What is the value of possessing a point-of-sale (POS) big data platform of over 1.3 trillion yen (US$10.9 billion) in transactions and utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze this big data asset to create further value?
Amancio Ortega’s Inditex/Zara was one of the few visionary pioneers in recognizing the value of the integral POS big data, analyzing it for actionable insights to execute its fast-fashion business model strategy of delivering new designs that customers want to stores quickly and in small batches (time from design to store is ~10 days, over 10X faster than rivals despite offering 10X more unique products), reducing fashion obsolescence and inventory risk, activating customer curiosity (average Zara customer visits the store 17 times per year vs 2-3 times for its rivals), and compounding 10X since its 2001 listing to a market value of over US$93 billion.
McDonald’s spent US$300 million in March 2019 to acquire Israeli AI firm Dynamic Yield, which generates around US$18 million in revenue, to integrate AI decision logic technology into the integral big data of POS, personal data and diverse data such as weather and traffic information to suggest personalized menus for customers at its stores, such as ice cream on a hot weather, McCafe on a cold day, in addition to items that pair well with whatever the customer just ordered.
Since Jack Dorsey’s Square Inc. (NYSE: SQ) first came to market in 2009 with the Square Reader, a small device that enabled anyone to use a smartphone to accept credit card payments, Square has since developed an ecosystem from payments to POS devices and services that help small businesses accept credit cards, manage inventory, and process employee payroll. As Square has expanded its services to cover more and more small business functions, the data it collects about these businesses paints a clear picture of their cash flow.
Through its new group, Square Capital, Square has recently started using AI machine learning to analyze POS transaction data history (e.g. transaction volume, most recent transaction, mix of new and returning customers, and revenue growth) to analyze the credit-worthiness of the business and extend lines of credit to small businesses. Square proactively approves businesses for loans and since their bank account is already connected to Square, supplementary capital is available at the click of a button. To date, Square Capital has offered over US$1bn in loans to more than 100,000 businesses with the average loan size of US$6,000. Square’s data-driven approach and small loan size is creating a new market that replaces the traditional path of asking for small loans from friends and family. Not only has Square expanded the small business loan market, they have done so while achieving just a 4% loan default rate. In comparison, the aggregate small business default rate through traditional lenders has hovered around 8% since 2012. This low default rate can be partially attributed to the data-driven method of determining eligibility, but Square has also made it easier for businesses to repay their loans. Repayments are automatically deducted from daily credit card sales at a rate of 9-13%, so the business pays more when sales are strong.
This week, we highlight the under-the-radar exponential Asian exponential innovator Smaregi (TSE: 4431), Japan’s leading SaaS cloud innovator in POS (point of sale) register with a freemium model serving over 65,000 stores (as of Mar 2019 vs 19,000 stores in Apr 2016), of which over 10,300 (15.8%) are paying subscribers with very high stickiness (monthly churn rate is only 0.82%). Cumulative transactions amount using Smaregi’s platform has exceeded 1 trillion yen in March 2018 (1.332 trillion yen or US$11.90bn as at end Oct 2018), a valuable big data asset which can be used for sales analysis, customer trend analysis and marketing promotion in the future to create new value. Like Square Inc. (NYSE: SQ) which has compounded 8X since its Nov 2015 listing to a market value of over US$30 billion by capturing the demand of underserved SME customers, Smaregi is disrupting the conventional POS and electronic register products and hardware manufacturers with its:
(1) Overwhelming low cost (less than one-fifth in cost vs legacy system),
(2) Powerful real-time data management & analysis in sales, inventory & customer trends at the headquarters chain network and individual store level, and
(3) Open innovation platform with API linkages open to third parties integrating external applications and expanding new functions that include financial accounting & tax system for automatic calculation e.g. Money Forward’s (TSE: 3994) “MF Cloud Accounting”, TKC’s (TSE: 9746) “FX Series”, OBIC Business Consultants’ (TSE: 4733) “Account Magistrate Cloud”, MJS (TSE: 9928) “MJS Connect”; inventory management & CRM system; warehouse management & logistics systems; ecommerce store sales & inventory data to address the need from the rising omni-channel trend to manage both online and offline data; AI machine vision analysis in visualizing customer behavior from entry into the shop to purchase based on video cameras installed in the shop from ABEJA, etc. The related services and additional functions developed by the third party will be made available at “Smaregi Marketplace“, similar to how Salesforce.com scaled since the 2006 tipping point moment by building AppExchange, an open API marketplace of third-party software applications developed by external partners.
Smaregi’s cloud POS also supports all six major mobile payment QR settlement code brands WeChat Pay, Alipay, dPay, PayPay, LINE Pay, Rakuten Pay, as well as Square Inc. Such comprehensive solutions in integrating multiple functions were not previously available for SME retailers and the unassuming POS platform becomes the critical opening gateway to these functions as well as synergizing the valuable big data of POS, inventory, and customer information.
The number of registered stores has increased steadily after conversion to freemium model in July 2014 and Smaregi is used in a wide range of businesses: retail 48%, restaurant 32%, apparel 17%, special events 8%, beauty-related 5%, others 7%. Smaregi has enormous expansion scope and a long runway for growth given that of the 3 million retail stores, less than 30% have POS cash registers. Thus, the number of retail stores without POS registers exceed 2 million (excluding the 50,000 convenience stores) in Japan, indicating a large total addressable market. Smaregi’s main customer target are the 770,000 medium-sized companies operating around 2 to 50 stores, and clients include Tabio (TSE: 2668) which operates 272 stores. Demand is catalyzed by both new and replacement demand of legacy POS system, including new consumption tax changes starting 1 Oct 2019 in which 8% and 10% tax rates can be varied and government subsidies to switch to multi-rate-adaptive cash register.
