Deep Sea Leisure completes technology rollout of VCSTIMELESS retail hospitality solution

Deep Sea Leisure, which owns and operates two major aquariums in the UK, last year had revenues of over 6 million and attracted around 700,000 visitors.

Such large numbers of people coming through the tills, often visiting the attractions only at peak times of the year, means that dealing with queues was always considered extremely important. Repeat visits and selling merchandise and food is also crucial to the company's revenue. So fantastic customer service and technology to help improve its retail and hospitality offering has been implemented to ensure that everyone's happy.

The company previously had a DOS based EPoS system which wasn't very easy to use and not suited to its growing needs. So late in 2005, Deep Sea Leisure chose a market leading hospitality point-of-sale and head office solution, called VENPoS, from software vendor VCSTIMELESS. The new EPoS software went in overnight on 14 tills during January 2006 for Blue Planet Aquarium in Cheshire, England; and on a further 8 tills overnight mid-February for Deep Sea World, in Fife, Scotland. This meant that there was no 'down-time' and so no potential impact on admissions. At the same time, all the tills were installed with Chip & PIN to improve credit card transaction security.

A new customer relationship management (CRM) booking system has been developed specifically for Deep Sea Leisure, to help keep on top of important contact and sales histories for previous customers. This bespoke module was added in May, again being implemented overnight. The system is used in conjunction with the selling of annual passes (or the booking of group visits, or diving with the sharks), primarily to exploit the data and use it to help plan targeted promotions.

Improved customer service and management

Sue Elaiho, finance director at Deep Sea Leisure, says that she's noticed staff smiling more thanks to a new, easier to use point-of-sale system. "The new technology is touchscreen and very straightforward," says Elaiho. "So lengthy training is no longer necessary, which is important in an industry with a very high turnover of seasonal staff." Customers, too, are happy. Thanks to the development of an online ticketing service, also hosted by software provider VcsTimeless, customers can now book online ahead of their visit and save up to an hour queuing to get in.

Results have been very positive since completion of the implementation: Elaiho says that visits to their website were only around 300 in January, and went up to around 1 million in February once the new online ticketing service had been launched (at generally a quiet time of year). The online ticketing system also helps with cash flow, she says, by encouraging people to buy and pay for their tickets in advance, often at off-peak times when income might otherwise be lower.

Improved management of the business is also a major benefit. The new system is totally integrated, so that anyone in head office, catering or retail can see, for instance, if a school group is on its way: and so "whether to organise staff for a special educational tour; see when to get the burgers on; or set up a lunch for a shark awareness course."

On the retail side (the company runs 2 gift shops and a dive shop), 13 digit product codes - which staff had to remember before and type-in for each transaction - have been replaced with automated bar codes. Not only is this a good deal easier on 400 different products, but it translates into a lot less mistakes and customers no longer being incorrectly charged; not to mention more accurate stock control. Up-selling opportunities have also become easier. Elaiho explains that because of a swifter process through the tills and happier staff and customers, add-on sales are more likely. For example, guide book sales have increased since installation of the new technology. In catering too (the company has a few themed restaurants), speed of service has massively increased through the tills.

Reporting across the business has been vastly improved, including pin-pointing areas where sales can be increased or stock cleared, mainly because of the ease of pulling off data and accessing the system. Cash control is another area which Elaiho says has particularly benefited from the new system.

"We operate in a largely cash orientated business, so security is very important. The VCSTIMELESS solution flags up any discrepancies, which helps us keep on top of any theft concerns, such as through dishonest staff - an unfortunate reality in our business."

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