Business Management System Software and Website Services Q&A

Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) magazine recently asked leading business management system software and website services providers to share their insight into the latest computer technology trends for the outdoor power equipment industry. Their responses are as follows:

 

AJAY THAKUR

General Manager

Ideal Computer Systems

 

 

 

GREG CARRADUS

Director of Sales

Ideal Computer Systems

 

 

 

OPE: Please share the latest news about your company and your products for the OPE industry.

 

Ajay Thakur: We’re currently in the process of launching our new Data Analytics tool for the Ideal Business Management System, which will allow OPE dealers to get a clear picture of how their business is doing on every level.

It achieves this by pulling data directly from Ideal to let dealers:

  • Compare nationwide dealership data
  • Compare average, minimum and maximum values
  • Track performance using more than 120 vital metrics
  • Analyze trends via numerous charts and graphs
  • Receive a four-page report on a monthly basis

We’ve also made the following additions:

  • Mobile app enhancements.Our mobile application now allows dealership employees to create work orders and technicians to add parts to them – so that they no longer have to go back to a terminal when checking in a unit.
  • New API.Our brand-new API allows dealers to upload live inventory updates to their website, helping them improve their search engine optimization (SEO) and boost their web traffic.
  • New integrations.The Ideal Business Management System now integrates with more OEMs and suppliers, allowing OPE dealers to save time and reduce errors when exchanging data with them.

 

OPE: What is trending with regard to business management systems for the OPE industry, and what factors are driving those trends?

 

Ajay Thakur: Business management systems, like Ideal, are heavily focused on giving OPE dealers the ability to access and manage live up-to-date data quickly and easily from any device.

This is driven by the fact that more and more dealerships are embracing the web as a viable shopping tool. So, to minimize the complexities associated with managing both offline and online aspects of their business, they require strong data and comparison tools to make their decisions.

 

OPE: Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management system?

 

Greg Carradus: By connecting all OPE departments and business activities, a system like Ideal allows dealers to access and share real-time data at any time, uniting the flow of information and ensuring higher productivity, better decision making, fewer errors and more long-term savings and cost reductions.

 

OPE: What should OPE dealers look for when shopping for a business management system?

 

Greg Carradus: An OPE dealer who is serious about investing in a business management system should carefully examine the following:

  • The company and fit.How long has it been in your industry and what is its reputation? Does it have specialized experience providing solutions to businesses like yours? Does it have solid relationships with other industry businesses and leaders? Is the future direction of the company and its products aligned with your business’ future?
  • Ease of use.How fast is the system? What is its impact on the end user? Can your management team, parts counter, service technicians and CPA easily and effectively use the system to do their jobs? Does the software look, feel and function like a unified whole or more like a bunch of different products tied together?
  • Comprehensiveness.When you scratch below the system’s surface, does it have the tools to dig deeper into your business or take your business to the next level? Does it offer integrations with your OEMs and suppliers? Are there APIs to expand the use of your system and/or data?
  • Scalability.Can the system adapt to your business growth, accommodating new users, additional locations and data increases? Is it scalable through technology – such as mobile devices – allowing you to improve your flexibility, efficiency and customer experience?
  • Support and training.First-time business management system buyers have support and training close to the bottom of their list of requirements. On the other hand, second-time buyers have them at the top of their list. So, ask around – who has the best support? Go for the one with a support team on hand to assist you at every stage – from implementation to upgrades and maintenance.

 

TONY ZANE

Sales Manager – Outdoor Power Division

ARI Network Services

 

 

 

PAUL BERKHOLTZ

Paul Berkholtz,

Director of Business Development

ARI Network Services

 

 

OPE: What is the latest OPE industry-specific news about your company?

 

Tony Zane: We recently launched dealer website programs with both Kioti and LS Tractor. We also entered our third year with Toro as their exclusive dealer website provider. New for 2018, Toro dealers can utilize snow co-op funds toward their ARI powered dealer website.

 

OPE: What is trending when it comes to website services for the OPE industry, and what factors are driving those trends?

 

Paul Berkholtz: Local SEO is a huge driver for dealer website traffic. The search starts with Google but ends on a high-quality, informative, mobile-responsive website. A solid website presence combined with an accurate Google My Business listing is one of the most important things a dealer can have to help bring those potential customers into their store. This is driven by the fact that nearly 90 percent of people are researching equipment online, but they’re still going to a local retailer to see the equipment first-hand, for demonstrations, and ultimately to make a purchase.

