Software: Retailer Perspectives - April 2013

Software: Retailer Perspectives From April 2013

By Jessica Chevalier

 

For this year’s software review, we went downstream and talked to a group of end-users at the retail level. From these discussions, a very clear message emerged: regardless of all the new functions and features, regardless of who offers a cloud capability and what mobile options a program has for use on the showroom floor, nothing means more to flooring retailers than the relationship that they have with the software developer.

Indeed, more than one of the retailers that we consulted described their software purveyor as “like family,” and nearly all of them listed their ability to get a speedy response to their questions and feedback as one of the most important services from their software provider.

This is especially significant when you consider the fact that several of these retailers believe that incorporating a software program into their routine was the single most important thing that they have done for their flooring retail business. According to Joe Montemagni, owner of Baystate Rug and Flooring of Chicopee, Massachusetts, “This was the single best move I have ever made for Baystate Rug. It absolutely changed our culture. We could not have grown without it.” 

Montemagni, who uses QFloors, describes his pre-software business as like the “I Love Lucy” comedy routine where chocolates are zooming down the conveyor belt faster than Lucy and Ethel can package them. Orders were coming in, and Montemagni’s team just couldn’t keep up using the pencil and paper method. 

Mark Munjone, owner of Abbey Carpet of Largo in Largo, Florida, has a similar sentiment: “Incorporating software into my business is the best thing I have ever done.” Munjone uses RollMaster’s program.

MAKING THE DECISION
For Montemagni, as well as Paige Watts, owner of Knight Carpet and Flooring of Abilene, Texas, and Steve Chirico, president of Great Western Flooring, the flooring software that they currently use is their first and only. However, unlike these retailers, Munjone had another program pre-1998. He describes his previous program as “cumbersome and illogical.” The software—created by a company no longer in business—did not produce the accounting reports that he needed, a major drawback, which is what prompted him to seek out a new platform.

An Abbey dealer, Munjone narrowed his choices to the two recommended by the buying group. Ultimately, Munjone chose RollMaster over the other program approved by Abbey because he felt that it had stronger accounting capabilities, helping ensure that he would receive rebates from vendors. 

Montemagni, a Mohawk Floorscapes dealer, spent over two years researching programs to determine which was the best fit for his business, using conventions to discuss the available choices with both the developers and his peers. 

After asking a host of other retailers about their experiences, he narrowed his choice down to two firms, QFloors being one of them, then he sat down to talk with each of these software developers. 

He also visited multiple times with the company that developed the product used by the majority of his peers. “The people were great,” he says, “but I just didn’t understand the program.” He also noticed that, year after year, he’d ask the retailers using this program whether they liked it, and they’d report that they were still learning it and only used half of the features. 

Part of Montemagni’s concern about ease of use relates to his long-standing staff. He has a 70-year-old retail sales associate (RSA), two RSAs in their sixties, and two in their fifties. At the time he was shopping around, not a single member of his “mature staff,” as he describes them, had ever used a computer.

However, for Montemagni, the Windows-based QFloors system was much simpler to understand. “The way you clicked on things was more familiar to me. It looked easier to use, so I worried that it was inferior,” he recalls. 

Because of this concern, Montemagni held off on making his decision until the next year’s convention, when he ran into a retailer who confided that his bookkeeper was embezzling from him. The retailer, who used the other system that Montemagni was considering, didn’t notice the theft because he couldn’t figure out his software’s accounting system. That made Montemagni’s decision. He chose QFloors and says that the software has enabled him to “own” his own business, to know that he wasn’t going to be swindled, as his friend was. 

As another bonus, the QFloors system was slightly more affordable—but that didn’t drive Montemagni’s decision, “I would have paid whatever I needed to.”

Chirico, at Great Western Floors in Chicago, chose RFMS for his business in 1991. “At the time, it was one of two industry software packages available,” he says. Chirico had his accountant access both programs and make a recommendation. 

Watts started using FlooringSoft about six years ago, when the program was just a scheduler. At the time, he priced a competing program and found that FlooringSoft was both cheaper and web-based, meaning that he didn’t have to buy a costly server to support it. In addition, the program could sync with Quickbooks, which was revolutionary at the time. He started using the full software roughly four years ago. Now, he says, he can’t imagine living without it. 

REVENUE BUILDING BENEFITS
It’s hard for retailers to fully comprehend the benefits that industry-specific software will provide until they actually use it in their business. Montemagni says, “The program seemed to do everything that I thought I needed it to do. Once we got it in place, I realized how many areas were lacking.”