Since its release in Sept 2011, Smaregi has expanded into two other key cloud services: WAITER (https://waiter.smaregi.jp), a table order entry system for restaurants which will lead to improved store productivity, released in Nov 2012; and TIME CARD (https://timecard.smaregi.jp), a labor attendance management system with shift management, payroll accounting, vacation management, daily reporting and project management functions that automatically calculate salary based on attendance and time worked, released in Dec 2013. TIME CARD is a freemium model and there are over 54,843 registered stores (as of July 2018) and the number of users are over 552,688 people. Like McDonald’s newly acquired AI firm Dynamic Yield, there is a function in WAITER that automatically integrates weather result information provided by Japan Meteorological Co. in the specified area to analyze the correlation between events, weather and sales, and use it to boost sales.
Smaregi also engages in the sale of tablets, receipt printers, cash drawers, other cash register peripheral equipment and consumables such as receipt roll paper via its own ecommerce site STORE STORE (https://store-store.jp) as well as through Rakuten and Amazon Japan, generating a gross margin of 30-35%.
With the circumspection and compellingness exponential edge, Smaregi’s business model generates stable and recurring monthly subscription revenue, achieving a 96% and 150% absolute increase in sales and operating profit in the recent three years and generates healthy profitability with operating margin of 21.5% (3Q FY04/2019 margin 22.1%), ROE (= EBIT/ Equity) 52.6%, ROA of 34%, propelling a 236% increase in market value from its IPO price of 1,370 yen on 28 Feb 2019 to US$269m.
On 15 March, Smaregi announced its 3Q FY04/2019 (May 2018 – Jan 2019) in which 9M sales is 1,354m yen and operating profit 299m yen. Management guided FY/04/2019 sales to increase 31.9% yoy to 1,838m yen and operating profit to rise 30.4% to 395m yen. Balance sheet is relatively healthy with net cash of 506m yen as of 31 Jan 2019 (before the IPO) which is around 1.7% of market cap. The IPO raised ~1.78bn yen (US$15.9m) in cash. Noteworthy is that Montreal-based Lightspeed POS (TSX: LSPD), a POS software platform which generates US$71.9m in revenue and US$9.6+ billion in gross transaction volume, was recently listed on 8 March 2019 and market value has climbed to US$1.5bn (P/Sales 21.1x), though it remains loss-making and has negative operating cashflow of US$8.2m.
A distinctive strength of Smaregi is its direct online sales & customer acquisition with high customer satisfaction and low churn rate and the system is intuitive and easy to use. Smaregi acquires customers through a combination of three sales channels: (1) direct online signups and immediate usage without having a business meeting, (2) showroom-style sales demonstrations, and (3) sales partners. 20% of sales are generated via its network of 145 sales partners which include Otsuka Corp (TSE: 4768), OBIC Business Consultants (TSE: 4733), TKC (TSE: 9746), Yayoi Accounting. Smaregi has its own showrooms in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka, as well as a “franchise partner” who operates the Fukuoka showroom. Smaregi is the only company on the market that has showrooms in major cities across the country. From 18 April 2019, Smaregi has set up service counters in 12 Yamada Denki stores for potential customers to experience its operability and functionality.
The new “Work Style Reform Legislation” that was passed in July 2018 makes significant revisions to Japan’s labor laws. Most of the amendments take effect from 1 April 2019. Employers that have operations in Japan need to take immediate action to comply with the new requirements that will increase the demand for attendance & time management systems like TIME CARD. Many companies still use time cards and spreadsheets to manage employee attendance, and it takes a lot of work to calculate working hours. These new requirements include (1) maximum limit of overtime work; (2) increased overtime rate for small employers; (3) requirement to take annual leave; (4) time tracking requirement for all employees.”
In Japan, Smaregi competes mainly with Recruit Holdings’ (TSE: 6098) “Air Regi” (https://airregi.jp; over 380,000 stores) which was introduced in Nov 2013 and “Ubiregi” (https://ubiregi.com; over 20,000 stores) introduced in Aug 2010. Smaregi is stronger in retail, apparel and restaurant where inventory management is more complicated. Despite the competition, the cloud POS disruptors are expanding their users by taking market share from high-priced legacy POS cash register and capturing the demand of SMEs.
Legacy POS companies, which quite a number of prominent Value 2.0 investors have invested due to their seemingly decent historical quantitative financial numbers, such as Ingenico (EPA: ING), Taiwan’s Flytech (TWSE: 6206) and Posiflex (TWSE: 8114), HK-listed PAX Global (327 HK), Malaysia’s Cuscapi (KLSE: Cuscapi) have seen their market value more than halved and becoming cheap-gets-cheaper value traps as their earnings decline with the rise of cloud POS and Square Inc. since 4Q2015. TIME CARD competes with cloud attendance management leader Teamspirit (TSE: 4397; P/Sales 25.2x), loss-making cloud talent management system Kaonavi (TSE: 4435; P/Sales 19.9x), Amano’s (TSE: 6436) TimePro-VG Cloud, Human Technologies Inc.’s “King of Time”, DigiJapan’s “Touch on Time”, etc.
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“The name of the company is a low-cost, high-performance POS ‘Smart Register’. It has functions corresponding to many types of business such as retail, apparel, and restaurants, and it is used from small stores to large chains. Data are centrally managed in the cloud, enabling real-time sales analysis regardless of time or place. Smaregi now processes over 40 billion yen of transaction data (POS data) every month. From now on, the big data will include not only POS cash register but also transactions for ecommerce shop. We would like to investigate and extract data patterns that cannot be collected by each store and feedback to the store so that even small-scale shops will be able to make management decisions using analysis results based on big data. We will actively promote the streamlining of cashless transaction activities with the aim of improving trading activities and improving the convenience of consumers including foreigners. We want to apply this robust and highly functional, yet easy to use cloud platform to not only POS register, but also to attendance management, customer management, labor management, and to expand the system widely by utilizing the know-how accumulated in Smaregi,” comments Dr. Hiroshi Yamamoto, CEO of Smaregi (TSE: 4431). Together with founder Makoto Tokuda (35.85%), Minato Ryutaro (10.91%) and Mochizuki Takuya (10.91%), the four key management leaders including CEO Dr. Yamamoto (27.44%) own a combined stake of 85% in Smaregi.