 

OPE: Why should OPE dealers invest in website services?

 

Tony Zane: Word of mouth went out with spandex and cassette tapes. Over 80 percent of people research on a mobile device before ever walking into a store. People will buy local and preserve their community businesses as long as these small businesses provide a solid digital path to purchase. It’s more important today than ever to have an accurate representation of your business online. Again, most customers research online, and dealers should look to have informative websites that can capture a customer’s attention while providing them with the information they need to make a buying decision. At ARI, we not only focus on the website platform, we focus on driving qualified leads to your website. Return on investment is key. It doesn’t matter how “nice” your sign looks if nobody sees it.

 

OPE: What should OPE dealers be looking for when shopping for website services?

 

Paul Berkholtz: They should look to work with a provider that offers a full suite of online solutions specially designed for outdoor power dealers. Robust websites with plenty of OEM information, SEO capabilities, reputation and online review monitoring, and digital advertising all play a major part in helping outdoor power dealers to be successful. At ARI, we don’t build websites for bakeries and banks. We build websites for outdoor power dealers. We focus on all facets of the dealership.

 

JAMES STONEHAM

Director of Sales

Charter Software Inc.

 

 

 

OPE: Please tell us the latest about your company and your products for the OPE industry.

 

Image courtesy of Charter Software

James Stoneham: Charter Software Inc. has been helping dealers flourish for more than 30 years. Charter’s ASPEN Business Management System is an affordable, scalable, integrated system designed to increase OPE dealer’s communication and profitability across all departments.

In addition to the basic components of a business management system, ASPEN also includes:

  • Fully integrated CRM to manage all customer contacts and records
  • Internal workflow, task management and messaging that support multitasking
  • Customer portal
  • Advanced rental functionality

ASPEN Dealer Management Software is available in both hosted and installed options. Charter’s training and implementation teams are with you from start to finish, to ensure a successful transition, and trainers will make sure your staff is ready to hit the ground running.

Charter Software also works closely with leading industry suppliers to develop OEM integrations that streamline ordering, reduce errors and minimize duplication of effort. ASPEN offers interfaces and/or price files for several OPE manufacturers including:

 

·      Cub Cadet ·      Toro
·      John Deere ·      Honda
·      Kawasaki ·      Exmark
·      Stihl ·      Lawnboy
·      ARI’s PartSmart ·      Parts Distributor Interface

 

ASPEN Interactive Mobility (AIM) lets you manage your business from anywhere:

  • Track technicians’ time in the field using the mobile time clock
  • View customer information, including contact information, maps & directions
  • Look up parts inventory, both at the shop and on mobile service trucks
  • Access customer owned and in-stock equipment records

 

OPE: What is trending with regard to business management systems for the OPE industry, and what factors are driving those trends?

 

James Stoneham: Competition is on the rise from big box stores and online merchants like Amazon. It’s difficult for traditional dealerships to compete with the larger chains in terms of advertising, carrying a large inventory and being able to sell equipment at a lower profit margin. Additionally, increased market penetration from low-cost imports is also compressing dealers’ margins. It’s more important than ever to manage the business by the numbers to keep customers and win new ones. This means having a solid understanding of how you are managing your inventory so you have the right products at the right time and the right price. Dealers need to understand which product lines are making them money and which aren’t, and the correct valuation for equipment they have on hand. Dealers also need to make sure the service department is tracking and maximizing their billable hours. The sales department needs to be keeping customers engaged and be proactive about scheduling preventive maintenance or selling replacement parts. A fully integrated business management system allows dealers to monitor and manage all of these aspects of their business.

 

OPE: Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management system?

 

James Stoneham: Business management systems help dealers streamline their daily processes, making things like product and warranty registration, electronic parts ordering, and inventory control easier because they are available from within the business management system (BMS). A BMS can also suggest parts to order based on sales history for a specific customer. A BMS helps dealers keep everything organized in one place so they can focus on growing the business instead of organizing paperwork.

 

OPE: What should OPE dealers look for when shopping for a business management system?

 

James Stoneham: This is a great question, one that can be overwhelming when evaluating software. We publish a free whitepaper to help dealers determine what they need in a business management system. Download it for free at https://info.chartersoftware.com/researching.

