Business Management System & Website Services survey

Following up on a survey that we conducted for July 2011 OPE, we recently completed a similar survey to bring you up to speed on the latest technology and trends in business management systems (BMS) and website services in the OPE industry. We received the following written responses Dec. 26, 2012, to Jan. 31, 2013:


 


 


 


 



JULIE PRUITT
SALES/MARKETING DIRECTOR
BASIC SOFTWARE SYSTEMS


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Julie Pruitt (JP): Basic Software Systems is always updating our software with the industry’s daily changing trends. We recently added a new online backup and data recovery tool to complement our dealer management system. This tool is called Vault Online Data Backup & Recovery. With Vault, you can preserve all of your files in a secure, off-site environment without a major capital investment. We even manage the setup and the maintenance for you, so you can concentrate on your business. Our solution uses the same level of security that the top banks in the financial industry utilize for safe online banking. Your files are stored off-site in two mirrored data centers located on opposite coasts. Even if your company suffers a flood, fire or break-in, you can be sure that your data is safe. If you do experience a data disaster or your computer suddenly crashes, WE WILL BE ABLE TO RESTORE YOUR FILES! We also announced the release of our Advanced Reporting and Data Mining technology tool. With the exponential growth of data and the increased demand for better data visualization, this tool allows the dealer to create their own unique reports, charts and dashboards easily as they are kept up-to-date dynamically throughout the day. Our products and our company remain leading providers for business technology in the outdoor power equipment industry today.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?
JP:
Most OPE dealerships are needing fast, convenient and cost-efficient technology tools. Bar Code scanners can be a huge timesaver at the parts counter. Most business management system providers offer an exceptional bar coding system that will integrate with their software.


Another big trend is Manufacturer Interfaces. These interfaces can provide real-time access to see customer-specific pricing, parts availability, supercession information and order status of desired parts. Distributors receive orders electronically, drastically reducing errors and mistakes commonly found in faxed or phone orders. We work daily with numerous manufacturers to bring only the best interfaces to our customers and prospective clients.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?
JP:
All dealerships are concerned about their bottom line, right? All business management systems should allow the dealer to capture sales history for all the parts and customers, which can then be used to reduce costly obsolete parts and equipment from tying up capital that can be used to operate their business. The dealer should also have the capability of knowing what parts and equipment each customer is purchasing, which will help the dealer target specific sales incentives. If a dealer is not using a business management system that offers this capability, then they need to look at switching to a vendor that does care about their bottom line.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are key factors that OPE dealers need to consider?
JP:
When dealers are looking to integrate a business management system in their dealership, there is research that needs to be done.
1. A plan: Before calling a business management system vendor, get with your entire team, parts department, service techs, accounting, sales, and write out the needs each department is looking for in a system. This will cut down time in the long run, but also make software demonstrations run smoother for everyone. Always have a plan.


2. Emotional buying: When shopping for anything today, a lot of our decision making is based on the way the service of the sale makes us feel. Every salesman is going to make the potential client “feel” good about their product, but if the customer of 10 or more years is not “happy,” flags should be raised and something should be looked at. Before any decision is made when purchasing a business management system, TALK TO THE USERS first. The vendor should give to you a list of customers you can talk to non-reluctantly.


3. Demonstrations: Never take a salesman’s “word for it.” Always request a demonstration of the product. Online meetings and webinars are very easy and convenient, especially for multiple store locations involved. Either request an online demo or an onsite demo; don’t just settle for a demo to play with. You need to be able to ask questions and see the software in action, answering your questions. Depending on the list that you should have prepared, the demo could last from an hour to several hours.


4. Investment: The dealers need to realize that technology does not come cheap. The price tag on a business management system should be based on the quality of the software itself, the flexibility it offers, and the functionalities that it provides for the complexity of the dealership’s needs, not based on the high-dollar AS400 platform hardware or the cosmetics of the software. Some of the biggest equipment retail store chains today are running on “not-so-pretty software,” but evidently that software works for their success.


