Leveraging Technology & Software in Retail
It’s a new year and flooring businesses are setting goals for growth and improvement. Upgrading business management systems is a sure-fire way retailers can streamline business functions and maximize profits.
Often the small business management software a company purchased to help get off the ground isn’t the ideal solution as a business grows. While low-cost, entry-level solutions are great when you are starting out, there often comes a point where it becomes beneficial to consider solutions with more functionality and features. So where does a dealer begin?
Identifying the Right Software
“When looking for software, identify what are the most important features you are looking for, and then evaluate does the software do it?” said Lee Weaver, office manager at Weaver’s Carpet and Tile in Lebanon, Pa. “When we were looking to buy, job costing, inventory management, and purchase ordering were three of the biggest features we were looking for.”
With a new system, experts say to make sure you’ll have access to features such as business-to-business integration, web-based installation scheduling, EMV chip technology, barcode equipment and software, integrated estimating software, electronic document storage and signature capture—a system that goes beyond automating internal business practices.
“Make sure your new system automates every aspect of your business, not just accounting and some sales,” said Kelly Oechslin, marketing coordinator for RollMaster software. “You need the full picture to generate real-time, up-to-the-minute data on your business, including sales analysis, job costing, and financials.”
Cloud-based systems allow for 24/7 access from any internet-connected laptop or computer. They also eliminate the need for expensive hardware/server installations and maintenance.
“You want to look at what the software does,” said Aaron Falk, controller, Nonn’s Flooring in Madison, Wis. “Evaluate what you need the software to do and give it a weight. Then add them up and compare.”
Oechslin also recommends shopping flooring-specific software systems: “Don’t go the route of attempting to retrofit a generic software to this industry; you’ll spend all your time and effort doing that rather than better understanding your business.”
Chad Ogden, president and chief executive officer of QFloors software, encourages dealers to look at the return on investment when looking for software: “Business owners are sometimes nervous about the cost of industry-specific software. Sometimes they continue to limp along using generic accounting software from the office supply store, but it’s important to look at not only the purchase price but also the return on that investment. What will make them more money in the end?”
When technology does its job, it should affect your success as a company. For example, by increasing profits and productivity, better software can also help to lower overhead, streamline operation and save significant time, allowing you to focus on growing your business.
“It should give you quick access to an accurate and real-time view of exactly what is happening in your business and the insight to respond appropriately,” Ogden said. “And it should allow you to step away at the end of the day, and have a life outside of your office.”
Ted Schultz, QFloors’ director of sales, says it’s important to look closely not only at features, but also at ease of use. Schultz has years of experience in the floor covering industry as a carpet store owner, installer, controller and salesperson, which allows him a unique vantage point to empathize with the flooring dealers he works with as they weigh the pros and cons of various systems.
“Something you need to keep in mind is that it is not only what features a software offers, but how realistic and doable is it to actually learn and use those features,” Schultz said. “The software could have a hundred bells and whistles, but if no one in your company can figure out how to access them, they don’t do you any good.”
Schultz says a company should not have to hire or assign an employee to run the technology. To recognize the greatest benefits in efficiency and productivity, and to streamline operations, every member of a retail team should be able to use the software to do his or her job more easily and quickly. “If you are using software too difficult for that to happen, you may have the wrong system,” he added.
Purchasing a particular software just because others in your buying group may use it is not always a good litmus test. “You need to research and determine what truly is the best product for your needs,” Schultz said. “Do your homework. Decide what features and capabilities and qualities are important to you, and then find what works best for your company. Ask not only about the software itself but also about the support they receive. How is that partnership working?”
Business management software company RFMS has automated more than 3,000 dealers operating in over 7,000 locations, and getting an entire retail team behind software upgrades is one key to its success. RFMS emphasizes the importance of understanding how to use the software with its annual Owner & Education Conference, which will be held May 10-11, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. New for 2017 will be a series of half-day workshops during which conference attendees are able to utilize their own laptop to experience a hands-on learning opportunities. In past conferences, representatives from many mills and distributors were also in attendance, and the 2017 event promises to be the same.
“The volume of business that our client base does with the manufacturers and distributors are in the billions,” said Terry Wheat, president, RFMS. “They have a vested interest in the success of our clients and are always very enthusiastic to show their support to not only RFMS, but to the dealers themselves through these educational types of events.”
Fear of Change
Fear holds many people back from realizing the benefits that improvement can bring. Flooring dealers may run into this with their own customers, and Ogden says dealers see it every day with customers who walks into a store. The customer complains about her current flooring: it’s worn, outdated, ugly, and no longer fits her needs, but then she explains that she is afraid of the hassle and cost of replacing it.
“In this scenario, we’d all be quick to reassure the customer, with total confidence, that her temporary sacrifice will be worth it 100 times over, as she enjoys what beautiful new flooring can do for her home,” Ogden said. “In the same vein, flooring professionals need to be forward-thinking enough to recognize that their temporary sacrifice will bring powerful long term results.”
Waylon Reeves, owner of White River Flooring in Little Rock, Ark., advises dealers not to be scared of change. “Change is hard. But it is worth it. Once you have it in place you will be happy you made the change.”
Technology is always changing, and flooring software partners are continually updating, improving, and evolving with the industry.
The newest addition to RollMaster software is the RM Web Calendar, which configures interactive information and integrated work processes among office, field and customer. The web-based program can be viewed on any internet-connected device that is already paired with RollMaster software.
“The calendar provides the ability for all parties to view a job from anywhere, at any time and on any device,” Oechslin said. “When a scheduler is not tied to their desk, they can look at the schedule from their device based on the installer, installation type, day, week, month. The scheduler can see a summary and also line-by-line details of the job.”
The program also features a signature capture feature that allows the customer to sign the device for a completed job, and subcontractors can also use the tool to submit electronic documents, such as bids, proposals and invoices.
QFloors offers cloud computing options, which allows dealers to access information whenever they have an internet connection, and information is securely stored remotely. The company is currently testing a browser-based cloud product that will be released in 2017. QPro POS+ runs in a web browser which will run on any type of device at any time, and it will adapt better across different platforms.
Ogden says there are many advantages to a browser-based product. A flooring dealer’s IT costs will be reduced because they will no longer need their own server or have to worry about expensive hosting or IT fees. It means that corporations like Microsoft and Apple will not have as much control over costs and development and platforms and updates. The software will be more flexible to expand with a company’s growing needs. Customization will be easier, and both QFloors and its customers can write apps that correlate with the software more easily.
Dancik International, which was acquired by Kerridge Commercial Systems in July 2015, provides businesses the ability to maximize control of inventory and operations and to streamline customer relationship management. The company continues to roll out updates to its applications, which are ideal for distributors, manufacturers, wholesalers and large retailers who need quick order entry procedures, tight control over inventory, visibility of operations, and accurate financial tracking. In addition, Dancik offers an integrated warehousing management system, comprehensive data and sales analysis, as well as 24-hour ordering access for customers.