We asked those on the front lines of selling software what flooring retailers should look for–and look out for–when buying a communications package.

Almost everyone uses the Internet nowadays. In a consumer study conducted by Clear Seas Research for the World Floor Covering Association last year, most participants noted they use the Internet to research flooring options and get an idea of the prices before heading out to the store.

The Internet also remains important to retailers. Increasingly, retailers are putting their store information online and corresponding with colleagues through e-mail.

In anNFTreader profile study two years ago, nearly 70 percent of retailers said they use the Internet in their day to day business. And that number is only increasing. Of course, good people skills are still the most important tool of any retailer, but more and more a consumer’s first impressions are made over the Internet and then in the store.National Floor Trendsasked a panel of software company executives to weigh in on what the rising role of e-commerce and flooring B2B applications means for the industry.

TECHNOLOGY: How would you assess the role of technology today, including B2B communications in the flooring industry? How does it compare to other industries?

RETAILERS: What questions should flooring retailers ask when they consider investing in new technology? What are some things retailers should look for? What can they do without?

FUTURE: What changes do you see in flooring technology for the coming year?

Mitch Dancik, President, Dancik International

Mitch Dancik, President, Dancik International

The industry is making great strides in the adoption of technology, but it is still quite late to the party compared to most other industries. Most manufacturers and distributors have a serious IT strategy, while many retailers do not. There is still a sense among distributors and manufacturers that if you sell over the Internet you are selling around your customers. As altruistic as that sentiment is, it is not a realistic reaction to what consumers want. For example, I still like going to a showroom to see and touch the flooring products. But I’d rather place the order and schedule the measure and install online, track the delivery, etc; all the things I have come to expect in other industries.

The Flooring B2B movement is a tactical approach to getting transactions flowing over a consistent infrastructure. While we struggle to get flooring product catalogs that every computer can read, we may be missing the strategic goal of selling flooring the way tomorrow’s customer wants to be sold.

RETAILERS:Flooring retailers should only look at technology that is workable and demonstrable in their niche environment. Most flooring retailers do not have the time, inclination, or in-house skill sets to be customizing software to fit their business. A flooring business, with its varied units of measure and complex business rules, is difficult to manage on even the most flexible generic software.

FUTURE:The downturn in the market will likely delay some software acquisition plans. However, the software is better than ever in all areas. We have seen a big increase in the number of businesses that want to automate their warehouses and their showrooms, not just the point of sale and accounting functions. The B2B movement may be slow, but it is definitely progressing. Every week we see many more businesses getting connected. We also predict that a lot more of the software sold in 2008 will be web-based solutions. Also note that when business is soft it’s a great time to get your staff trained on all the software that you bought but never properly utilized. 

Dev O’Reilly, President and CEO, RollMaster Software

Dev O’Reilly, President and CEO, RollMaster Software

Software developers are hard at work, every day, developing solutions that use existing information, address new business initiatives and enable flooring businesses to grow, without ripping out technology already in place. B2B functionality and effective communication is the key to improving profitability through enhanced efficiencies and controls.

The flooring industry does not compare with any other industry - the control and management complexities that the typical dealer faces are monumental and must be effectively managed to maintain profitable competitiveness.

RETAILERS:Dealers should not consider desktop flooring software! Updating computers individually is a waste of time and money. Consider a web-based, hosted solution. Selecting a business management software package is difficult. Dealers must consider the impact a system has on current business process flow, their accounting system, their employees and their salespeople. Everyone resists change; the job is complicated by the need to manage these combined structural and emotional issues.

Some suggestions: Don’t license operating system software, communication software or database management software; use public domain software instead. Avoid complex networks and communication software; use the Internet to connect your business operations whenever possible. Invest in adequate training. Commit yourself to the implementation plan. Consider products that champion the Flooring Industry B2B standard as a necessity. If it sounds complex or you don’t understand it, don’t do it.

FUTURE:There will be lots of tools, toys and standalone introductions to help dealers schedule, estimate and manage jobs. These may be fun and attention getting, but will only add dysfunction long-term. Today’s flooring business is challenged with how to work across dispersed environments while staying connected. Net-based, hosted software delivers a common framework to bring your team together, whether it’s a co-worker in the next office or a partner halfway around the world.

Don Kilbourne, VP, Pacific Solutions

Don Kilbourne, VP, Pacific Solutions

Technology in the flooring industry is still in its infancy compared to other large and well-established industries. However, thanks to a few key contributing factors: dealers with the vision and tenacity to begin software development in the early ‘80s (Terry Wheat/RFMS), the mills’ cooperation with B2B (Shaw, Mohawk, Beaulieu), and the convergence of mainstream technical development tools, the flooring industry is rapidly gaining ground.

RETAILERS:Putting the right technology to work in your business is like hiring the best salesperson; it will do more than pay for its own keep. Choose your technology after establishing your goals. Ask yourself what opportunities exist that you could better capitalize upon. What is the experience your client desires? Which provider and system will help you deliver that experience with the greatest efficiency possible? And make sure you are ready to commit to a more disciplined business process. Establish benchmarks to track your progress.

However, don’t let the number of features a software system provides overwhelm you and pull you away from your main focus. The system will add to your bottom line in relation to the level of efficiency it helps you achieve in your day-to-day activities. Stay focused on the core operational functions that serve your client and generate revenue.

FUTURE:The flooring industry will see gains in net profit in relationship to the priority given to technology. We still tend to be a predominantly visual and comfort-focused society, so investing in a new truck is often more instinctive than investing in a management system that could add 10-20 percent or more to a dealer’s efficiency. Also, due to the relative youth of the industry, there is a strong resistance to require procedural changes from staff. In other industries, learning and using an industry-specific computer system is a given. In flooring, it is still common to hear an owner or general manager make the comment that their people would never change from doing it the way they have always done it. However, as the industry becomes more aware of the importance of implementing technology, more dealers will make the investment in technology that helps them be even better at their job.

Chad Ogden, President and CEO, QFloors

Chad Ogden, President and CEO. QFloors

Seven years ago when we entered the industry, the flooring industry was drastically behind other industries as far as technology. If I were to rate it back then, I would have given it a 2 out of 10.  However, today I would rate the software tools as 7 out of 10, and yet usage would still be around 4 out of 10. We’ve made great progress.

RETAILERS:There are several questions dealers should ask when preparing to invest in technology: is this software B2B and Flooring Software Data Exchange (FSDE) compliant? What training is included in the package and how much extra will additional training cost? What kind of support is provided? What is not included in the price? It is also good to know what database technologies the software uses and what tools were used to develop the software. Lastly, it is important to talk to other dealers. Find out what software products they use and how they feel about them.

Additionally, dealers need to have their business system software in place first. This means being able to print out customer orders, create a PO, track inventory, pay bills, deposit and track money, and create financial statements from software. Once everyone in the company is efficiently using the system, then a business can look into purchasing things like estimating software, cutting machines, labor scheduling software, websites, etc. Because if you aren’t running your business efficiently you cannot grow your business no matter what else you do. And business management software is how you run your business efficiently. 

FUTURE:We need the industry to adopt B2B across the board. While most manufacturers and some distributors and retailers have incorporated B2B, too many are not yet enjoying all of the efficiency and time-savings that B2B brings. The writing is on the wall, and B2B is the future of the industry.

In addition to B2B, we would really like to see other vendors adopt an industry-wide standard such as the Flooring Software Data Exchange (FSDE). Such a standard would allow different types of flooring software to be compatible, even if purchased from different companies.