CEO Dr. Yamamoto on the Early Entrepreneurial Period:
While Smaregi is profitable and positive free cashflow generative now, CEO Dr. Yamamoto shared that the entrepreneurial journey to start Smaregi has been full of struggles. CEO Dr. Yamamoto shared briefly and reflectively the inspiring story: “Smaregi’s founder Makoto Tokuda and I were born in the same year in 1977. In the early 20’s, Tokuda was active as a freelance group performing web production, and was based in the local area of Osaka. I was originally not acquainted with Tokuda, but when I started creating a website for a music studio, I got in touch with Tokuda on a business basis. Tokuda and I got together as friends and began to become interested in the IT world. Then, I wanted to be a programmer when I was faced with the difficulty of a music career. Thus, when I was 25, I got a job at a certain IT company, and then I moved to the system development department where I was engaged the development of many business systems as an IT engineer since 2003.”
“The predecessor of Smaregi was a web production company which Tokuda and Mochizuki Takuya founded in 2005. I joined Tokuda and we launched Program Inc. in 2010 as a system development division of the company which has consistently advocated the ‘user first principle’. Based on my experience of developing POS system for drug stores in the past, we launched a cloud-type POS cash register service Smaregi on 26 Sept 2011.”
“At that time, the POS industry was centered on the hardware business, but we thought that the nature of the cash register was not hardware, but was in the in-store payment system and its transaction sales and inventory data. This aggregated big data has gotten increasingly greater attention for its immeasurable industrial value with the evolution of technology. It has been awarded for the Good Design Award in 2013 for its low cost and easy introduction, and also for its superior design that is highly functional and intuitive to operate and future potential.”
“When I was thinking ‘what to do’ with my development team, I was wondering if it would be possible to remake the POS cash register. When you think about what a ‘good future’ you can create using technology and create an inexpensive POS register using a smartphone, you will feel welcome in a small store like it’s a personal store. By combining the trends of tablets, smartphones, and cloud and the know-how accumulated through system development, Smaregi was created.”
“So many people are using Smaregi now, but there are a lot of twists and turns before it gets to the current business model. It did not work well initially when the service plans were launched. It continued for about a year and it did not spread and was not recognized at all. In the meantime, among the members, I can see anxiety or tiredness, saying ‘Can this company really be commercialized?’”
Smaregi Cloud POS
When asked to elaborate on Smaregi’s cloud POS solution, CEO Dr. Yamamoto comments: “The cash register seen in the store where you shop blends in as a part of life in a very familiar place that you touch every day and it plays an active role to carry out the accounting smoothly. POS is a system that manages and aggregates sales results, and can quantitatively understand when, what, how many, and how much it has been sold. Just because a cash register is placed does not mean that a POS system has always been introduced. Thus, the cash register and the POS system are completely different things. ‘POS cash register’ means a system where cash register and POS system are connected.”
“Unlike expensive conventional POS cash register that cost around 500,000 yen to 2 million yen, the cloud POS cash register provided by Smaregi can utilize familiar devices such as iPad and iPhone and can record sales on the cloud in real time via the Internet using a general-purpose tablet or smartphone. Smaregi is doing the job of ‘managing store sales’ by making the cloud POS cash register cheap and super high- performance. The expensive legacy electronic POS cash register prints the day’s sales on receipt paper, and it is a guy who says, ‘Let’s do it later.’ Nowadays, I would like to quickly manage information on ‘What and how many items were sold and how much it cost today’ on a PC, tablet, or smartphone. Owners can check the sales of all stores with a smartphone or tablet wherever they are. Since the initial cost falls within the range of 200,000 to 400,000 yen, about one-fifth of the initial introduction cost of the legacy POS register, it is characterized by being able to be introduced inexpensively for SMEs.”
“Until now, the POS cash register industry has been a hardware manufacturing business, but we proceeded with cloud development, thinking that the essence of cash register is not hardware, but the in-store payment system and its consolidated data.”
“For retailers, one of the major tasks is not just accounting, but product management. At a retail store, the purchase operation occurs in the backend. It is necessary to have a function such as inspection at the time of arrival, inventory confirmation at the end of the period, and barcode at the time of pricing. Some products cannot be managed with barcodes, and each must have a product name, price tag, and product code, and must have an inventory at the end of the fiscal year. Products are lined up in the shop, and at that stage, the cash register will be in place. There is a lot of work between the time when an order is placed and the time the goods are delivered to the consumer, and Smaregi provides a function that can comprehensively manage the movement of goods within the company.”
“Smaregi also has a function to manage operations from when a customer comes to the store until he or she returns. In the case of apparel, management of seasonal products is also necessary. Our strength is that we can provide services that enhance the competitiveness of our customers by providing all the functions that are essential for store operations and useful for business management, such as backend operations in inventory and customer management required by retail stores, and the ability to manage multiple stores and automatically aggregate and analyze sales data. Stores that have been managing stocks and orders using Excel have introduced Smaregi to reduce their work and financial burden.”
“After providing basic functions for free in July 2014, and converting to the freemium model to charge additional functions, The number of registered stores is steadily increasing, with approximately 59,000 stores as of October 2018 from about 19,000 stores as of April 2016. The breakdown of the subscribers by industry is retail 48% and restaurant 32%. Although Smaregi was released as a subscription service in September 2011 with customers paying cloud service monthly fees in selecting four pay plans according to functions required by users, new features are being added based on the customer needs collected by customer support.”
