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Power’s Probably the Problem

Cheap Power Strip

I wish someone could sit in my seat all day and see just how many calls The Computer Peeps get that seem to be issues with consignment software, tag printers, receipt printers, etc…only to find, it was a power-related issue.

Power — it’s essentially everything.  In a consignment store, you might not always have the *best* power available.  Whether it’s a limited amount of outlets, older buildings with older wiring, or outlet location (which means things like jewelry case lighting, vacuums, fans, etc. are plugged-in where computers are plugged-in), power-related issues are probably one of the most common calls we receive.

First, here’s a list of some do’s and don’ts:

  • Avoid those cheap, white, plastic power strips (notice I didn’t call it a surge strip) like the plague.  Many of them don’t work and if you have thermal tag printers, thermal receipt printers, and/or laser printers plugged-in to these, they can easily be overwhelmed, which causes your printers to stop working…which depending on your consignment software, causes it to crash or misbehave.
  • Don’t use extension cords for printers or computers.
  • Make sure each computer is on a managed battery backup — i.e. one that has a USB cable and software that will email you when there’s a power alert.  This alone, has helped us identify issues such as printers plugged-in to a battery backup, so we can help our customers avoid bigger issues down the road.
  • Never plug-in fans, printers, lamps, vacuums, or anything other than your computer, its monitor, and its USB hub to a battery backup.

Your electrical setup is your foundation.  On top of that, your computers, printers, and consignment software all reside.  Unstable/overloaded/unreliable power = unstable/unreliable systems.  All of the above can lead to Windows damage (which means your computer is down until Windows is repaired/restored/reinstalled), or even hardware damage…and if backups aren’t in place, now we’re talking about losing data, consignor info., sales history, etc.

If you do have to use a surge strip, The Computer Peeps recommend something like this APC SurgeArrest — notice it’s rated for over 3,000 Joules.

For battery backups, The Computer Peeps recommend CyberPower in conjunction with their PowerPanel Business Edition software.  Furthermore, label your battery backup like this — you’d be amazed how many issues this prevents:

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https://thecomputerpeeps.com/images/snaps/dean/15/2017-10-24_1516.png

 

Liberty Reports Error 567

This past Sunday, Irene from Clothes Circuit in Dallas called-in, unable to run reports from certain workstations.  The error she was seeing was

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Error 567 @ Sales Detail if Jewelry Printer is the Default Printer

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At first glance, the error appears to point to an issue on the server itself.  One might think a database-specific issue, or an issue with accessing the report file across the network.

A quick test of reports on the server, shows reports are running without error and other workstations, are also able to run the same report without error.

The systems in question can all access the server’s RWD share without issue, so it’s not an authentication issue or a path issue.

If you’re familiar with and utilize Liberty, there’s a very important factor to be aware of – Liberty relies on the Default Windows Printer in order to preview/print reports.  There is no place in Liberty to specify the printer you always want to use for reports:

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default_windows_printer_liberty
No Report Printer Setting In Liberty – It Relies On the Default Windows Printer

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So there’s a dependency on something that is outside of Liberty’s control and that is, which printer is set as your Default Windows Printer.  If the Default Windows Printer ever changes or isn’t available/functional, it can impact Liberty in a variety of ways.

In this instance, the Default Windows Printer had been changed to the Zebra printer which is configured for Jewelry Labels:

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JEWELRY_DEFAULT
Zebra LP2824 Configured for Jewelry, Set As the Default Windows Printer

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This changed, when an employee connected from home via remote software, so she could print Jewelry Labels from home.  Her remote software toggles/sets the Default Windows Printer to the printer she uses across her remote connection, which is the Zebra printer configured for Jewelry Labels.

Once the Default Windows Printer had been changed to a Zebra configured for Jewelry Labels, the Liberty Sales Detail report — a report storeowners typically run on a daily basis — started failing with Error 567.

To a store owner, that can seem like a pretty drastic error, all because of a simple Default Printer change.

For this specific issue, it was an easy enough fix – just right-click a ‘normal’ printer and set it as the Default Printer:

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'Normal' Printer Set As the Default Windows Printer
‘Normal’ Printer Set As the Default Windows Printer

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We just wanted to document how easy it is to cause what appears to be a major error — one that prevents you from running core sales reports — all due to a printer selection, completely outside of Liberty’s control.  This is where the notion comes from, that having ‘perfect’ systems, configured just for your consignment software, utilized only for your consignment software, are so important.  One little thing and womp, womp, reports are “broken”.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or give us a buzz @ (888) 374-5422.

