Software Review 2012 - April 2012
By Jessica Chevalier
Creators of flooring software are in constant pursuit of two attributes that today’s customers both demand and expect: convenience and customization. Of course, these are elusive qualities, since the speedy advancement of technology means that what was convenient today isn’t convenient tomorrow, and, likewise, the degree of customization that seems cutting edge this week will be passé next week. There is no doubt that iPads, Androids and all the other new technology devices have changed customers’ expectations, and no longer are clunky or from-the-box floorcovering software programs acceptable. Whether they are using customer-facing or back-end software, today’s floorcovering professionals want ease of use and the option to pay only for what they will utilize.
Cloud computing is, without a doubt, the most significant trend this year with regard to floorcovering software. Cloud computing allows users to share data over a network, making software a service (something that a user has access to but doesn’t own; called SaaS, software as a service) rather than a product (something that a user buys and installs). Because the cloud is not a single machine but a network, information stored in the cloud is at less risk of being lost; one machine’s failure won’t affect the viability of the information stored within the cloud. In addition, cloud computing allows users to log into any computer in the world and see exactly what they would if they were sitting at their office computer.
According to Chad Ogden of QFloors, “Cloud computing provides hassle free access for software users anytime, anywhere. Using whatever device you have—iPhones, iPads, laptops, Mac’s Linux, PCs, tablets, smartphones, etc.—you can gain universal access to your company’s information and software. Smaller or mid-sized dealers who don’t have their own IT departments can access their data without worrying about the technical requirements to set it up, maintain it, store it, back it up or protect it. With cloud computing, as long as you have an Internet connection, you can click on an application or web browser, log in and open your data.”
Randy Scheid, president and COO of Dancik International, adds, “Cloud computing takes significant IT related expenses and challenges out of the equation for the floor distributor or retailer. All told, however, the biggest benefit of cloud computing is peace of mind. With server hosting, you know that your server is in a safe, secure location, that your data is being backed up regularly, and that resources are available to correct any issues with your system. Also, you no longer have to worry about regular server maintenance and operating system upgrades. Total system outages should also be a thing of the past.”
The most familiar application of the cloud in most people’s experience is iTunes. If your computer is victim of an unfortunate accident and is rendered useless, your music and media still remain on your iTunes account— a hardware loss doesn’t amount to an information loss. Furthermore, users of iTunes can download a song on one device and that song will appear on their other registered devices because the cloud, not the computer, stores the song file.
Similarly, in the world of floorcovering software, the cloud is used to transfer information efficiently. Subscribers to Floor Force, for instance, can click an icon on their desktop and connect instantly to the cloud. Then they can, much like in Apple’s app store, choose applications for their Floor Force software individually based on their needs. That cloud benefit plays directly into the quest for convenience; floorcovering software creators are striving to build programs that provide each business and user with exactly what they need, in an intuitive format. Software creators are now selling features of their software in smaller pieces. Floorcovering retailers can choose what features they want in their system rather than buying the whole system, which may contain tools that they don’t want or need.
Along the same lines, software creators are building web application programming interfaces (web API) that allow software to exchange information with other programs. These interfaces are meant to lighten the workload by eliminating the need for users to enter the same data in two locations. Kashmoo’s FlooringSoft.com, for instance, interfaces with Quickbooks in real time so that users can build a bid in FlooringSoft.com, then invoice for it in Quickbooks, for example. In the same vein, QFloors believes that more connectivity between dealers, manufacturers, distributors and suppliers is the wave of the future, as business-to-business software features continue to be enhanced.
All of these new software capabilities mean more training, and, as you might expect, web based training is the method of choice. Webinars, instructional online videos and one-on-one online training are good choices because they are cheaper than travel-based training and can be conducted in shorter increments. If a trainer traveled to visit a client, chances are the training would last all day to make the best use of the trainer’s time, and the client would suffer from information overload. Online, the information can be transmitted in shorter durations, and so this type of training is often more productive. It is also cheaper.
Ultimately, several of the manufacturers that we spoke with said that merging customer facing and back end software is the next major step in floorcovering software. Whether some of the developers profiled below will join forces to marry their products or whether they will simply build corresponding systems from the ground up is yet to be seen.
SAMPLING VISUALIZERS & PRINTER SIMULATIONS
Visualizers, technology tools that allows users to see products in a real world setting, offer significant advantages for manufacturers, retailers and consumers. They allow manufacturers and retailers to turn a product into a floor. And they give consumers the opportunity to test drive a look before taking a significant financial plunge. However, while the tools provide a great service, they have significant challenges as well.