“Smaregi has been updated more than 250 times within seven and a half years from the release based on the voice of customers coming from sales and support and thinking about the functions that users want, meeting customer demand and enhancing convenience, leading to high customer satisfaction, and achieving a low churn rate of 0.82%. Rather than just implementing what is said, I think that it will become a more practical service by grasping the user’s insight and making improvements accordingly.”
“One of the attractiveness of Smaregi is that it is easy to use and that does not make you feel the number of functions which is over 500. We design and develop Smaregi to be intuitive and user-friendly for immediate usage and operation, like Apple products. Because Smaregi is a business system, we aim to be something that can be understood immediately rather than cool or cute. In the field of sales where speed and quality are always required, intuitiveness, ease of use, number of taps and processing speed are all very important issues. We use UI/UX design to realize stress-free operation by using tap and swipe directions. We implemented a ‘sales tutorial function’ that allows you to try Smaregi operation demos easily, improving the convenience of Smaregi and our related services.”
“The number of paid plan stores has grown from 7,541 in FY2017 to 8,906 in FY2018 to 10,303 in FY2019. ‘Standard’ plan with a POS cash register function that can be used at only one store is 0 yen per month. The ‘Premium’ plan (4,000 yen per month) can be used at multiple stores. In addition to a series of accounting functions, the most selected ‘Premium Plus’ plan (7,000 yen per month) also adds customer management and point management functions. There are also many analysis items such as daily, product, and customer base, and multi-faceted sales analysis is possible. The top-level plan, ‘Retail Business’ (12,000 yen per month), supports advanced inventory management (stock fluctuation history, inventory, store-to-store inventory transfer function, ordering, arrival, shipping, etc.). The major feature is that the majority of new contracts will continue to contribute to sales from the following fiscal year, and both stability and growth potential can be achieved.”
“Cumulative transaction amount also topped 1 trillion yen in March 2018. 500 billion yen is accumulated annually. Since sales data is accumulated in proportion to the accumulated transaction amount, it can be used for sales analysis and customer trend analysis in the future, and contribute to the activation of economic activities by creating new value for everyone involved in store management. We will create a system that can utilize commerce data in accordance with the diversifying user needs, and aim to become Japan’s best commerce data platform.”
“The number of foreigners visiting Japan is increasing every year, and expanding inbound consumption is a tailwind for Smaregi whose cloud POS has a ‘tax-free function’ that supports the complicated work of creating tax-free documents at the storefront. Furthermore, with the introduction of the consumption tax reduction rate system accompanying the consumption tax increase, which will come into effect from October 1, 2019, businesses will be able to introduce a cloud POS cash register corresponding to the reduction tax rate.”
“According to the ‘Survey on the status of preparation for consumption taxes in small and medium-sized enterprises’ published by the Japan Chamber of Commerce published on 28 Sept 2018, about 84% of businesses responded that they did not start preparing for a reduced tax rate. We think that it becomes special demand as replacement of existing store cash register happens at the same time.”
“Smaregi’s cloud POS also supports all six major mobile payment QR settlement code brands WeChat Pay, Alipay, dPay, PayPay, LINE Pay, Rakuten Pay. This code settlement correspondence is realized by the cooperation with the one-stop service ‘StarPay’ of QR settlement and code settlement provided by Netstars.”
“At checkout, it is not necessary to select a brand when reading a bar code screen presented by the user. No matter which brand of code you want to pay, just tap the StarPay code payment in Smaregi and read the code displayed on your smartphone to complete the payment. Smaregi will realize smooth customer response by reducing the psychological burden on stores and the cost of training due to the randomization and diversification of code payments. From 10 February 2017, Smaregi started cooperation with Square’s credit card payment service, expanding the store operator’s options for checkout and settlement.”
Smaregi’s Open Marketplace Platform & API Partnership Strategy
On Smaregi’s open marketplace platform and API partnership strategy, CEO Dr. Yamamoto shares: “As a growth strategy, we have released Smaregi 4.0 in order to meet customer needs by building an open platform for external companies to develop functions such as accounting systems and various credit card & mobile payments, and it will be possible to accumulate and manage sales data other than sales by cash register. We will publish information on technical specifications called APIs to the outside, and allow external companies to create and sell apps that can be used in conjunction with Smaregi.”
“By creating a platform of external development partners, we aim to speed up the response to a wide variety of customer needs and the expansion of sales data analysis functions. We will continue to add new functions from time to time based on user and company suggestions, and we focus on providing services that pursue appropriate usability. Such sales strategies and consumption trends have helped boost the number of registered stores.”
“On 26 Mar 2019, Smaregi and Miroku Jyoho Service (TSE: 9928) started API cooperation in integrating ‘MJS-Connect’ to automatically link daily sales data to ERP systems and cloud services developed and provided by MJS, as well as information linkage with major EC sites. As a result, daily sales conditions can be reflected in a timely manner without hassle, the early settlement of monthly financial statements for grasping the business condition in real time can be realized, and prompt management status improvement and business efficiency improvement are promoted.”
“On 28 Sep 2019, Smaregi and OBIC Business Consultants (TSE: 4733) collaborated to integrate the ‘Account Magistrate Cloud’ to automate work and promote the working style reform of SMEs. With the API cooperation, it is possible to automatically link sales and deposit data of each store collected in the cloud POS register of apparel and retail business to the ‘Account Magistrate Cloud’, and to quickly reflect each store’s P&L and business situation. In addition, unlike the conventional API linkage, correction data such as sales and payment errors at the store can also be linked as red or black processing on accounting, so accurate operation can be realized. This eliminates the need for sending sales & payment data itself, which has been required in the past, making it possible to easily grasp the latest business environment from the situation of each store.”
“The government is considering making it unnecessary for companies to prepare and submit documents related to taxes and social insurance with the goal to achieve this by 2021. When this is done, the company will put salary information etc. in the cloud, and the administration will be in the form of accessing and processing the data.”
