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Registering A Win For Retail Chain's Printer Dilemma

There was no way Justin Lockefeer was going to let a little connection between a cash register and a printer spoil a very, very big job.

Lockefeer, an NCR general retail specialist at Illinois Wholesale, a solution provider of POS equipment based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., landed the opportunity to supply POS printers to a large discount department store chain with 116 outlets throughout the Midwest and 25 checkout lanes per store.

The Epson printers Lockefeer bid the job on were the correct ones to replace the legacy Epson printers being used by the retailer, which declined to be named. The new small imaging systems properly mounted on the checkout registers without cumbersome cabling or extra power supplies. But Illinois Wholesale experienced difficulty connecting the chain's numerous cash registers with the RS-232 interface cards on the printers.

"Printers don't last forever, and we were going to supply the store with new printers and backups for when some of them fail," Lockefeer said. "The stores were using Epson printers. But then we found out they had two different [brands of] registers in the stores [from IBM and NCR], and the IBM registers they were supporting didn't have an Epson interface. We couldn't make the printers work with the IBM systems."

Lockefeer's first thought was to just yank the RS-232 interface cards from the old Epson printers when replacing them or when they failed. However, the cards wouldn't come out in a reusable state. Complicating matters even further was the fact that while IBM did make adapters for the Epson printers, they were expensive, would keep the IBM registers proprietary in nature, and could only be bought from IBM.

Fortunately, Illinois Wholesale's distributor, PC4, had a solution. Charlotte, N.C.-based PC4, formerly the Independent Cash Register Dealers Association Parts Center, offers retail POS and back-end solutions, hospitality POS devices, warehouse management systems and route accounting products. A longtime supplier for Illinois Wholesale, PC4 had just struck a relationship with vendor CyberData, Monterey, Calif., to distribute its new family of Connect-It interfaces.

The Connect-It printer emulation modules solved the interoperability problem between the IBM registers and the Epson printers, Lockefeer said. By performing the simple install of the Connect-It cables, the department store chain was freed from vendor lock-in. It was able to use the Epson printers along with existing wiring and could save money on printer costs.

"Instead of going out and buying all new printers, we had the Connect-It interface," said Lockefeer, who added that fulfillment of the order for the emulation modules took just about four weeks.

Installation of the CyberData connectors also marked the first step in enabling the department store to improve on the original factory functionality of its POS systems by giving it the option of adding features such as larger buffer memory, alternate I/O connectivity and electronic journal memory.

When it comes right down to it, a simple, key element in maintaining an investment in a fleet of printers is keeping them compatible with the changing network environment, said John Dreibelbis, director of marketing at PC4.

"You hear about this type of thing all the time. You hear, 'We don't just want to throw out the old hardware, we need a migration path from old to new,' " Dreibelbis said. "And solutions from CyberData provide that path to use old hardware and then allow customers to add new hardware that works better."

In an effort to complement the Connect-It emulation modules with added technology, PC4 also offers CyberData's new line of six-port powered USB external hubs and four-port PCI Card host controllers. The two products provide a simple and affordable way for solution providers to add USB ports to a standard PC in a POS scenario to support add-on devices such as credit card scanners, signature capture pads and product scanners. And because the devices are powered, they offer an easy way to connect devices that require more than the 500mA at 5V power supply provided by traditional USB connectors.

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