5. Partnership: The business management system provider your dealership chooses will be a partnership with your company. They will be serving you on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. Choose the vendor that your dealership can grow with. You will be relying on their software every single day. A good vendor usually has the history of services in your industry to prove that they are doing something that is helping dealers succeed every day.


 


JIM PHELAN
CO-OWNER/PARTNER
C-SYSTEMS SOFTWARE, INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Jim Phelan (JP): At c-Systems Software, one of our basic tenets is efficiency. We are constantly adding functionality that makes dealers’ jobs easier, and much of our recent effort has been devoted to reducing the amount of information our dealers have to enter manually.


One of our biggest new features is the inclusion of what we call Flat Rate Time — FRT — to our latest release: Infinity 5.1. FRT automatically links labor rates to equipment being repaired. Simply point and click to add the appropriate labor rate within a repair order, removing the hassle of manually looking up and entering labor codes, descriptions and times. We hope that the inclusion of labor rates will be the first step toward offering automatic completion and electronic transmission of warranty claims from dealers to their vendors.


Another feature of Infinity 5.1 is our enhanced Pickup & Delivery module, which makes vehicle route mapping more efficient than ever. Drag and drop pickups and deliveries between your queue and daily schedule with ease, and automatically plot your route onto a map with directions.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


JP: More and more, dealers should expect an increased level of seamless integration with the manufacturers and vendors. It’s not enough to just offer simple purchase order transmission anymore. We’re always working with the industry’s top vendors to enhance our customers’ level of communication with the manufacturers of the brands they sell.


The goal should be to reduce the number of clicks dealers have to make in order to complete tasks. Electronic product registration, pricing tables and warranty labor rates are all good examples of real-time interaction with manufacturers and vendors.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


JP: A business system should make your business more profitable. It should optimize your inventory. It should provide detailed reports about your business so you can run it at its peak. Every element of a good business system is designed to help your business make more money.


Customer Relationship Management is another way a business system should affect your bottom line. It should help you boost repeat business through add-on sales, warranty updates and product reminders, automatically keeping you in contact with your customers.


Your business system should also save you time. It should automate your business, cutting the time you spend on certain tasks. Shop management modules and other similar features will help you be more organized.


Imagine not having customers call you to check on their order status because they can go to your website, securely log in, and check it themselves. Imagine having your business system automatically email your customers about product news.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the key factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


JP: Return on investment is one of the most important things to consider while shopping. Purchasing the right business system will have a broad impact; everything from decreasing billing errors to making it easier to manage your service department.


Another major key when choosing a business system is finding the industry leader. Which business system provider is the most technologically advanced? Which is the first to release the latest features? Which is most closely affiliated with the leading vendors and manufacturers?


To help determine a business system provider’s value, look at its support department. Anyone can be trained to support a software, but a support technician with OPE experience truly understands its application. A support tech who has worked at an OPE dealership can relate to your reason for calling, and can provide better support.


Investing in a business management system is an investment in your business. The bottom line is simple: The right business system will make your job easier.


 


ANNE SALEMO
PRESIDENT
CHARTER SOFTWARE INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Anne Salemo (AS): In October 2012, Charter Software was selected by Doosan-Bobcat as one of its two preferred business system vendors for Bobcat dealers. The decision was based on Charter’s prominent industry relationships, ability to serve a variety of dealer types and sizes, and users’ praise of their ASPEN business management system. ASPEN continues to be widely adopted and now exceeds 1,700 users in North America. In August 2012, Charter held its first-ever, highly successful ASPEN user conference, where the latest features added to the system, ASPEN Community and ASPEN Intercompany, were unveiled. The first phase of these features enables ASPEN users to locate and sell parts with others in the community and/or across their enterprise.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


AS: Mobile applications, remote access, internal communication tools, rental management and CRM/contact management functionality are among the most currently sought-after applications within a business system.