“The promotion of cloud computing reduces the administrative burden on both the public and private sectors, and the cost is greatly reduced on both the corporate side and the administration side, and expectations for productivity improvement are heightened. API cooperation is indispensable for this realization, and OBIC will support active activities together with Smaregi.”
“From 2 April 2018, Smaregi and TKC (TSE: 9746) collaborated to link up ‘FX Series’ to reduce the amount of manual input to the accounting system and to reduce the time and effort of accounting operations by store operators and accounting firms supporting them. Specifically, using the API linkage, the sales data input into Smaregi is imported into ‘TKC Data Center’, and the accumulated data is stored in the cloud financial accounting system converted to journal data. Users can easily perform journaling and accounting only by confirming and correcting journal data received by the financial accounting system. Stores using Smaregi have the advantage of expanding the options for financial accounting systems that can be linked.”
“On 26 Mar 2019, Smaregi and Netshop Pro (https://netshop-pro.jp) collaborated to integrate the EC site centralized management system ‘Assist Store Manager’ (https://assist-tencho.com) to Smaregi, deepening our EC support solution and unifying sales and inventory information in both EC stores and actual physical stores. The ‘Assist Store Manager’ is not only managing data from multiple EC shops centrally, but also assists in maximizing LTV (customer lifetime value), a ‘flow through’ system that leads to success. Broadly divided, there are five functions in ‘order management’, ‘inventory management’, ‘customer management’, ‘analysis management’, and ‘mail management’, and many tasks from order acceptance to shipping are automated. It is also linked with a number of invoice issuing systems and a warehouse management system.”
“Through the cooperation, centralized management and batch registration of product information is made possible. The order entry data on Smaregi can be taken into the ‘Assist Store Manager’, which integrates with the order entry information of each EC mall and its sites, so integrated management of sales information of real physical and EC stores becomes possible. In addition, it is possible to transmit the stock data of the ‘Assist Store Manager’ to Smaregi. EC inventory and inventory of a real store can be managed as one inventory information. It will be possible to minimize the loss of sales opportunities due to out of stock not only at EC stores but also at actual stores. Product data of the ‘Assist Store Manager’ can be registered and updated collectively in Smaregi, which leads to more efficient product information registration work. For a busy EC company who is busy with various tasks every day, the introduction of this solution will allow more resources for sales activities and marketing.”
“On 30 Oct 2018, Smaregi and Hamee’s (TSE: 3134) NEXT Engine (https://next-engine.net) collaborated to realize the unification of sales and inventory data of EC shops and real physical stores in real-time.
“On 14 Jun 2018, Smaregi and UZEN’s domestic & cross-border EC platform ‘G1 Commerce’ (http://www.g1commerce.jp) collaborated to provide an environment where the latest omnichannel operation is possible. The API linkage with the POS cash register using the Smaregi API will connect members, products and stocks on the EC side (including the centralized management of the number of EC stocks and the number of stores in each store) and sales on the store side in real time. The latest omni-channel operation will be possible, such as (1) collecting inventory for both the EC and the store, and (2) confirming the sales by store on the EC side. The importance of omni-channelization is increasing. Directing customers to their online sales channels and real stores, and creating loyalty through providing rich shopping experiences and communication are extremely effective for creating fans and repeaters. On the other hand, linking inventory management, customer information, product information, etc. to the Internet in a realistic manner was also a fact in placing work burden on the business entity in terms of labor and time. With the new system collaboration, it will be possible to solve at once the operational issues necessary for omnification.”
“On 30 Jan 2019, Smaregi cooperated with Panasonic Information System’s cloud recording service ‘Ciero’ to support the quick identification of causes and the early resolution of problems around the cash register and contribute to sound store management. In restaurant and retail stores, cash register overruns (uncounted) money and troubles with the delivery of money to customers can cause staff to lose motivation in addition to accounting problems. However, it was difficult to completely prevent or identify the cause, and it took much time and effort to solve it.”
“Through the cooperation, you can search for camera images based on receipt information of Smaregi using key words such as ‘Receipt No’, ‘JAN Code’, ‘Product Name’, ‘Customer Officer’, etc. listed on the receipt, and the images at that time can be played immediately. In this way, for example, if there is a problem or overpayment on the delivery of money with a customer, it will be possible to immediately confirm on the spot, enabling an early solution. Furthermore, by searching for purchased products, you can also check the attributes of the purchaser from the video, making it possible to use for marketing. In the future, Ciero will cooperate with Smaregi in promoting work efficiency and marketing at food and beverage stores. Furthermore, we will pursue the possibility of video and data analysis using artificial intelligence.”
“Smaregi also collaborated with Safee, the #1 cloud video recording camera company for the retail and restaurant industry to link camera images on the cash register and journal data. The service records the register of the store from the top with a cloud recording camera for 24 hours, and flags the video of the timing when the settlement of the specific journal data is performed in the Smaregi and display it on the viewer to efficiently look back the image when the balance amount does not match the journal data at the cashier closing time or when cashier trouble occurs. You can look back from anywhere and anytime a specific journal data type, such as accounting or sales correction or sales cancellation is executed, and automatically flag the clip video at the time of occurrence of above journal data type.”
“The open source ecommerce construction package ‘EC-CUBE’ (https://www.ec-cube.net) provided by Lockon Co. (TSE: 3690) has now surpassed 1 million downloads and is being used by over 30,000 stores. By using the Smaregi API, it is possible to link ‘EC-CUBE with sales information, inventory information, and member information. By centrally managing information on Smaregi, it is possible to realize O2O.”
“’ApaRevo’ (https://www.otsuka-shokai.co.jp/erpnavi/product/aparevo) provided by Otsuka Shokai Co. is a sales management system that can manage wholesale, consignment (sales purchasing), and stores in a multipurpose manner, in response to the business customs and product characteristics unique to the apparel and fashion industry. It is possible to link products, inventory and sales data using the Smaregi API.”