This issue was reported directly to the vendor on 3/19/2015.

Vulnerability In HP LaserJet Pro Printers Could Provide Intruders With Access To WiFi

HP LaserJet Pro 1102w

HP has posted a vulnerability alert that could allow a hacker access to your WiFi network via your wirelessly-connected HP LaserJet Pro printer.

A printer on the vulnerability list is the HP LaserJet Pro P1102w, one of the more common HP printers utilized by businesses.

We are frequently asked to configure WiFi printers, but we are strong opponents to such configurations both for reliability purposes, as well as security issues such as this.  We recommend not utilizing WiFi unless absolutely necessary and having a printer connected via WiFi, simply isn’t worth the reliability and vulnerability issues.

The PCI DSS also recommends not implementing WiFi unless absolutely necessary…

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PCI DSS Wireless
PCI DSS Wireless | Click to Enlarge

Source: PCI DSS @ https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/security_standards/documents.php?category=saqs

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Affected printers are vulnerable until owners download and install the latest firmware via HP’s Support page.

New Client Setup w/ 3 Dedicated Tag Printers

We’re finishing up a two-computer network setup for a new client, Kismet in Downingtown, PA.  They’re utilizing a total of 3 dedicated tag printers for their store.  One for each style of tag/label they’ll be using.

If you print enough of any particular style of tag or label in your consignment store, then you can reduce the amount of issues you run into when it comes time to swap out your rolls of tags.  Having more than one printer isn’t for everyone and they do take up space, but if your consignment store sells enough jewelry + clothing + housewares, then a dedicated printer for each style is a huge time saver.

Kismet’s utilizing our refurbished Zebra LP2844 printers which have been professionally refurbished.  They include a new power supply + a new USB cable as well.  Any printer purchased from The Computer Peeps includes free installation as well.

How To Recalibrate Your Zebra Thermal Tag Printer [VIDEO]

One of the first troubleshooting steps when working with a Zebra tag printer, is performing what’s referred to as a Memory Dump.  For all intents and purposes, you’re re-calibrating the printer.  If you’ve just printed using a new tag format, the Zebra tag printer might skip tags and “fault”/go to a red light.

If tags were printing just fine a second ago and nothing has changed other than the tag format you select within your consignment software or the roll of tags in the printer itself, then the first thing we recommend is a Memory Dump.

The following is a video that demonstrates how to perform a Memory Dump.  This video utilizes a Zebra LP2824 tag printer.  The steps are identical for the the Zebra LP2844.

Common reasons to recalibrate your printer:

  • You just swapped out a roll of tags
  • You just switched from regular 2-across tags to jewelry tags

Common issues that arise when recalibrating your printer:

  • Documents are left waiting in the printer’s queue (e.g. you went to print tags but the roll ran out) resulting in “gibberish” printing on your tags during a Memory Dump
  • Printing is ‘paused’ or the printer goes ‘offline’

Here is a video that demonstrates what happens if you attempt a Memory Dump, while documents are still in the print queue:

Notice the “gibberish” all over the tags?  This is an example of how one issue can snowball.  Typically it starts with a roll of tags running out during the middle of a print job.  This leaves unprinted documents in the queue.  You swap out rolls, but the tags aren’t lining-up.  You then try a Memory Dump, not realizing there are unprinted tags in the queue.  A perfect storm.  🙂

So make sure and cancel all print jobs before attempting a Memory Dump.  For clients on our Monthly Support plan or for clients who have purchased computers from The Computer Peeps, it’s as easy as clicking the Printer Panic Button:

The Computer Peeps' Printer Panic Button
The Computer Peeps’ Printer Panic Button

For those of you without a Printer Panic Button, in order to cancel documents in the print queue, first view the print queue…

In Windows 7…

Windows 7 Print Queue

In Windows XP…

Windows XP Print Queue

Then Cancel All Documents via the Printer menu…

Cancel All Documents

Under the same menu, you’ll find the Pause Printing option and the Use Printer Offline option…

Pause Printing & Use Printer Offline
Pause Printing & Use Printer Offline

Notice how Use Printer Offline is checked and shows the same status in the title bar?