The lifestyles of today’s equipment dealers — absentee owners, owners who travel between multiple locations, and those positioning for retirement — have created a stronger need for mobile access to their business data. Also, many dealers are now employing mobile devices in the dealership such as tablets and smart phones, particularly those finding that a mobile service truck is an income-generator. For these dealers, the ability to look up parts, equipment and customer information, launch a map of a customer’s location, clock into work orders, and perform other tasks without the need for a computer has become increasingly important.


Streamlining communications, task delegation and reminders from within the business system are a new concept. For example, the ability to link a report or data record to an instant message or task enables the user to drill to the relevant report or record right from the message or task.


As many dealers are looking to rentals as a way to increase revenue, not only in rent-to-rent situations but also as a means toward a sale, rental management and utilization reporting have become business system requirements.


An integrated CRM (customer relationship management) system is a must-have for dealers seeking to enhance customer service. It is proven that managing and marketing to your own customer base is key to increasing profitability. Using a CRM within the business system provides the ability to segment and market to desired customers by specific criteria — such as the type of unit they own; their demographic area; service dates and other endless scenarios — and mass e-mail or mass mail promotions right from the system easily and quickly. This historical record of all customer contacts greatly assists any employee with meeting or anticipating the needs of that customer or prospect. Also, using a CRM, the sales process is honed and quite often shortened due to the ability to track and manage quotes, sales pipeline and follow-up reminders.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


AS: A BMS is an important tool for dealers to use to pinpoint and take immediate action to correct problem areas that will impact the direction of a dealership. A system dashboard literally places access to this information at the dealer principal’s fingertips. Determining each department’s contribution to overall margins; knowing what to stock by season; tracking and analyzing technician’s time; streamlining connection with suppliers; and harnessing the power of customer management are just a few of the many ways dealers can utilize a BMS to immediately impact their bottom line. Additionally, the ability to use the system as a marketing tool, such as the ability to send targeted e-mail and generate promotional mailings, can have a tremendous impact on increasing sales at little to no additional cost.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the key factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


AS:


* What are the system’s unique features? Ask what the vendor can deliver that their competitors cannot match. Does it have a built-in integrated CRM system, integration with suppliers, and internal communications tools such as instant messaging?


* Company’s investment in research and development: Ask about the vendor’s commitment to R&D and the frequency of their software updates. Also, find out their approach for handling “wishlist” requests and their plans for future functionality.


* Evaluate what the ongoing costs include and the value provided (e.g. Is there a charge for enhancements, new releases, release training, etc.).


* Available training and a consultative approach: A paramount factor in choosing a BMS is whether the vendor will assist you above and beyond the basic steps of using the software. Working with your business and its processes ensures your return on investment.


* Vendor’s industry reputation: Look for longevity, customer values, industry alliances and endorsements. Talk with them directly at a trade show, or ask your suppliers, equipment dealer association, Dealer 20 groups and other dealers you know about their experiences with them.


* Operating system, platform and technical specifications: Is the hardware platform widely and currently supported? Is the database format universally recognized, and does it support the ability to expand or add new locations? Can the system be run as a hosted solution or must you own a server? If you are looking at a hosted solution, know the difference between terminal server (“Thin Client”) and browser-based applications vs. Smart-Client.


* Ease of accessibility to your data and the configurability of the software: Do you have access to build your own reports or query your data based upon criteria you specify? What are the built-in reports? Is there “drill-down” access? Is the system setup configurable? Can you set users’ permissions to access only the data you want them to?


* Manufacturer integration: Look for integration with electronic parts catalogs and access to parts pricing. Manufacturer-specific integration is important for branded dealers and should meet the suppliers’ specifications for inventory ordering and financial reporting. Ideally, these transactions should be able to be made from within the software, eliminating the need to log on to the supplier’s site or re-key data.


* Accounting and payroll in the system: Look carefully at the BMS’ accounting system to see if it matches your methodology, and if it includes payroll integration. If you use QuickBooks and wish to continue to use it, find out if the system will work along with it.