“’WEB + cash register’ (http://www.web-regi.jp) provided by Megas Co.. and Whatever Partners Co. is a service that enables centralized management of products and inventory of real stores and EC sites using the Smaregi API.”
“Visionary (http://crm.is-visionary.com), provided by Futolek Co., Ltd., is a CRM management system that can be implemented in total from customer management to marketing effectiveness verification. By linking customer information and point information using Smaregi API, it is possible to realize advanced customer analysis, point management, and marketing management.”
“The ‘dodo point’ (https://www.dodopoint.com/jp) provided by Spoqa Co. is the first point service in Japan that allows customers to only enter their mobile phone number on a tablet, and use points and cards without requiring a card or application. By using the Smaregi API and linking the data of the accounting amount, the total number of points to be granted is instantly reflected in ‘dodo points’ according to the accounting amount fixed in Smaregi at the time of accounting. This not only saves the store from having to re-enter the accounting amount when giving points, but it also leads to a reduction in input errors and an increase in the point usage rate.”
“’FOODIT 21’ (https://www.mediamix.co.jp/en) provided by Mediamix Co. is a total system that supports strategic business management by checking the cost of sales in real time. Using Smaregi API, in addition to centralized management of sales, attendance, purchasing, and cost, recipe management can be performed, and the business management of the headquarters and stores can be supported with substantial functions for the food service industry.”
“ABEJA Platform for Retail (https://abejainc.com/insight/retail/ja) is a store analysis platform using artificial intelligence provided by ABEJA Inc., which enables the acquisition and analysis of store data that could not be quantified so far, such as the age, gender, and in-store travel status of customers by visualizing customer behavior from entry into the shop to purchase based on video cameras installed in the store. ABEJA Insight has been introduced in over 700 stores.”
On the future of POS cash register and the use of artificial intelligence
On the future of POS cash register and the use of artificial intelligence, CEO Dr. Yamamoto comments: “A large amount of sales information is accumulated daily in the POS system. By linking who, when, where, what, and how much you bought with personal, statistical, and other information, you will be able to discover new information that has never been seen before. From artificial intelligence analysis of what is sold, it becomes possible to analyze ‘what sells’. AI can order automatically from stock information, make an accurate sales plan, and forecast the future. It may be the time when AI manages the shop.”
TIME CARD and WAITER
When asked to elaborate on Smaregi’s two other SaaS solutions TIME CARD and WAITER, CEO Dr. Yamamoto shares: “TIME CARD is a cloud-type attendance management system with shift management, payroll accounting, vacation management, daily reporting and project management functions with detailed settings and various alerts according to the work environment, released in Dec 2013. There is a simple authentication that uses a camera of a smartphone or tablet. It is also possible to collaborate with other stores, and can create shifts across multiple stores.”
“The fee system is introduced as a freemium. Because time management is essential for people of various industries, we focus on the functions that users really need and focus on ease of use (UX). As well as revising premium rates such as health insurance and employment insurance, and updating in line with legal revisions, we release functions periodically while picking up user requests. There are over 54,843 registered stores (as of July 2018) and the number of users are over 552,688 people.”
“The basic function to stamp time cards and create attendance lists is provided free of charge, and it is a paid option for locations that perform advanced management functions such as shift creation and payroll calculation. The payroll calculation is a service that calculates the salary automatically based on the attendance record of TIME CARD. You can flexibly set complex pay systems and various allowances, insurance, and tax calculations, according to your workplace. The payroll accounting function reduces the cost of payroll calculation by about 70%. TIME CARD also cooperates with cloud payroll accounting software such as Money Forward’s (TSE: 3994) ‘MF Cloud Salary’ for automatic payroll calculation.”
“TIME CARD enables you to apply for and manage paid leave. When a staff member applies for taking a paid leave from the management screen, an email will be sent to the manager notifying that the paid leave has been applied, so the manager approves paid leave simply by clicking the URL in the email. You can approve or reject it. The staff will then receive an email notifying them that their paid leave has been approved or rejected.”
“TIME CARD is a function that was born to solve internal problems and created from the needs of Smaregi customers. If the time and attendance management and payroll management are managed separately, it will be difficult to check as the number of employees increases, and there is a limit to the management in Excel. Development began with the goal of solving the problem in the same system. Now, users can manage stores and employees together in a seamless manner in coordination with Smaregi and TIME CARD.”
“Users are able to use TIME CARD up to 10 people at a monthly basic charge of 2,000 yen. From the 11th person, monthly basis charge 2,000 yen + 300 yen per employee. For example, for a small business with 20 employees, monthly basic charge is 2,000 yen + 10 people ✕ 300 yen = It is available at 5,000 yen every month.”
“WAITER is a order entry management system for restaurant using smartphone and tablet to make your restaurant work smarter without making mistakes, released in Nov 2012. When the customer is guided to the table and the order is received, the order is registered and managed in WAITER, and the information is seamlessly shared to the kitchen and cash register. In addition to managing orders, the management screen on the cloud allows you to check in real time the status of the store, such as entry status and order status, from anywhere in the world.”
“WAITER also has a ‘self-ordering’ function released in June 2013, in which the smartphone owned by the customer becomes the ordering terminal, which can reduce the hassle for customers when ordering. When you take an order with WAITER, you can check the number of remaining menus each time, so your guidance to customers will be smoother. It becomes easier to manage limited menus, and it is possible for staff to proactively suggest menus that they want to sell out.”
“Weather result information provided by Japan Meteorological Co. in the specified area is automatically imported and displayed on the ‘Event Calendar’ and you can analyze the correlation between events, weather and sales, and use it to boost sales. The ‘Inventory alert function’ notifies you before stock runs out.”
“Cooperation with TIME CARD can capture labor costs from time cards. We have implemented functions that make management tasks such as stock check more smooth.”
