By Jim Roddy, president, Jameson Publishing and Business Solutions magazine
The RSPA (Retail Solutions Providers Association) is riding a tidal wave of recent success. Membership is up 81% over the past four years to 700+ member businesses. VAR attendance at the RSPA's RetailNOW 2010 show increased 41% vs. 2009, resulting in the second highest attendance in the history of the event. And attendance for the RSPA's recent Inspire winter conference, held Jan. 23 to 26 in Maui, was also near record levels. Throw in the fact that Inspire was held at the heavenly Grand Wailea Resort, which might be the most gorgeous 1,500 acres on our planet, and you've got a recipe for perfection.
So why does my headline include the phrase "it was the worst of times"? That's just a personal thing. After three days in paradise at Inspire, I contracted food poisoning and spent my final 48 hours in Maui worshiping porcelain instead of the sun like everyone else. While the rest of the gang was gaining weight scarfing down seafood and sipping Mai Tais, I lost 6 pounds, which is like 10% of my body weight. OK, enough about my personal plight. Let's talk about the RSPA's best of times – which I think are on the horizon for the organization, its members, and the retail IT channel in general.
The big announcement at Inspire was that the National Restaurant Association (NRA) is recommending that its members partner with RSPA-certified resellers. Here's what the Jan. 26 NRA release said: "… The Association has announced that it is endorsing Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) Certified POS System providers who endorse the ‘8 Essential Elements of POS System Ownership.' The POS System providers can be found by visiting RSPA's website to check for certifications and references by visiting www.RSPAcertified.com." (For more info on the "8 Essentials," go to www.restaurant.org/pos.)
At the RSPA winter conference in Jamaica five years ago, we talked about how end users struggled to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. How was a restaurateur going to know the difference between a legitimate VAR who would support their solution vs. a guy working out of his garage (or over the Internet) pushing cheap and unreliable products? There was talk of a certification program in 2006, but danged if anyone knew how to pull it off.
Now, with the NRA's backing and the RSPA's updated certification program, there's a legitimate path toward separating the wheat from the chaff in the retail IT channel. Restaurants pay attention to what the NRA says, so the recommendation will help influence end users. Plus, several RSPA members talked about working with state NRA organizations to spread the word there about using only RSPA-certified resellers. If you check out www.RSPAcertified.com, you'll see a list of RSPA-certified resellers along with a 1- to 5-star rating by their customers. Tell me that wouldn't be valuable to the owner of a chain of restaurants considering who he should trust (and hand over a few thousand dollars to) for overhauling his IT infrastructure.
That's from the end user's view. The VAR angle might be even more exciting. First, to become an RSPA-certified reseller, you have to acquire a certain amount of industry best-practice education. Then, after you're certified, the RSPA will regularly ask your customers to rate your performance with valuable questions such as "Did the system, product, or services meet your expectations?", "How satisfied were you with this company's service?", and "Are there any remaining problems that need resolution?" I know firsthand that getting customers to answer those questions bluntly to your face can be tricky. Having an independent third party inform you exactly where your warts are is the business equivalent of gold.
So if you sell into the retail IT space – and I know thousands of BSM subscribers do – I recommend that you join the RSPA and become a certified reseller. If you don't, when you go head-to-head with an RSPA-certified member trying to win a deal, you've got a significant competitive disadvantage. And when they win the business, you'll be the one feeling like you just got food poisoning.