To start, it is difficult for even the best visualizers to create a photo realistic look in a 2D environment, so in many cases these tools provide an image that looks like a mock up rather than an actual floor. While visualizers do provide the consumer with a sense of how the floor will look, they don't provide a lot more than that. They are good for trying out a pattern in replication or judging one tone against another, but not for making a final decision.
On the manufacturers' and retailers' side of things, development of these programs is costly, especially since they provide no direct revenue stream in and of themselves. Consumers aren't willing to pay to use the product, and so retailers and manufacturers have to just hope that they produce sales.
All visualizers offer a selection of room types and settings within which customers can sample flooring. Several of the programs also allow consumers to upload or submit a photo of their own room, so that they can sample the flooring within a photo of their actual space. In some cases, the consumer can change not only the flooring, but also, for instance, the backsplash, wall tile and paint color, so that they can experiment with different looks and color combinations.
Floor Force has a 3D version of a visualizer available; however, currently the product can only be used for area rug sampling. The company plans to expand that technology to other flooring types, but only when it feels that the end result is high quality.
So while the capabilities of these tools are limited at present, it will be interesting to see what they become in the future. At present, Crossville (Cross-Vision), Armstrong (Design-A-Room), Shaw (Try On A Floor), Tarkett (RoomVue) and Johnsonite (ID Premier Visualizer) all offer visualizer tools on their websites. Armstrong reports that its visualizer, Design-A-Room, is the second most visited area of the Armstrong website. While these tools aren't new offerings for most of these manufacturers, they are consistently undergoing revisions to make them more useful and realistic.
With regard to physical product samples, while Tricycle has been plugging away with soft surface simulation for product sampling for several years, Brown Industries in Dalton is now offering its True Touch sampling product for hard surface products such as hardwood, tile and laminate flooring. True Touch is produced through a printing process that creates a physical texture. Of course, True Touch offers the same significant benefit that actual samples do--a take-home option for the consumer that produces a lasting reminder of the store and the product. as an added benefit, brown Industries can print contact information and QR codes on the back of the samples to further reinforce the store and product brand image, and they can affix the samples together in a notepad for easy access and simple storage.
Though the process for printing a True Touch sample is expensive compared to other printing costs, it still adds up to significant savings when compared to sampling the actual material; it also saves on shipping costs. The product eliminates the retailer's perennial problem of recovering product samples that consumers have taken home and forgotten to return, and Brown Industries reports that, in many cases, it is difficult to tell the difference between a True Touch and a real product sample.
CUSTOMER FACING SOFTWARE
Floor Force began building its software platform last August and launched its sales and marketing strategy in November, so it is the newest player to the flooring software scene. The company makes customer-facing software for flooring retailers. Floor Force, which was previously Rooms Alive, says that its experience in its previous incarnation taught its team what is important to retailers as well as what they do not value and are not willing to pay for. As a result, Floor Force is a totally different animal from Rooms Alive—an online product, not a kiosk. The ultimate goal of Floor Force is to capture consumers shopping on the Internet, then pull them into a retailer’s website and, ultimately, into their physical store. Floor Force’s services are mobile friendly across all devices and browsers.
Because users of Floor Force software vary greatly with regard to their computer skills, the company offers a significant amount of training for users. All the training happens on the web through individual and group webinars as well as training videos. Floor Force helps customers get set up with social media, though it does not offer ongoing social media management.
Floor Force allows users to post as many SKUs on their websites as they like but notes that most retailers do not choose to post their entire catalog, since there is simply a limit to how many flooring choices are effective in a web format. The Floor Force system enables consumers to filter a retailer’s product catalog to focus on, for example, clearance items or new items or items by price.
The most recent focus of Creating Your Space, another company that focuses on connecting on-line consumers to its flooring retail clients with the latest Internet marketing tools, is currently generating mobile formatted websites for its users, which it launched at this year’s Surfaces. A mobile friendly site, which is formatted for smart phones and tablets, is actually a second website, not just an alteration of the original design. Creating Your Space is launching these for its users at a discounted price.
In addition, Creating Your Space is moving away from Adobe Flash, which is not supported by Apple devices, and converting all flash to the HTML5 or jQuery format. The company also continues to expand its social media services as new tools like Pinterest are introduced. Unlike Floor Force, Creating Your Space will manage social media for its retailers; about 20% of the company’s clients opt for this service.