GREG CARRADUS
DIRECTOR OF SALES
IDEAL COMPUTER SYSTEMS, INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Greg Carradus (GC): Ideal’s latest and most powerful version, Ideal for Windows 8.2, was released this past fall. The enhancements were driven by Ideal’s customers; however, new dealers like what they see and what our current users are saying about the product. In fact, we saw a record number of new dealers in December who made the decision to implement Ideal for Windows.


In the two years since Ideal was acquired by Constellation Dealership Software, we’ve had the luxury of having direct insight and collaboration with other dealership-based software companies in the auto, RV and marine industries. This has proven to be an invaluable resource because we’ve been able to practice what we preach with operational efficiencies. We continue to make great strides and have the resources to improve Ideal’s workflow efficiencies in software development, implementation, training and customer support.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


GC:


B2B communications: The OPE industry’s continued evolution with communication between dealer and vendor continues to be at the forefront of trends. The best example of this technology is demonstrated by Toro’s EZLink 2.0. This technology allows dealers to push information to Toro. Toro then captures the data and completes product registration and rebate redemption for the dealer, as well as provides real-time data back to Toro to improve Toro’s production schedules. Ultimately, this technology significantly reduces the dealership’s non-revenue operational time and provides Toro with data to produce products that dealers need and want.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


GC: An industry-specific business management software system will have a major impact on a dealership’s overall operational efficiencies. Integrating the functions of the business (sales department, service department, parts department, customer relations, accounting, etc.) increases the dealership’s workflow and decreases traditional time-consuming (non-revenue-generating) activities. These benefits translate to reduced costs, better-managed resources and time for employees, at every level, to focus on revenue-generating activities, which significantly improve the dealership’s bottom line.


A business management software system improves a dealer’s access to accurate and timely information. It increases a dealer’s capacity to manipulate this data through fast analytical reports that provide essential insight about customers, operational costs and other key aspects of business. Businesses which manipulate this data by analyzing it quickly and comprehensively are able to make more informed decisions faster and build competitive advantages. The better the information, the greater the operational efficiency. Dealers with the capacity to capitalize on their data are dealers that will thrive in this competitive future.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the key factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


GC:


The level of support provided from the software vendor.


The software vendor’s track record of performance in the OPE industry.


The software’s ease of use.


The software’s ability to fit your OPE business and business processes.


The software vendor’s long-term product strategy for OPE.



GLENN HANCOCK
PRESIDENT
NIZEX, INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Glenn Hancock (GH): nizeX has gone to live YouTube videos for training and updates that we communicate with our customers through. We have added a distributor module that handles specific tasks a distributor would need with respect to shipping and tracking wholegoods, and we’ve enhanced our rental system to allow renting part items instead of only wholegoods.


We’ve also enhanced our consignment parts module to enable Lizzy to track and return consignment parts though a much simpler interface.


We’ve enhanced our inventory analysis features that aid in sales trends and min/max adjustments as well as ordering, so that it runs much faster than earlier versions and provides for more accurate trending analysis.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


GH: I’m not sure if I’d classify much as a trend, but we are seeing more and more customers interested in accessing their business system from iPads and other portable electronic devices to allow them to eliminate more and more of the manual processes.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


GH: The world. I can’t tell you how many OPE dealers we talk to that are only using their business system to keep track of inventory and service and miss out on the entire accounting angle. They leave the check writing and paying bills to their wives and let the accountant try to put it all together at the end of the year for paying taxes. If you learn how to use a business system properly and just a little about why accounting is important to your bottom line, you’ll discover that you can make much more informed decisions.


I’ve walked into dealerships to help them do inventory and found that they have 10 of a part that they’ll never sell; they have no idea what it costs or even why they have so many in stock. The entire situation could have been eliminated had they known their business system can handle min/max and special orders for them automatically, if they’d just let it.