“In September 2017, we released the WAITER BOX, which allows you to take your order and conduct sales as usual, even if your Internet connection goes offline. The order data stored in the WAITER BOX is automatically synchronized to the cloud when the Internet connection is restored.”
Work-Style Reform Legislation That Takes Effect From 1 April 2019
On the industry dynamics, specially the positive impact of the work-style reform legislation that takes effect from 1 April 2019 on Smaregi’s TIME CARD business, CEO Dr. Yamamoto comments: “The new “Work Style Reform Legislation” was passed in July 2018 and makes significant revisions to Japan’s labor laws. Most of the amendments take effect from 1 April 2019. Employers that have operations in Japan need to take immediate action to comply with the new requirements that will increase the demand for attendance & time management systems like TIME CARD. Many companies still use time cards and spreadsheets to manage employee attendance, and it takes a lot of work to calculate working hours. These new requirements include (1) maximum limit of overtime work; (2) increased overtime rate for small employers; (3) requirement to take annual leave; (4) time tracking requirement for all employees.”
“Currently, there is an administrative guideline that sets a limit on overtime hours. Under the new law, however, there will be an express and mandatory maximum limits to overtime hours unless the job falls into one of the few exempt positions. This limit on overtime will become effective for large employers starting from 1 April 2019, and for small employers starting from 1 April 2020.”
“In April 2010, Japan’s wage laws were revised to increase the premium for overtime that exceeded 60 hours per month from 1.25 times the regular rate to 1.5 times the regular rate. Small employers, however, were exempt from this amendment and could maintain a 1.25-times-the-regular-rate premium no matter how many overtime hours their employees worked. This exemption will be abolished and all employers—including small employers—will be required to pay a 1.5-times-the-regular-rate premium if the employee’s overtime exceeds 60 hours in a month. This change will become effective from 1 April 2023.”
“Japan has a mandatory annual leave system. Full-time employees are generally entitled to annual leave ranging from 10 to 20 days depending on the length of service with the employer. There is no mandatory sick leave, so employees will usually take annual leave when they get sick. The challenge is that the rate of the annual leave taken is 51.1%; therefore, the new law will require employees to take at least five days of annual leave if they have more than 10 days of unused annual leave. In other words, if the employee has not taken five days of annual leave in a year, the employer needs to specify the days for annual leave so that the employee will actually take those days off. This requirement will become effective in April 2019.”
“Employers are currently required to track the working time of all non-exempt employees in Japan. With the new law, however, employers will be required to track working hours for all employees including exempt employees in order to protect each employee’s health. This new law takes effect on April 1, 2019.”
Success Cases from the Voice of Customers
When asked to share some success cases from the voice of customers, CEO Dr. Yamamoto said: “Nano Universe, which develops fashion select shops nationwide, adopted Smaregi cloud POS in 2015 at all its 68 stores as part of its omnichannel strategy. Sales data are sent to the cloud and there are advanced analysis functions. The speed in processing duty-free sales for foreign tourists has become overwhelmingly faster. Before the introduction of Smaregi, it was tax-free sales at only a few stores. In previous tax-free sales, it was handwritten to transcribe three pieces of tax-free documents, but it took quite a long time, and omissions or mistakes in the description of the goods and money occurred. There are many useful functions on Smaregi. These include the Quick Command which allows you to create a pre-specified discount rate or discount name and place it on the button in the main list. In certain stores, we offer discount service only on Wednesday and on rainy days. In addition, ‘Smacare Store’ is a function that allows you to order receipt roll paper online within the management screen of Smaregi which will be sent directly to the store, which is very convenient.”
“Smaregi has API to link and coordinate between POS and ERP and CRM which has been a catalyst for introducing omni-channel strategy. From ERP to Smaregi, we are linking product and department data, and from Smaregi to ERP, we are linking reconciliation information and sales information. CRM and Smaregi links transaction information with member information and customer loyalty point information in real-time. Seamless information linking (O2O) between real stores and online shopping sites is possible. In anticipation of cross-border EC, Smaregi can cooperate with CRM of foreigners using EC. Smaregi is popular with shop staff for its easy operation. The backend operation of the store was simplified and the system and staff could focus on customer service.”
“Kyoto Kimono Rental Wargo operates Japan’s largest kimono rental service with over 150,000 pieces rented yearly and has 84 stores specializing in Japanese handicraft goods. Kyoto Kimono Rental has switched to Smaregi cloud POS to see the sales of all non-retail stores and to change the way products are managed to prepare for listing. It has become necessary to change what used to be the selling price reduction method to the moving average method. In 2018, we introduced Smaregi RFIC tag which resulted in super efficient inventory management and a substantial reduction in time required for stock-taking.”
“First of all, it takes a long time to find one kimono because the stock of kimono is stored in the chest. Thanks to the introduction of RFID, man-hours have been reduced to about one tenth. The cost of RFID tags is falling, and it is good to introduce it as it can be used in conjunction with Smaregi. We stock about tens of thousands of stock in the warehouse and the difference rate is about 0.5%, and we are satisfied with the accuracy. In addition, for small items like bags, it is cumbersome to read tags with a traditional barcode reader. Efficient and easy inventory management in warehouses with tens of thousands of stocks has reduced the psychological work burden on staff.”
“Tabio is a specialized retailer in socks that have delicate comfort and design unique to ‘Made in Japan’ and adopted Smaregi cloud POS for all its 278 stores. As the store area is relatively small, about 10-15 tsubo, the area allocated to the cash register is naturally limited. The existing cash register is large, or about 1/4 of the cash counter, which makes it cumbersome in the transaction exchange with the customers in a narrow space. We searched for cloud POS tablet companies on whether there is a bundle sales function, for example 3 pairs of stocks for 1,000 yen, and whether there is an API compatible with omnichannel.”
