In November 2014, key personnel from a diverse mix of equipment dealerships convened in Denver, Colo., for Charter Software’s annual ASPEN User Conference. More than 30 equipment dealerships from agricultural, construction/industrial, outdoor power, powersports, and golf car sectors attended the conference. The conference is an opportunity for dealers using the ASPEN dealership management system to exchange best practices, learn new skills, and make their industry’s business needs known to ASPEN’s developers.
The ASPEN system, initially built based on feedback provided by Charter Software customers, is continually updated with new features to accommodate technology advancements, changes in suppliers’ requirements, and other industry trends. As the conference was scheduled around the latest ASPEN release, users were able to see and learn the latest functionality in the software prior to implementing it at their business.
“Continuing education is essential to maximizing our users’ investment in ASPEN,” said Charter Software President Anne Salemo. “When a new release comes out, it is important for our users to learn how to use the new features, and it’s also mutually rewarding to see how we’ve listened to their needs and that the things that they’ve asked for have been implemented.”
While Charter does provide free webinar trainings to review the latest features and updates in each software release, many users find the in-person training experience offered at the conference to be a valuable supplement to their overall use of the software. In addition to learning about new software features, the conference solidifies proper use of the system by exposing its users to beneficial ways to use the software that they either may not be aware of, or are not currently using. “No matter how well we feel that we are using the software, at the conference, you always find out what you might be able to improve or do differently,” said Marty Buck, CFO, Kern Machinery.
While the user sessions are the primary focus of the conference, attendees agree hands-down that the ability to network with other dealers is a unique opportunity that keeps them coming back year after year. Many of the attendees maintain contact with one another throughout the year to stay apprised of each other’s business practices and use of the software. “Hearing how all the other users use ASPEN, and the ways that they approach things, has helped us to realize what we need to change and improve,” said Deanna Roos, a financial administrator at Polar Tech Recreation.
“Networking with other dealers, and being able to talk and work face-to-face with Charter staff are two of the biggest reasons we believe it is important to hold the conference in-person,” said Stephen Graham, manager of Charter’s Customer Support department. “Our conference attendees were excited to get an in-person first look at some of the latest enhancements to the software, like our revamped point-of-sale screens, mobile applications, and customer portal, and then be able to practice using them hands-on with our trainers and support staff in the ASPEN Lab.”
The conference is also a unique opportunity for customers to meet and talk with Charter Software President Anne Salemo, who, in addition to teaching several classes, is accessible throughout the entire conference. Salemo also facilitates most of the interactive dealer forums and roundtable sessions, where Charter development staff members are on hand to answer dealers’ questions and listen to them voice their needs.
Salemo said that while the conference is a break-even endeavor for the company financially, the company is rewarded intangibly. “The User Conference is the ideal place for us to get feedback from our customers regarding what they need from us,” said Salemo. “We are always eager to hear what functionality they need to stay competitive.” In this year’s expanded roundtable sessions, users from each dealership enthusiastically took part in discussions to address their specific department’s needs from the ASPEN system, saying that it made them feel empowered. “It’s really phenomenal to have an impact on affecting the whole product,” said Roos of Polar Tech. “I feel like working with Charter is more like having a support system than working with a vendor,” added another first-time conference attendee.
Additionally, due to the software’s growing popularity in the golf car sector, a golf-car dealership roundtable was added this year to bring to light how the software can assist these dealers with the nuances particular to this industry.
The conference will continue to grow each year as new users attend and seasoned users continue to return to learn more and network with the other users. “I’ll continue to come back year after year,” said one of the regular conference attendees. “I always take away so much information. Plus, we have fun — getting out of the dealership, letting loose, and getting to know the folks at the other dealerships is always something to look forward to.”