Below are a few topics we cover in the whitepaper:

  • Look for a business management system that is scalable, so it grows with your business.
  • Make a list of all the software programs you use to perform business functions, including why and how you use them. Are any of your processes driven by the way your current software works (or doesn’t work)? Could any of these processes be retired if you move to a fully integrated business management system?
  • What supplier integrations do you need? Look for a system that includes integrations with the brands you sell.
  • What reporting or ordering interfaces are necessary to your operations?

Answering these questions will help determine what functions you’ll need in your new business management system.

 

KEVIN STEVENETT

Sales Management & Strategic Initiatives

Lizzy BMS from nizeX, Inc.

 

 

 

OPE: Please tell us the latest about your company and your products for the OPE industry.

 

Kevin Stevenett: Lizzy BMS is a completely integrated suite of tools to run every facet of your dealership: CRM, parts, service, sales, finance & insurance, rental, accounting, payroll, reporting, and webstore.

Image courtesy of nizeX

Our U.S.-based team has been supporting OPE dealerships since 1994. We’re always looking to make our Lizzy business management software better. We’re never content with the program the way it is. Our company is very dealer focused – we believe that the more involvement we have with our customers, the better the software will be. We have quarterly in-person meetings with a rotating group of dealers to discuss what works for them and what doesn’t. Who knows the challenges OPE dealers are facing better than the dealers themselves? Our job is to find and provide the most efficient and thorough ways to solve those challenges.

One of the things we’ve learned from our dealer meetings is how customer focused the OPE industry is. Dealers are constantly looking for better ways to meet, and exceed, customer expectations. Business operations are becoming more customer focused. Instead of having the customer come into the store and then wait for assistance at the service counter, our dealers want to greet the customers in the parking lot and get them on their way to work as fast as possible. Customer-focused operations also increase customer loyalty. At the end of the day, the customer isn’t loyal to the business with the cheapest service rates, they are loyal to the business that places them first. Customer service is the distinguishing factor in these experiences – not price. So we took that mindset and developed new tools and apps that allow our dealers to really deliver that customer experience in a quicker, simpler way.

One way that we’re helping dealers deliver those customer-focused experiences is with our iOS apps. It’s great to have a full business management system, and it’s certainly necessary for lots of job functions, but more and more we need information at our fingertips as we’re on the go. As a true browser-based program, Lizzy has always been portable on an iPad, tablet or smartphone. However, navigating a full program like Lizzy on a phone screen isn’t the easiest on the eyes. So we recently rolled out a Lizzy Service app for checking in customer units from the parking lot. What customer isn’t in a hurry to drop off their unit and get to work? Lizzy Service app will speed up the check-in process and allow you to quickly and easily create a service ticket. You can record the customer requesting specific service work to be done (or even a noise that the unit is making) when it’s dropped off, take photos of the unit to be serviced, and collect a signature to approve the work – all from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Lizzy Scan Tags make service check-in even more efficient. Greet your customer in the service drive, scan the metal barcode-type scan tag with your portable device, and the customer and unit information is automatically entered into a service repair order.

Our pickup and delivery app (Lizzy PUD) tracks the process of loading the correct units on the truck, records what deliveries have been made, and allows for collection of customer signatures and unit photos so you can prove the condition of the unit when it is picked up or delivered. Every step of the process is visible to the dealership using the full Lizzy BMS software. One of the handiest features of the app is that it will alert the user if a pickup or delivery customer has special order parts in stock. This allows the driver to pull the special order parts before they leave so that they can deliver them along with the unit. The Lizzy PUD app can also suggest the best route, based on the scheduled stops. This app will streamline operations, reduce costs, and make the entire pickup and delivery process easier on the dealership staff. Many of our dealers already offer pickup and delivery services. Using this app will allow them to easily expand their services and fleet. For other dealers, an easy-to-use app like this may allow them to start offering pickup and delivery services for the first time.

Other Lizzy apps include an inventory app (Lizzy Count) and an expense-reporting app (Lizzy Receipt). All apps, including our latest Lizzy CRM app, are available at the Apple Store (search ‘nizex’). More Lizzy apps are in the works. Android versions are in process. All Lizzy apps are free of charge, and work seamlessly with Lizzy BMS.

 

OPE: What is trending with regard to business management systems for the OPE industry, and what factors are driving those trends?

 

Kevin Stevenett: We really don’t focus on what other OPE software providers are doing. Instead we talk with OPE dealers about what they are most interested in, what tools/features/enhancements they need to better serve their customers.

