brick and Mortar and e commerce are often portrayed as an adversarial relationship. Is there a sweet spot where the two can coexist? Where is the equilibrium between the two?
So, what we’re seeing at Vend is cutting-edge retailers who are taking advantage of both their physical stores and the opportunities of e-commerce. The technical term for it is “omnichannel retail,” but all that means is retailers are able to sell in-store, online, and on social media as well. Omnichannel means customers can discover them from anywhere, and make a purchase from anywhere.
— Michela Stribling (@mstribling) July 18, 2014
This is revolutionary because it actually minimizes the importance of location to retailers. When you are on social media and can sell online, your storefront is everywhere the internet is. Shoppers can find you on Facebook, see a gallery of your products, and then click a link you’ve provided them to make a purchase, all from their phone on the subway.
So the rivalry between the two is diminishing?
To be honest, I don’t see e-commerce and brick and mortar being adversarial at all. I see both forms of commerce being united in a single solution that clever retailers use to grow their businesses using cloud technology.
So Vend just won an unusual award. Tell me about the Stevie.
Haha, of course! So the Stevie is literally the “Oscar of Business Videos.” The same folks who make the Oscar statues also make the stevie statues. Our amazing marketing team put together the following video for our homepage. When I first saw the video on the Vend homepage, I loved how creative and fun it was. Seeing the culture of the company was a huge part of why I wanted to join the Vend team.
We entered the video into the global Stevie competition, and were fortunate enough to win the gold. It was a very cool recognition of the amazing creativity and hard work on the Vend team, and was a sign that people resonate with the Vend brand. I hope that our customers appreciate the fun we’ve injected into our brand, and that it makes them want to do business with us.
What is on the horizon for Vend? Expanded services? New products?
Vend just released a brand new integration with QuickBooks Online, the world’s most popular accounting product. We’re excited about this product because it means our customers can link their Vend POS with their accounting software and automate a lot of manual accounting work they would otherwise do by hand.
Time is a retailer’s most precious resource, so we’re really excited when we can release an integration that saves them time, we’re excited. A couple of hours every week is time they can spend growing their business, and time they can spend with their families. We have a fundamental belief that technology should be harnessed by small retailers to make their businesses more efficient, and to help them grow.
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