My advice is that even if you think you might not use every single thing in your business system, you should at least learn “what” it can do for you. It’s not necessary to learn the “how” right off the bat, but the “what” is very, very important to being able to take advantage of everything you can. It’s like buying a dump truck and climbing into the bed and shoveling all the dirt out one scoop at a time just because you never knew the handle behind the cab would do all the work for you.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the key factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


GH: How often do updates go out?
How much does it cost when a company comes out with a major release (like going from DOS to Windows)?
What types of training aids are available?
What platforms will the software operate on?
Can you access the system from your smart phone?
How involved are the dealers in creating and enhancing the system?
Can it do accounting, or do you have to export to another program for that?


TONYA QUICK
PRESIDENT
PATHFINDER COMPUTER SYSTEMS INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Tonya Quick (TQ): We have recently developed and released the Stihl Product Registration interface. This allows the dealers at time of sale to register the Stihl product for the customer. We are currently working on other projects that we will be testing in the fall and looking to release in late fall.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


TQ: With the industry constantly changing, especially now with the current economics, dealers are looking for ways to reduce their cost and increase their income. One of the ways to do this is in lower cost of yearly maintenance fees, especially with their POS. As many dealers are being forced to downsize, so must their POS.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


TQ: A business management system allows the dealer to see what parts are fast moving, what their inventory status is at a glance, having their manufacturer pricing current and up-to-date so as to stay competitive.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the key factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


TQ: When talking to dealers who are looking to switch systems, the two biggest factors are price and ease of use of the system. They want the system to be affordable and fit within their changing budget and still be able to have a good flow and easy to use.



JON M. LINTVET
CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER & VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT
ARI


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Jon M. Lintvet (JML):


* Great content is even more important: A team, led by Campion Jaques, has been dedicated to pursue new/additional manufacturer content — both domestically and internationally. To support this effort, we have increased our investment in acquiring great new content, as well as enriching the content we have today in order to help our customers sell more stuff. In 2012, we added approximately 15 new brands. Today, we publish content that includes 469,000 equipment models, 10,500,000 active part numbers and SKUs that has a retail product value of $1.76 billion.


* Acquisition of 50 Below: At the end of November 2012, we acquired the retail assets of 50 Below. The acquisition marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter. One where we are a stronger organization, focused on delivering innovative new products, extending core capabilities, and providing exceptional customer service that will help our customers Sell More Stuff. Our solutions now reach 22,000 dealers worldwide.


2) What are the latest trends in technology-enabled business solutions in the OPE industry?


JML:


* Mobile: It’s all about mobile. The increasing availability of mobile applications has empowered consumers with unrivaled convenience. And that means that websites must be mobile-friendly. It also means that in order to increase online parts sales, OEM parts look-up content must be mobile-friendly. (See article on pages 26-27 for more detailed discussion.)


* New website technology: The introduction and deployment of new technology has enabled website providers to improve dealer websites, making them more user-friendly. They also provide crisper graphics, better form handling and more dynamic navigation. All of these improvements, when coupled with mobile capabilities, are designed to help dealers sell more stuff.


Winning Strategy: Give your website a visual and usability evaluation. Does it look current and appealing? Does it take a lot of clicks and load times to get to key information or products? Are you taking advantage of all the latest dynamic functionality that your website platform has to offer? How does your website look, compared to your competition?


* Personalized consumer website visits: Consumers are increasingly willing to trade some privacy for site personalization, which allows a site to display relevant content, based on a visitor’s landing page, the items that person clicked on, and previous visits. This technology is widely used by major online sellers today, including Amazon, Target and Walmart. Fortunately, the technology is trickling down to dealer website platforms, proving to be a key tactic to increase the average order size.


Winning Strategy: Offer customers the ability to create a login or use their social media accounts to retain personal preferences, settings and information on your website. For e-commerce-enabled sites, this should include remembering users’ shipping and billing addresses at a minimum.


3) What impact can technology-enabled business solutions make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


JML: Technology can have a huge impact on a dealer’s bottom line. For example, dealers using the latest version of our OEM parts look-up solution for websites have seen as much as a 62-percent increase in online parts sales! When we talk with dealers, our goal is to help them understand the power of these new tools and empower them with solutions that will help reduce costs, increase sales and profitability, and create life-long customers.


4) When s

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