So it can quickly go from just running out of tags, to a printer stuck in Memory Dump mode, a paused printer,  queue full of documents and an offline printer.  You could reboot over and over again and the issue will persist.  So when the printer seems to have taken a turn for the worst, always try the following, in this order:

  • Power-off the printer
  • Cancel all documents in the print queue
  • Perform a Memory Dump
  • Verify the printer isn’t ‘offline’
  • Verify printing isn’t ‘paused’

The Computer Peeps have prepared step-by-step Memory Dump instructions you can print out and keep near each of your tag printers.

Click the PDF icon below to download and print your own copy of the Memory Dump instructions!

Consignment Software Tag Styles/Formats

One of the primary reasons a consignment or resale store uses consignment software, is to print price tags.  Once inventory has been entered into a consignment software program, you can then print tags.  Price tags include everything from the item description, to the price and even a bar code!

Each of the programs we’ll discuss support the direct thermal “2-across” tags.  Here is an image, courtesy of Forms Plus, Inc…

consignment software thermal tags
Forms Plus Direct Thermal Tags

Let’s take a closer look at each of the “basic” tag styles from some of the consignment software programs on the market…

Consignment Success

consignment software thermal tags
Consignment Success 2-Across Tags

ConsignPro

consignment software thermal tags
ConsignPro 2-Across Tags

Liberty

consignment software thermal tags
Liberty 2-Across Tags

There are myriad other formats, but the 2-across direct thermal tag is the most common in the consignment industry.  We’ll add additional tag styles from other programs very soon, along with actual images of tags printed with a Zebra LP2844 tag printer!

As always, let us know if you have any questions!

Windows Updates – The Good and the Bad

Windows is an Operating System, one that most of you are running – well, all of you if you’re running consignment software.  Just like any application software, Windows is updated from time to time.  I’m not talking about going from XP to Vista or 7.  Within each version of Windows, it is constantly updated.  The majority of the time, these are security updates (to help keep your computer protected from vulnerabilities).  This is “The Good” portion of Windows updates.

Some of these updates aren’t specific to Windows though.  Hardware devices (e.g. printers) can receive updates from Microsoft.  This is “The Bad” portion of Windows updates; well, at least it can be.

The reason I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the good and bad sides of Windows Updates, is because your tag printer can be affected.  You know, the little device that is basically the life blood of your business.  If you can’t tag items, you can’t put inventory out on the floor for sale.

In a recent update, I noticed Microsoft recommended one for my Zebra LP2824 driver…

Zebra + Windows Updates

Now, I’m not saying that installing this update is going to break everyone’s tag printer.  What I am saying is, any change to your printer driver (the software that makes your tag printer function) can lead to undesirable results.  Even the slightest change can cause alignment issues, skipping tags, etc.

So it’s a double-edge sword keeping your system up to date.  You want to make sure Windows is updated and secure.  You don’t want to just let any and all updates come down, not without your knowledge.

Recommended Consignment Hardware for Consignment/Resale Stores

Consignment hardware can be a difficult maze to negotiate.  When you’re just getting started, it can be confusing (to say the least) trying to weed through all the details.  Which computer should I buy, which printers do I need, is this scanner compatible, etc.  This post will discuss the consignment hardware that will make any consignment store owner’s life a little easier.  All of the consignment hardware items you see on this page can be purchased directly from The Computer Peeps.  Before you purchase from your consignment software vendor, compare their prices to ours.  Compare their consignment software to ours.  We can save you both time and money.  Why buy consignment hardware for twice the price?

I think most will agree, tags are where it all starts.  The tag is what the customer sees, so you want it to look nice, clean and professional.  Also, printing bar codes from your consignment software provides you with inventory control.  While you can print tags from a laser or ink jet printer, let’s get serious here – you’re running a business and you want to do things the right way.  It is for this reason that we think any consignment store should start out with a good thermal tag printer.

Consignment Hardware Tag Printer
Thermal Tag Printer

Many avoid purchasing a thermal tag printer simply because they tend to cost too much.  Unfortunately, you’ll find that many mark-up these printers way too much.  This is why we carry professionally refurbished thermal tag printers.

