Auto-Parts Chain Goes Modern, Stays Frugal

When the CIO of $1.6 billion auto-parts chain CSK Auto decided the stores needed a major tech refresh, he wanted electricity via Ethernet, multimedia displays suspended from the ceiling and an all-Linux environment. But no RFID.

Larry Buresh, the CIO of the 1,138-store CSK auto-parts chain, said he knew that his current store technology was out-of-date and not especially competitive, but he also knew that the short-term productivity cost—not to mention the actual dollars and time investment—of a major, enterprisewide upgrade was not practical.

Bureshs answer? Replace all of the hardware, but somehow keep all of the software. Thats easier said than done when the to-be-replaced POS (point-of-sale) systems are, "12 years going on 50 years old," Buresh said.

"What we recognize is that we have antiquated hardware and software in our stores. And to do a wholesale swap is a monumental task," he said. "So, we developed a strategy that would allow us to upgrade the hardware without changing the software."

That old hardware includes 333-MHz servers "from a mixture of brands and all long past their prime" and "some very old registers and old display stations in the store," with the servers all running MegaBASIC from a defunct company called ProfitPro (bought in late 2000 by Wrenchhead).

CSK Auto Inc. owns and operates retail auto-parts stores in 19 states under the brand names Checker Auto Parts, Schucks Auto Supply and Kragen Auto Parts.

The first part of the transition was to create a series of touchscreen registers that precisely emulated the old registers, to minimize training and maintain productivity during the transition.

The new POS registers are also intelligent and communicate directly with the back office, Buresh said. The value of the intelligence is in their fault-tolerance. There is one server in the back of every store, capturing all sales and inventory data. "If the servers do go down, the registers can continue operations and can run 24 hours without the server," he said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifAs POS systems morph and become contactless and more mobile, retailers are discovering new ways to push profits. Some are discovering that wireless can mean lower credit card fees. To read more, click here.

The servers talk with corporate using a private VSAT network that crawls at about 19,200 baud. "But with compression routines and spoofing, were able to make that network work very effectively for us," Buresh said.

Bureshs chain is now using SCO UnixWare, and it will be running SCO and SuSE Linux in tandem. "It positions us so that, at some point in the future, we will be 100 percent Linux," he said, adding that the switchover target is late 2006, early 2007.

The CIO said he has lost faith in SCOs strategy. "We will migrate ourselves out of SCO. Their current business model seems to be one of litigation," Buresh said. "I think it will be very difficult for them to attract a new customer base."

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead the full story on Auto-Parts Chain Goes Modern, Stays Frugal