We’re seeing a lot more dealers with a website presence, and many dealers know they need to get their inventory online in order to get customers in the door. The majority of the time, customer are going to research their purchases online before they step foot in a dealership. Your website can be a place where customers can not only see pricing and available inventory, but also gain knowledge about the products you sell and the services you provide. Your website is truly a resource instead of just a landing page. It shows customers that you’re an expert in what you do, and that gives you a huge advantage over big box stores. Lizzy BMS integrates with industry-leading website providers, or a dealer may choose Lizzy Webstore, with information, data, and product photos pushed to their website in real time.

OEMs and dealers want to automate communication. Many OEM systems have connectivity points to which BMS providers can link. If the dealer “opts in,” these integrations can automatically send any required reports, provide one-click to send purchase orders, even VIN decoding with service bulletins and recall notices instantly pushed back to the dealership BMS. Lizzy is always adding convenient, time-saving OEM and vendor integrations.

 

OPE: Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management system?

 

Kevin Stevenett: First, using solely pen and paper to manage your business simply takes too much time. It is also very tough to keep an accurate inventory without software. You can do it, but it’s going to cost you – either in extra payroll for staff to handle the manual tasks, or in taking time away from selling activities that add to your bottom line.

Dealers might first use off-the-shelf inventory/point-of-sale/accounting software like QuickBooks. While these generic programs may be easy to learn, they just aren’t enough to fully manage an OPE dealership – particularly one that handles a lot of service work and serialized unit sales. These types of programs are meant to handle parts inventory for a store that has a few hundred items at most. Think about how many parts you can order from a single supplier, then multiply that times the total number of suppliers you have. Are you really able to keep up with updating these part numbers, their cost and list price, along with superseded or discontinued parts?

Can you easily analyze parts sales history to determine seasonal orders? Or are you possibly losing money on your parts sales without even realizing it?

Generic software programs are not geared toward service-oriented businesses, so they don’t allow for tracking details on repair orders, including estimates and warranty. This means it’s not possible to get the reporting you need to see your service margins. You also can’t track serialized unit inventory as being separate from parts inventory, because these programs aren’t made for businesses that sell serialized units. And if you’ve invested time and money in repairing a machine for sale, you’ll find it very difficult to see your true unit cost, because you can’t do internal repair orders. Again, you may be losing money on these transaction types without even realizing it.

As unfortunate as it is, many off-the-shelf software programs can be easily manipulated by an unscrupulous employee. Manual entries can be made to the general ledger to change balances without a record of what has occurred or who made the changes. You need to have a traceable record of exactly what an employee has touched (an audit trail). Off-the-shelf software programs just don’t provide that level of detail or protection.

A business management system is specially designed for your unique business, to efficiently run each department, while providing instant and secure access to detailed information, purchase and service history, and accurate accounting numbers.

 

OPE: What should OPE dealers look for when shopping for a business management system?

 

Kevin Stevenett: Before you start looking, determine what your pain points are. Consider your day-to-day processes, and what you’re currently doing to manage your workflow. Where are the issues? What are you spending the most time managing? Ask your employees for their feedback – where do they think the current system is falling short? Your future BMS should resolve these concerns.

Be sure that the system is designed for your specific market and business, and that company’s team has the knowledge and experience to smoothly support your dealership team through training, data conversion, implementation, and into the future.

Focus on providers that offer a web-based system. With an internet connection, you can then securely access your system from anywhere, with any internet-connected device, with speed, data encryption, automatic data backup, and convenience.

Without requiring a dealership-based server, web-based systems offer substantial cost savings in unnecessary hardware and network support.

Invest in a system that is feature rich, can track every facet of your business, and can easily provide information to ensure better management decisions. Customer Relationship Management is becoming more and more important, along with automating customer ‘touches’ by e-mail or text. [Look for] service scheduling, finance and insurance with forms printing, and integrated real-time accounting.

Accurate accounting is so important. Every Lizzy transaction automatically creates and posts all journal entries in real time to the general ledger with precision and accuracy. Having a system posting in real time empowers you to run a profit & loss or balance sheet any time, knowing it is current to that second.

Consider the company behind the system. You are investing in more than software.

It is a relationship, even a partnership, to ensure further growth and success at your dealership. What are the terms and length of the contract? Our philosophy at Lizzy is to continually earn the dealer’s business month after month. That is the key reason that our agreement is month to month instead of locking a dealer into a multi-year contract. If we are not providing the best, most cost-efficient system, along with great customer service, we don’t deserve your business.

 

Editor’s note: Responses were presented in the order in which they were received.

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