There are definitely concerns when you purchase a previously owned printer, but if you buy from a reputable seller, you can save a LOT of money!    Do we recommend just going out and buying any refurbished/previously owned printer you come across?  No.  There are some key questions that need to be asked and it’s important you buy from a legitimate seller/business.  We’ve had many clients buy 2 or 3 printers before contacting us.

Consignment Point of Sale Barcode Scanner
Barcode Reader

The next piece of hardware I think every resale store should have is a bar code scanner.  In case you don’t know what this is, it’s the little hand-held device you see at virtually any retail location.  Instead of the employee manually entering item numbers, you just scan the bar code and the item is entered into POS (or whichever screen you’re working in – you can use the scanner to post items, lookup items, etc.)  A bar code scanner makes checkout a fast and easy process.  It also reduces (if not completely omits) mistakes at POS.  You don’t want an employee selling one item when it’s really supposed to be another.  A bar code scanner really should cost more than about $100 or so.  Some are less than $100, some are a little more.  Again, and sadly, some mark-up these devices so much that many think they just can’t afford one.  The great thing about a bar code scanner is, it’s such a basic device – like a mouse or keyboard.  There’s no installation (just plug it in) and there’s very little configuration.

Consignment point of sale receipt printer
Thermal Receipt Printer

The last of the “holy trinity” of POS devices, so to speak, is the receipt printer.  This is one device that you can live without at first.  If it were me though, I’d go ahead and get all three – a tag printer, bar code scanner and a receipt printer.  The reason you can live without one at first is, most of the consignment software programs let you print receipts to any printer.  While it might not be a nice, slim receipt, it’s a receipt.  I think the main reason resale store owners avoid receipt printers (or hardware in general), is the cost.  That’s why we’re here though!  If you have the right consultant (eh hem, us!) you can get all of the core devices for what one would pay for a tag printer alone!  There’s a reason all of this isn’t nice and buttoned up in one place (well, until now) – because people make a lot of money of this stuff!  If we can help resale stores get the right hardware (used or new) and help get it setup the right way from day 1, it means more businesses can focus on providing a great service.  A resale store shouldn’t have to fork over $1,000 for hardware alone.  It’s just not worth it for the “assurance” that it works.

A cash drawer is pretty important piece to the POS puzzle.  Some might argue that it’s not needed at first, but where the heck are you going to keep your cash and checks!  🙂  Again, these can be purchased for far less than most are used to seeing.  It’s important to not just buy any drawer you see though.  These devices work directly with the receipt printer, so compatibility is paramount.

Don’t forget your reports/check printer either!  This isn’t as critical as far as, you don’t need to be too worried about which device you purchase.  Something that’s worth pointing out is, go with a laser printer vs. ink-jet.  You’re going to be printing checks and reports in black and white, so you don’t need to run out and buy a new color laser printer.  Don’t consider this printer an “all purpose” printer though.  You want to invest in a solid laser printer, one that will be dedicated to printing checks and reports.  They’re only about $100 so it’s not a huge investment.  Dedicating the printer to just those tasks, will extend the life of the printer and reduce headaches.  For printing everything else (e.g. notes to post around the shop, coupons for the front counter, etc.), grab an inexpensive ink-jet printer.  You could even go with a color laser printer if you want crisp, sharp printing.  They’re not as expensive as they used to be (now approximately $200-$300).  The key is, leave the black and white laser printer for printing reports and checks, that’s it.

One piece of hardware that many don’t consider (because it’s not one of the “obvious” pieces) is an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).  This is basically a surge protector + an internal battery.  Computers do not like to be interrupted by power outages.  A power outage can corrupt data and lead to damages that can’t be recovered from (not for cheap, that is).  They’re so inexpensive – about $50-$60.  I have one on every system here in our home office – even our TV/entertainment center.  It’s one of the best investments you can make and it will save you from a major headache.

There are other devices – e.g. credit card swipe, PIN pad, pole display, etc. – which aren’t required.  The credit card swipe is so inexpensive though and if you’re going to accept credit cards, then much like a bar code scanner prevents mis-keyed items, a mag(netic) swipe will make credit card processing a breeze.