Creating Your Space builds customized websites for each client, and it focuses on creating tools for engaging the customer, like visualization tools, estimating tools, interactive quizzes, video and product catalogs. In addition, the company builds marketing systems into its sites, like CRM functionality and promotional codes. Creating Your Space’s systems work on the most-used mobile devices, including iPhone and Android.
The company has over 275,000 images from over 350 brands available for its users. Retailers can activate these for their site and can customize them as well. The company gives users the option of making changes to their sites themselves or allowing Creating Your Space to make changes for them. About 98% of customers choose to let the company make changes; there is no per-change fee.
BACK END SOFTWARE
Dancik International creates back end software for retailers, distributors, manufacturers, importers and design centers. Recently, the company released the latest version of Décor 24, a business-to-business web application. The application lets companies provide 24-hour access to their customers, so that they can place orders, check stock, check their order status, and get pricing information. The latest release has rebuilt the back-end technology using reusable web services, individual pieces of software that represent specific tasks. Having an application broken down into smaller components enables the company to create customized applications for their clients without reinventing the whole system each time.
In addition, the company continues to develop its Dancik Navigator, a web-based version of the Dancik Enterprise System, releasing new modules quarterly. Navigator has a customizable user-specific menu and industry-specialized applications.
Features of Dancik’s Navigator, Décor 24 and Radar products can be accessed via iPad, iPhone and Android mobile devices. The next release of the company’s showroom management application Selection Sheet Manager, due out later this year, will be ready for desktop and mobile deployment.
Dancik offers cloud-hosted capabilities for small and mid-sized companies and hopes to offer the same for large operations within the year.
QFloors, which creates software for retail flooring companies, launched its QCloud Hosting to all its customers this year. The company also released QFloors 6.0, free to current customers, which includes added features like integrated marketing metrics, integrated CRM tools, instant stock check, sample check out and task manager. The updated program includes a “related items” feature; when a user selects a product on the invoice screen, the system will automatically pull up all of the applicable related items to make sure that nothing is forgotten in the customer’s order.
QFloors offers mobile capabilities for Android, Windows Mobile, iPhones, iPads and tablets, as well as Mac-based, Windows-based, and Linux-based operating systems. With most devices, you can access everything in QFloors. Some devices with limited screen size, like smart phones, may only be able to access the customer invoicing and product management features.
QFloors offers its customers unlimited training opportunities through phone and web for the first year of use. Customers are also welcome to send employees to the company’s monthly two-day training seminars.
Austin, Texas based Kashmoo builds flooring software systems for the floorcovering, lighting and restoration industries, among others. The company’s SaaS software for flooring retailers is called FlooringSoft.com. New to FlooringSoft.com is an email integration module that automatically attaches related email messages to customer records in FlooringSoft.com, so all communications between the company and the customer are in one location instead of being housed only in the individual email accounts of employees across the company.
Recently, Kashmoo also upgraded to a full HTML5 compatibility, which means that FlooringSoft.com will be accessible using most browsers and almost any mobile device. The upgrade is currently in beta testing.
Kashmoo’s Open API product allows FlooringSoft.com to exchange data with any other “open” program. FlooringSoft talks to Quickbooks, OnScreen Takeoff, Home Depot and Floor Covering B2B. FlooringSoft QB Connect offers real-time, two-way integration with Quickbooks. The company is currently working to integrate with Floor Estimate Pro, CCA’s Gateway and several other systems.
Twenty-eight year old software developer RFMS, based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, offers software for the floorcovering retailer by a floorcovering retailer. The company is the only one in the industry that also operates a retail store. RFMS recently released project management software called Customer Management Module (CMM) that is offered in three phases: lead management, retail sales management and project management/commercial management. The software integrates fully with the company’s CRM module. CMM allows users to build template letters to customers, which the software will populate by pulling information from across the system.
RFMS also created a web portal module for dealers who work in multi-family property management. These dealers can go online and place orders for flooring products; this information is then fed into the RFMS client data, so orders are automatically entered with negotiated pricing. In addition, the portal allows property managers direct access to invoices and records.
RFMS released its free Measure Mobile by RFMS app in Apple’s app store and in the Android market. The app enables homeowners to measure their home, then take that information with them to the flooring retail store. A professional version of the app is available for $20/month.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus