PDAs kickstart coffee culture

For many workers the morning coffee is an important ritual and with the use of mobile technology a Queensland-based small, but very mobile business has notched up a way of getting the precious drink to customers more efficiently.

Inspired by a TV advertisement showing a coffee machine on the back of a scooter, Darren Schultz, a former hairdresser, and Chris Collings - a chef - brought their mobile coffee business, Xpresso, to life.

"Our system was fairly basic when we first started in Brisbane four years ago," Schultz said. "Chris would make the coffee at the van and I would be 20 to 100 metres up the road getting the orders -- we had our own sign language system."

But 12 months later, when the partners decided to franchise the operation throughout Australia, the refinement continued and blossomed.

"We wanted to move the business forward and came up with more ideas so that we could sell more coffee and make our franchises more attractive," he said.

"We had a pen and pad ordering system, then we started using walkie-talkies, which worked well, but we found their noise off putting and we felt too much like security guards or policemen. SMS was too time-consuming and the walkie-talkies wouldn't work in lifts."

After consulting with IT solutions company Absoft the decision was made to implement a PDA-to-PDA ordering system running the Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 platform.

"We now use two PDAs, one to take orders, which instantaneously sends it to the second PDA in the coffee van," Schultz said.

"This significantly reduces down time and lets us sell on average an additional four coffees every 15 minutes. At $3 a coffee, this equates to an additional $70,000 in sales over a one year period."

There has already been a positive response from Xpresso franchisees.

Out of the 44 franchisees, 12 are looking at taking it up and Shultz believes it is only a matter of time before the rest follow.

Schultz is also confident the number of franchisees will continue to grow.

"We are aiming at 120 across Australia within the next three years in addition to US and New Zealand," he said.

The initial trial was set up on Vodafone's GPRS network; each PDA has its own IP address and is configured to allow almost seamless data transfer between the two units.

"With the arrival of Vodafone's 3G network, data can be sent and received at far greater speeds than on current GPRS networks so the service to Xpresso will only get better," according to Absoft general manager Chris Lord.

PDAs were chosen because the touchscreen better replicated normal order forms and they can also retain and report data which Schultz finds useful for regular clients.

"Most people order the same coffee each day, so the ability to save orders can further reduce downtime." he said.

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