When restaurant IT resellers demo ITWERCS point of sale (POS) software, they ask CEO Chris Duncan, “Where have you been all my life?” The extremely robust and refined POS system seems to have been the best-kept secret in the POS industry. As for the story that explains where ITWERCS has been, Duncan says, “I don’t know if you’d put it on the fiction or non-fiction shelf.”
Events that Led to the Decision to Develop Restaurant POS Software
Entrepreneurship was commonplace when Duncan was growing up. His father, Dan Duncan, built a successful water filtration business in the ‘80s, and those water filters are still available for purchase today. In 1993, Duncan’s father, then retired from his business, took a job with his best friend, agreeing to mentor his friend’s son. Sadly, after only a few months, Duncan’s father and the young man were killed in a plane crash, which also took the life of NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki.
Chris Duncan was only a junior in college when the tragedy occurred. His father’s friend was Robert Brooks, the founder of Naturally Fresh and chairman of Hooters of America. Brooks took Duncan under his wing, hiring him to work in marketing for the restaurant chain. Eventually, Duncan’s responsibilities increased, and he moved into operations.
During one informal conversation, Brooks asked Duncan’s opinion on how he thought the organization could grow from 40 restaurants to hundreds. “I told him you have no technology, without it, you’ll never get there. It was 1996, and we were operating with fax machines and manual payroll,” Duncan recalls.
Duncan’s next project became taking over the restaurant chain’s IT group and rolling out Micros 3700 restaurant POS systems, which the chain used for seven years. Eventually, hardware issues forced Duncan to move the company to Radiant Table Service — just a year and a half before the Radiant acquired Aloha.
“We were given two choices after the acquisition: go to Aloha or buy the source code of the Radiant system. If we bought the code, we knew that Radiant wasn’t going to continue to support it,” says Duncan. “I had just spent over $1 million on their software and wasn’t happy with either option, so I chose door number three.”
Duncan hired some of Radiant’s developers and brought in some of his own. Together, they developed their own restaurant POS software for the chain. That same core team is with him at ITWERCS today.
“We set out to write point of sale software that was right side up,” says Duncan. “We thought everyone else wrote it upside down. They put all the important information in the manager’s office. Then you had to figure out how to get it out of the office, whether by polling or FTP sessions. We put the important data in the cloud where it belongs.”
Duncan says the ITWERCS POS system was similar to an app or client that took care of the day-to-day operations at the store level and streamed data through a proprietary communication transport that’s “really, really fast.” Inventory, scheduling, staffing, online ordering, business intelligence, and loyalty were all done in the cloud.
“We put our software into Microsoft Azure about 10 years ago, before it’s formal launch. I’m pretty sure it was the first POS system in the cloud,” Duncan says. The restaurant chain kept all of its data. “We can look at ten years’ worth of data at the menu level and every detail of every transaction. That’s something a lot of people aren’t doing today.”
Considering the success the restaurant chain had with the point of sale software, Duncan and his partners, including Brooks, formed a separate entity in 2000 and they planned to market the POS system to other restaurant concepts. Unfortunately, Duncan and the business would experience another tragic loss. In 2006, Robert Brooks passed away unexpectedly.
A Decade of Waiting
Because of his close relationship with Brooks, Duncan hadn’t been too concerned about the formality of their business arrangement. Regrettably, as a result, it would take about 10 years of work and negotiation before ITWERCS could go to market.
During that time, however, the software continued to evolve. Duncan says his team took the original POS software and inventory solution and added scheduling, mobile apps, online ordering, loyalty, and analytics. A new version added 4K graphics and a graphical engine that could redraw screens quickly, even on old hardware.
“Part of the challenge in the restaurant industry is that a lot of people don’t have the capital to buy new POS hardware,” Duncan explains. “Our software can run on old hardware and still do it at high speed. Of course, it’s better to run on something modern with lots of RAM, but we’ve continually evolved the software with some cutting-edge things designed to overcome the challenges we’ve seen with other systems.”
The Long Awaited Launch
In 2017, after years of waiting, ITWERCS launched across the country. Duncan says to that point, the company hadn’t really done any marketing or selling. Restaurants managed by former employees of the chain where ITWERCS began were eager for a chance to use it. “We knew their pain points. What we created solves a lot of those problems in an affordable way,” says Duncan. “We watched Amazon grow over those years and knew that we wouldn’t be of value if we didn’t build a smarter POS with the integration of web-marketing tools and tracking. So, we did just that and can now track each transaction back to the web advertising that produced it.”
ITWERCS is also attracting resellers. “Our solution has an advantage to single unit operators as well as multiunit chains. It has integrated inventory, integrated scheduling, integrated reporting. You don’t have to duct tape other solutions together,” Duncan explains. “They can offer one software solution that does it all.”
“Dealers who just sold POS hardware are a thing of the past,” says Duncan. “But dealers who can walk in with a solution like ours and help restaurants use it will be successful. Do you have a problem? Are food costs too high? Let us help you fix that. That’s a true value-added reseller. Those dealers are priceless to a restaurant operator.”
Looking back over the years it took to bring ITWERCS to market, Duncan says he learned a number of valuable lessons.
- No loopholes. When you are establishing your business or signing agreements, make sure there’s nothing that can slow you down. “If there is, discuss it and work through it. Even if you trust the person, remember, you never know who they will sell their company to,” says Duncan. “Write agreements in a way that won’t put handcuffs on you ten years from now.”
- Take small chances. Duncan concedes that there’s no such thing as taking a chance when you know what the outcome will be, but taking small chances can turn into great opportunities. For example, Duncan says, “We knew from the start that credit card numbers were vulnerable. We encrypted credit card numbers inside the magnetic stripe readers, sent them off and got a code back. Since then, people started calling that tokenization and Point to Point Encryption. We were doing that 14 years ago. We always stayed ahead.”
- Never forget how important the customer is. “Restaurants understand that great customer experiences are vital to their business. That includes POS experiences,” says Duncan. “If the POS is down or it won’t do something the customer wants, or it makes the guest wait an extra 5 minutes, it’s a bad experience. We design POS for guest experience. Of course, restaurant managers have bad days, but we don’t want to be the reason.”
Duncan says his journey and the influence of the people in his life, including his father and his mentor Robert Brooks, are powerful drivers. “I still take those small chances and get out there on the leading edge like Dad and Bob did, but I’m also careful,” Duncan explains. “I know creating a POS system today sounds crazy, but I ask myself, ‘What would they do?’”
“Who is brave enough to write their own POS system for 200 restaurants? But we did it. And when I told Bob I was going to drop some money and take it to market, he said, ‘From what you told me you got this. Go for it!’” Today, Duncan is finally able to go for it.