One of those areas, Montemagni says, was in relation to profit and loss statements. Montemagni didn’t study business in college, so he didn’t know how valuable profit and loss analysis could be for his business. With the help of QFloors’ support, he learned how to read the statements, which “enabled me to predict the future, to catch trends as they were happening.”

Watts agrees. Because of his software, he doesn’t have to wait for a bookkeeper to enter data and produce reports, “It provides a real time picture of business in association with Quickbooks, rather than sending stuff to the accountant and waiting for him to tell me whether I’m making money.”

Says Munjone, who uses RollMaster, “The current version makes it very easy to get real numbers and job costs, and to get reports that tell me where the problems are in the system, whether products are being sold at too low a margin or whether costs are being added at the back end. I can analyze each job and see where the profit is or isn’t.” Munjone also appreciates the business-to-business functions that RollMaster offers. “I can import price lists and know that pricing is accurate,” he says.

While Chirico and Montemagni maintain their own servers, Watts’ and Munjone’s information is stored remotely. Watts’ program is Internet based, which means that he can access his data anywhere at any time—except when the Internet is down. 

Munjone moved to cloud storage in November 2011 and characterizes the move as “the best thing I’ve ever done.” Previous to utilizing the cloud, Munjone had an internal server and, each evening, would back his data up on a drive and then place the drive in a fireproof cabinet for safekeeping. At first, Munjone says that he was reluctant to give up local control, but now he wishes that he had done it sooner, as it has made life easier and provides him with greater peace of mind. 

Additionally, Munjone doesn’t miss the costs associated with maintaining a server. “The hardware would die, and the software would get obsolete. Using the cloud saves the expense of equipment, which was $4,000 to $5,000 every five years.” In addition, Munjone appreciates the ability to access his data from anywhere. 

Cloud storage has built-in redundancies, which virtually guarantee that information won’t spiral into an unreachable abyss. Though server users can build in redundancies as insurance for their information, they are less airtight, as Montemagni learned. 

When his server crashed, Montemagni called the company that he’d employed to back up his server remotely. The company was recommended by QFloors, and Montemagni had been paying for their services for five years. However, he was told that his backup had, somehow, fallen through the cracks, and they had none of his information. 

Fortunately, a third party was able to retrieve his data from his server’s hard drive. And the incident prompted QFloors to offer its own back-up services for customers. 

Job scheduling is another important capability that software programs offer. Says Chirico, “RFMS is a well-integrated software, but when it came out with the integrated scheduling module, it was a game changer. The integrated schedule module was introduced seven years ago. When we schedule a job through it, it updates the customer order, which ties into our ordering department and flags items that are not in inventory.” If a retailer knows of an inventory deficit up front, they can immediately reorder and avoid costly and embarrassing rescheduling at the last minute, saving face with the customer and maintaining a reputation for good customer service.

Montemagni has seen benefits to his inventory as well. “Our inventory is now very accurate,” he says. “That was an immediate help and the main reason that we wanted a software system.“ 

A benefit that Montemagni did not anticipate was how the program helps him pay bills on time, and he estimates that this, alone, saves him $35,000 to $50,000 annually. Montemagni’s father, who ran the business before him, would wait until a manufacturer called before he sent the check and never took a discount for paying early. However, the QFloors’ system prompts Montemagni to pay bills on time. “Now,” says Montemagni, “our credit is second to none with the manufacturers. Notifying me when to take discounts sounds simple, but it’s a huge advantage. It saves us tons of money and makes us much stronger in the eyes of vendors. And when you have strength with vendors, you get better pricing.”

Montemagni also cites QFloors’ New Leads section as a significant help to his business, “You need to either get more people through the doors or close more sales. If you are already advertising, you probably can’t increase your traffic, so how are you going to grow business? It’s very hard to bring more people in, but it’s not so hard to close more sales at a higher margin. You need accurate measurements for that, and the leads section is a good first step.”

In addition, he considers the program’s customer database very valuable. Utilizing these tools made a dramatic increase in his profitability. And his RSAs use the database as a system for creating new sales and maintaining relationships, calling a certain number of past customers daily.

Lastly, Montemagni praises the system’s commission calculator as another revenue building tool. Before utilizing the calculator, his RSAs would approach him frequently (nearly every sale) to ask for a discount in order to close the sale. Now, the RSAs can see the margin on every product and, therefore, know what commission they will make by selling it at asking price. A lower margin means lower commission, so his RSAs now think twice about asking for or offering discounts. 