“In the comparison, Smaregi came out first ranked with the functions and the design side also jumped out. The user interface and operation of the screen were intuitive and the most easy to understand without the need to look at the manual. It’s amazing that you don’t need the operation instructions. Previously, when opening a store for a week at a shopping mall event, we do not know what we sold using the legacy cash register. It is often the case that sales and cash do not match. With Smaregi cloud POS, sales and cash and product inventory which are stock-managed at SKUs are synchronized. Until now, it was hard to be honest.”
CEO Dr. Yamamoto summed up by emphasizing the long-term strategy to scale up Smaregi like how Salesforce.com did with AppExchange: “When I think of what is a model software business architecture to scale, one type is like Salesforce.com, which is a platform software created in-house and it was collecting and scaling many third-party software applications. It is good involving external partners to create a market, an ecosystem. I want to scale software business like Salesforce.com.”
It started with rethinking a few questions. Question No. 1: Can the megacap tech elephants still dance? Or is this the better question: Is there an alternative and better way to capture long-term investment returns created by disruptive forces and innovation without chasing the highly popular megacap tech stocks, or falling for the “Next-Big-Thing” trap in overpaying for “growth”, or investing in the fads, me-too imitators, or even in seemingly cutting-edge technologies without the ability to monetize and generate recurring revenue with a sustainable and scalable business model? How can we distinguish between the true innovators and the swarming imitators?
Question No. 2: What if the “non-disruptive” group of reasonably decent quality companies with seemingly “cheap” valuations, a fertile hunting ground of value investors, all need to have their longer-term profitability and balance sheet asset value to be “reset” by deducting a substantial amount of deferred innovation-related expenses and investments every year, given that they are persistently behind the innovation cycle against the disruptors, just to stay “relevant” to survive and compete? Let’s say this invisible expense and deferred liability in the balance sheet that need to be charged amount to 20 to 30% of the revenue (or likely more), its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lurks and lies in wait. Would you still think that they are still “cheap” in valuation?
Consider the déjà vu case of Kmart vs Walmart in 2000s and now Walmart vs Amazon. It is easy to forget that Kmart spent US$2 billion in 2000/01 in IT and uses the same supplier as Walmart – IBM. The tangible assets and investments are there in the balance sheet and valuations are “cheap”. Yet Kmart failed to replicate to compound value the way it did for Walmart. Now Walmart is investing billions to “catch up” and stay relevant. Key word is “relevancy” to garner valuation.
We now live in an exponential world, and as the Baupost chief and super value investor Seth Klarman warns, disruption is accelerating “exponentially” and value investing has evolved. The paradigm shift to avoid the cheap-gets-cheaper “value traps”, to keep staying curious & humble, and to keep learning & adapting, has never been more critical for value investors. We believe there is a structural break in data in the market’s multi-year appraisal (as opposed to “mean reversion” in valuation over a time period of 2-5 years) on the type of business models, the “exponential innovators”, that can survive, compete and thrive in this challenging exponential world we now live in. Tech-focused innovators with non-linear exponential growth potential are the most relevant multi-year investment trend and opportunity.
During our value investing journey in the Asian capital jungles over the decade plus, we have observed that many entrepreneurs were successful at the beginning in growing their companies to a certain size, then growth seems to suddenly stall or even reverse, and they become misguided or even corrupted along the way in what they want out of their business and life, which led to a deteriorating tailspin, defeating the buy-and-hold strategy and giving currency to the practice of trading-in-and-out of stocks. On the other hand, there exists an exclusive, under-the-radar, group of innovators who are exceptional market leaders in their respective fields with unique scalable business models run by high-integrity, honorable and far-sighted entrepreneurs with a higher purpose in solving high-value problems for their customers and society whom we call H.E.R.O. – “Honorable. Exponential. Resilient. Organization.”, the inspiration behind the H.E.R.O Innovators Fund, (surprisingly) the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry.
The H.E.R.O. are governed by a greater purpose in their pursuit to contribute to the welfare of people and guided by an inner compass in choosing and focusing on what they are willing to struggle for and what pains they are willing to endure, in continuing to do their quiet inner innovation work, persevering day in and day out. There’s a tendency for us to think that to be a disruptive innovator or to do anything grand, you have to have a special gift, be someone called for. We think ultimately what really matters is the resolve — to want to do it, bring the future forward by throwing yourself into it, to give your life to that which you consider important. We aim to penetrate into the deeper order that whispers beneath the surface of tech innovations and to stand on the firmer ground of experience hard won through hearing and distilling the essence of the stories of our H.E.R.O. in overcoming their struggles and in understanding the origin of their quiet life of purpose, who opened their hearts to us that resilience and innovation is an art that can be learned, which can embolden all of us with more emotional courage and wisdom to go about our own value investing journey and daily life.
As the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused listed equities fund in the industry, we believe we are uniquely positioned as a distinctive and alternative investment strategy for both institutional and individual investors who seek to capture long-term investment returns created by disruptive forces and innovation without herding or crowding to invest in the highly popular megacap tech stocks, and also provide capital allocation benefit to investors in building optionality in their overall investment portfolio.
The H.E.R.O. HeartWare Weekly highlights interesting tech news and listed Asian emerging tech innovators with unique and scalable wide-moat business models to keep yourself well-informed about disruptive forces and innovation, new technologies and new business models coming up, and the companies that ride on and benefit from them in some of the most promising areas of the economy in Asia as part of our thought leadership for our Asia HERO Innovators Fund to add value to our clients and the community. Hope you find the weekly report to be useful and insightful. Please give us your candid feedback and harshest criticisms so that we can improve further to serve you better. Besides the BATTSS (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, TSMC, Softbank, Samsung), do also tell us which Asian tech entrepreneurs & CEOs whom you admire and respect and why – we will endeavor to do up profiles of them for sharing with the community. Thank you very much and have a beautiful week ahead.
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