THE small and medium enterprise (SME) sector was severely affected by the ravages of the pandemic. And it was this blow that inspired Tap This Link co-founders Dale De Mille and Collin Charles to create Tapshops, a sales ecosystem at the fingertips.
De Mille has worked in digital marketing for close to a decade, freelancing for a while, then working at an agency before starting his own company in 2018 – Small Potato Marketing Ltd.
Charles began in technology and web development 25 years ago, with the first half spent working at various companies and the second half on his own, eventually establishing a company called Gabcol Consulting. The company provides services in ICT, data systems, e-commerce and web development.
Charles told Newsday his company and De Mille's were "brother and sister" companies, with him on the technical side and De Mille on the marketing side.
During the pandemic, both companies were serving larger entities but wanted to come up with a way to help SMEs manage their businesses and have more flexibility with sales channels.
"Being in retail, I always say there was a problem in keeping your inventory in sync. Inventory upkeep in SMEs is not really a thing. They tend to just buy and sell, buy and sell. And then it is hard to afford systems that allows you to do this, because you have to get software, software licensing and reliable tech support. And you don't have mobility, you don't have remote access. If you're out of the country you can't check on your company or on your sales.
"And with all of these problems we came together and we (asked), 'How can we create a system that's affordable, that is not hard to get up and running, with no software involved, and you have remote access and flexibility?' You can go to marketplaces, to shows, to pop-up events in malls and you can literally sell in person while also getting sales online through your e-commerce channels.
"So, your website and your point of sale both work together on a dashboard. So that was the dream."
He recalled they noticed retail was seriously affected by the pandemic and a lot of store owners closed down: many lacked the flexibility to do move around to sales, had no websites, no e-commerce nor delivery systems in place. He added they lacked knowledge about these things as well.
"So, we set out on a goal to create a product, let's educate people, bring them on board, give them something affordable that they can be able to sell online, in-store and on the go. And that's how we came up with tapshops."
TapShops, the first product of their joint subsidiary Tap This Link Ltd, which began in 2019, was launched on August 31 after a year of development. It is a point-of-sale system and e-commerce website with a unified dashboard.
Charles said they already had client success with larger entities via their parent companies and decided to package and scale down those services for stores in shopping plazas, malls and other retail businesses.
De Mille said on the digital marketing aspect a lot of small companies miss having infrastructure that works whether the store is open or closed.
"And what the pandemic did was expose that business risk to a point where people literally had to close down and take their stuff home."
He explained the tapShop system would insulate the business from that type of situation.
"And the key for us was making it accessible to that niche, because what a corporate entity could pay, they cannot afford. So, we attacked it from a point of where we could find something that works for everybody and be comfortable making it available at a competitive price."
Charles stressed it was not just about advertising but having "an engine room" to manage sales. He said there is also wastage with receipt-printing or buying equipment that will depreciate.
"This system allows you to use equipment you already have – your laptops, or tablet."
He added there is also an environmental aspect of making the business paperless.
The company has also entered a partnership with Universal Package Systems Ltd (UPSL) as its logistic provider. Charles explained UPSL will do deliveries on clients' behalf and collect payments, allowing for a separate income stream through the e-commerce channel.
Charles said the reception to the rollout of tapShops has been great and clients have already come on board. He explained with these kinds of systems some companies need time to get things together before coming onboard.
He said a new wave of businesses will be coming in following the pandemic impact on retail.
"And what we are doing is offering them the ability to start correctly with proper systems in place."
Charles said the system has analytics reporting, including what products are bestsellers, inflow, outflow, and stock quantities.
"It's an entire ecosystem. It's a retail powerhouse."
The system can work for any type of retail business, he said, including apparel, jewellery, sports gear, car parts, hardware, bookstore, healthcare, or spas.
De Mille said it helps offset the cost of a brick-and-mortar store and with the systems in place they would be able to do their financial records.
Charles said the system essentially "pays for itself" and with the annual subscription, the client receives support for a year.
He explained that as an ecosystem of digital tools to improve business more will be added eventually.
"We intend to serve the Caribbean region and deploy things that could interconnect with the other pieces of software."
De Mille said solutions like tapShops make it easy to justify the cost.
"If you work this out to be $525 a month and what it offers you, it is a no-brainer when you think about it. If your store makes $10,000 a month, you could still justify the cost."
Charles stressed that no SME would pay for all the components found in tapShops individually, as there would not be enough customer base or income to cover those bulky systems.
De Mille said local customers were becoming more accustomed to the ease of buying items via Amazon and get aggravated when local companies post a product with no price on it.
"And then you have a windfall of comments and people making jokes. But it is not funny for the business owner and it makes them look bad."
He stressed in this time of the pandemic, it was make or break for a lot of people.
"They have to do something. And we are doing our part to make systems available."
For more info: www.tapthislink.net.