THE SERVICE
Watts’ FlooringSoft interface is unlike anyone else’s. The company customized it to him and his staff. In fact, when Watts took a look at the company’s standard product, he was surprised to find that the interface was totally different from his. In addition to selling flooring, Watts also offers a cleaning service. Watts called FlooringSoft and told them that he needed a scheduling program for his cleaning service, and within two weeks they had created one to fit his needs. 

Watts characterizes the system as intuitive and notes that, even at its most extensive use, it is very easy to understand. Watts participates in FlooringSoft training programs, as do his employees. These are generally conducted through Go To Meeting. And when Watts or an employee needs to call tech support, he notes that they are on hold less than a minute. In addition, there are only a handful of techies at FlooringSoft, so there is never a stranger on the other end of the line. Watts’ software program is service-based. He paid an upfront fee and also pays a user fee. However, there is no extra charge for tech support.

Like Watts, Munjone pays a monthly fee for his service-based software. Munjone characterizes his RollMaster program as “very straightforward” and says that he hasn’t had any difficulty in training employees to use the program. The company “has made advances the past few years in making the program more graphical,” he says.

When he does need support, Munjone notes that RollMaster has a wonderful manual online. If he can’t find an answer there, he emails the support staff, which responds within ten minutes. The company takes feedback, and Munjone sees results. Munjone notes that there are many RollMaster training sessions offered annually, in many different locations. He participates yearly and takes staff as well.

Chirico characterizes RFMS as a user-friendly program, noting that, “The new updates always require a learning curve, but once the adjustment is made, it’s quite easy to operate. People with fewer technology skills have trouble with it, much like they would any software, but generally speaking it’s easy to train.”

As a user of RFMS for over 22 years, Chirico has seen many significant changes, such as the program’s conversion from DOS to Windows. “This made the system much more user friendly,” he says, “but the biggest improvement was definitely when they integrated Shaw and Mohawk and now other manufacturers and distributors. That has saved us thousands and thousands annually in data entry costs.”

Great Western Flooring owns its RFMS software outright but pays an annual maintenance fee. Chirico leases certain modules, like the company’s Measure Pro. He, too, participates in training sessions when revisions are made to the software.

Montemagni owns his QFloors software outright, but has a service contract, for which he pays an annual fee. This gives him the ability to call the support staff for help. Montemagni reports that QFloors will spend hours on the phone with him, if need be. They can also remotely access his computer, so that they can see and correct a problem from their end. 

Montemagni has eight desktops in his store for his RSA team, and QFloors’ phone number is posted above each one. When it came time to teach his mature RSA team, “the program looked simple enough to teach, and it was.” Still, some of his mature team members, who had never before used a computer, were overwhelmed and in tears initially. “QFloors was very compassionate. If they had to spend all day on the phone with us, they would. They [the RSAs] love the system now. They know how to check inventory, use the whole system, and they feel empowered on the sales floor because they have knowledge.”

AROUND THE BEND
Most of the retailers with whom we spoke plan to incorporate mobile technology on the show floor and in the field, so they are all looking for technology that will make that integration simple. 

To start, Montemagni and Watts hope to give each of their RSAs an iPad, so that they will be able to answer a customer’s questions by accessing the software without having to go to a desk. Watts recently visited Restoration Hardware in San Antonio and noticed that each representative in the store had an iPad that they were using to show product colors and choices not represented on the show floor.

Montemagni would also like to see measuring software that integrates easily with his business software. “I would like to develop an invoice right in the customer’s home, because that makes it much easier to close a job. The more time you let a sale go without closing, the less likely you are you get it. QFloors and the measuring software talk, but it’s complicated.”

Chirico wants to see bar codes being utilized more readily in the industry, “Bar codes are commonplace for most industries, but, for whatever reason, the flooring industry is behind. Imagine if each showroom sample board was bar coded; you could simply enter the quantity and area then swipe the sample to import the product file. This would save time and improve accuracy. It could also be used for sample board checkout.”

Regardless of their wish lists, each of the retailers that we interviewed is pleased with their investment. Says Montemagni, “The single most important decision a flooring retailer can make is getting software that they are comfortable with. I have a lot of growth plans, and I wouldn’t make a move without QFloors.”

Copyright 2013 Floor Focus 



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