Whew!  That was supposed to be a quick rundown on POS hardware devices and look what it turned into!  Boy can I talk/type!  🙂  Just in case you missed anything, let’s recap:

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  • Get a thermal tag printer.  You don’t need to spend upward of $500 – you can get great, refurbished printers.  It will make your inventory management much easier and it makes for a professional looking appearance.
  • Grab a bar code scanner as well.  For the price of an expensive meal for two, you can get a scanner that prevents employees from making mistakes during checkout.  It’s also another component that makes for a professional appearance.  Instead of wrestling tags to get the item #, just *bam* scan the tag and move on.  I know I don’t like to stand in lines and wait.  😉
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t afford a receipt printer!  If you know where to shop (and we can help you with that), you can get the final piece to the POS puzzle.  A nice receipt is the cherry on top of the inventory life/sales cycle.
  • Get a UPS!!!  You can’t afford to lose your data just because someone tripped over a power cable or switched off a power strip.
  • While you’re at it (and since they’re so inexpensive), pickup a credit card swipe (mag swipe).  Accepting credit cards is pretty much a given these days.  A mag swipe makes processing payments quick and accurate.

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I could get into backups (e.g. to USB Flash Drives) in this article, but I want to keep this to just POS hardware (the UPS being the one exception).  If anyone has ANY questions, feel free to ask!

I hope this sheds some light on the POS hardware selection fiasco most new store owners face!

Buying a tag printer

The average cost of a new Zebra LP2844 printer is currently about $350, give or take.  Some companies charge nearly $500 for this model!!!  You can purchase brand new printers or you can try to save a little…well, a lot of money if you purchase a refurbished/used printer.  A quick search of eBay returns quite a few legitimate listings (sellers with high Feedback ratings).

When you’re about to purchase a tag printer, you can go brand new or you can go previously-owned.  Most if not all of the consignment software vendors sell hardware.  The prices across the various vendors range between $350-$450 for the Zebra LP2844.  The benefit of buying your tag printer from your software vendor, is compatibility.  You get a guarantee that the printer is compatible with your software.  Also, you’ll typically receive support for the first 30 days.  e.g. installing the printer, troubleshooting issues, etc.  After 30 days though, all bets are off.  If tags stop lining up, if you move the printer and it stops working, etc. typically, your software vendor will not support the issue – not without paying a fee or being on a “plan”.

On the other end of the spectrum are the previously-owned printers.  You can find a Zebra LP2844 on eBay for around $100.  If you purchase from a reputable seller, you typically get a guarantee (exchange or money back).  If you find a reputable computer technician (eh hem, like The Computer Peeps), you can get a tag printer up and running for a fraction of the price of a new one.

Do The Computer Peeps recommend buying the first tag printer you find on eBay?  No.  Do The Computer Peeps think there are options to consider?  Yes.

We’re not trying to discourage you from purchasing hardware from your software vendor.  There’s something to be said for purchasing everything “under one roof”.  Sometimes however, the cost can be quite high.  You have to ask yourself, “what am I getting for the money?”  Just because you’re spending a ton of money doesn’t mean you’re getting something different or better.  A printer that costs nearly $500 still won’t be supported 6 months after you purchase it.

Tag printers

A tag printer is piece of consignment hardware that a consignment store utilizes to print bar codes/tags for inventory.  Two tag printers stand out in the consignment industry:

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Consignment Hardware Zebra LP2844
Zebra LP2844 Thermal Tag Printer

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Consignment Hardware Zebra LP2824
Zebra LP2824 Thermal Tag Printer

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Both of the above printers are direct-thermal printers.  This means, they do not use ink to print tags.  Instead, a print head in the printer generates heat.  Special tags with a reactive coating (thermal tags) are used in conjunction with the above printers.  The 2844 is the more popular of the two printers.  It is used by UPS, in hospitals and of course, in resale stores.

The 2824 is simply a “lesser” version of the 2844.  It can hold the same tags used with the various consignment software programs.  It tends to print a little lighter than the 2844 (can be tweaked in the driver), typically doesn’t last as long, etc.  If you’re a low-volume store, the 2824 could work out just great!  Always check with your software vendor for compatibility though.

Recap:

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  • Thermal printers do not use ink, rather, heat
  • Thermal printers use specialized tags with a heat-sensitive coating
  • The LP2844 and LP2824 are the most popular in the consignment industry

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