Electronic Business Solutions - October 2007

By Sonya Jennings

What product in your store right now generates the highest profit margin? Do you know your best selling carpet style? A dealer who uses specialized software to run his business has that ever-changing information at his fingertips on any given day with a couple of mouse clicks.

If you are measuring carpet in a customer’s home on a Saturday, and she asks if the product can be installed on Wednesday, can you answer her? A retailer who uses manufacturer websites can check inventory and get a ship date immediately.

That little magic box we call the computer can be intimidating, but in today’s working environment it can make your business much more efficient, allowing you to grow your bottom line.

There’s something for everyone. Electronic tools can help you with everything from placing an order with a supplier to managing your entire business. Easy-to-use computer technology is changing the way business gets done. It’s faster and reduces errors, and, if you so choose, you can conduct business at 2 a.m. in your pajamas while eating Oreos. No longer are you confined by another company’s “hours of operation.” Most importantly, new technology gives you the information you need to focus your attention on the things that are actually making you money.

What Can Manufacturer Websites Do for Me?
By calling customer service at Beaulieu of America, Mohawk Industries or Shaw Floors, you can receive a user name and password for their website. This is your ticket into the world of electronic ordering. You can check their inventory, place an order, get a ship date, track an order, file a claim, get a claim number, get a copy of an invoice, and, in most cases, pay your invoice. Again, you can do this at any hour.

Once you have a user name and password, if you need help to learn the system, customer service can help coach you through the process. Linda Woody at Mohawk discusses the benefit of the online help desk: “If you get stuck while working on our website, there’s a telephone number to call, and someone will literally walk you through the process until you are comfortable.”

However, manufacturers are striving to make their websites easy to use. According to Mike McAllister of Beaulieu, ordering and managing your account online is very basic. “Our website is incredibly user-friendly. Anyone who is intimidated by technology will be shocked at how simple it is to order online.”

This website information is useful in many ways. Liz Richardson of Custom Decorators in Portland, Oregon uses Shaw Online for project management. “When we begin a job, a designer can place the order and track it online,” she says. “There is no rushing around to find a pen and keeping up with pieces of paper. Everything that’s done for a specific job is documented on the website—order date, style number, ship date, tracking information, etc. Anything a designer wants to know about any project she’s working on can be accessed at any time.”

She adds, “The basic point is that we spend a lot less time on the phone, and a lot more time helping clients. And that is the goal.” 

Easy access to information can create authorization issues, which Shaw’s Steve Abernathy believes is one of the roadblocks that stops some companies from going electronic. However, his company has solved this by giving business owners full control. “Many of our retailers worry about security. A business owner does not necessarily want every employee to have all pricing information. This concern is addressed by giving the business owner the ability to assign different levels of authority to each of his or her employees. The business owner has full control of what an employee can view or order online.”

How Can Software Help My Business?
Independent software writers have revolutionized the way many flooring retailers operate almost every aspect of their businesses. Software companies like QFloors, RFMS Inc., Textile Management Systems (Rollmaster), and Dancik International have developed tools that make life as a business owner less chaotic and a lot more efficient.

Software gives business owners a clear, accurate picture of what is happening on a daily basis. It allows them to pull back and get a bird’s-eye view of the entire business operation. For example, with a few simple commands, information is available on profit margins and job costing. Theresa Kotch, controller for S&G Carpet and More in San Jose, says Rollmaster has changed her business. “Before we began using Rollmaster, we had a situation in a particular store where we were selling a lot, but margins were terrible. Today that does not happen because it is so easy to track where our profits are coming from. It gives us the information we need: Even if we are selling a lot of product, are we making money? Our software paid for itself within the first year by giving us this type of information.”

Preston Thompson, owner of The Carpet Shoppe in Dickson, Tennessee points out how much money he saved in accounting costs when he began using QFloors. “We used to pay a CPA $1,400 per month to handle our accounting. After we signed on with QFloors, there was simply no need for that function. It became so easy for us to perform those tasks ourselves with a few commands.”

Software packages vary depending on the company and package you use, but they each perform the nuts and bolts and day to day processes of running a flooring business. A few things these software packages can do are:

• Create professional estimates for every customer, including measurements and exact amount of product. 
• Change an estimate to a sales order in your computer system if a customer chooses to buy. 
• Create a purchase order from the sales order and actually order the product from the supplier. 
• Update your inventory when a customer orders product and when you receive shipments from suppliers. 
• Give an accurate snapshot of how much a job will cost, including installation, and how much profit you will make.
• Schedule installation. 
• Handle payroll, checkbook and accounts payable with simple clicks of the mouse. 
• Automatically download price list changes from suppliers so that your system is always accurate. 
• Give the owner the ability to control exactly what each employee can view and perform with the system. 

The cost to implement these systems depends on the company you use and the package you order. There are simple packages that handle the front end of the process, including estimating and ordering, that start at $2,000 to $3,000. Complete software systems that run everything listed above with inhouse training can top out around $10,000. There are many packages in between to fit various needs and budgets. 

Lenny Hansen, co-owner of Hansen Carpet Gallery in St. Cloud, Minnesota likes how quickly he can help a customer. “When a customer calls our store and asks what style and color carpet she ordered three years ago, I do not have to run to a filing cabinet somewhere. I can pull up the information immediately while she is on the phone. Before we had RFMS, I would have had to call her back.”

Robin Osterhus owns Flooring Frenzy and More in Owatonna, Minnesota, and one of her favorite aspects of the QFloors system is the ability to check her inventory at any time. “I remember the days when I would have to literally go check the warehouse for inventory. To say the least, this was not convenient. Now, I can view my inventory on my computer screen immediately. It is accurate and I always know what I have.” 

The time it takes to fully integrate the system can take from three to nine months depending on your dedication level and whether or not you have inhouse training. It is a significant investment in time for a business, and there are growing pains with learning something new. Kotch of S&G Carpet and More says, “We now look back on those early days as ‘dark days’ but the truth is, we never could have grown to where we are without our system. It was an investment in our future.”

Other Tools Online
In addition to manufacturer websites and independent software packages, buying groups offer members online tools to help their businesses. For example, Carpet One Floor & Home’s PriceRight system allows members to manage margins and pricing, print price tags, and manage their presence on www.carpetone.com, the group’s website. Carpet One is developing its own software for members.

The Bottom Line
With so many ways to go electronic, perhaps the best advice is to check out the options. Each software company has online demonstrations that are easy to access. The manufacturer websites also have simple sign-on procedures to get you up and running. So, hop onto the electronic train by exploring online to find which tool might help grow your business. And you may save yourself a lot of time and a few headaches by having all the information you need at your fingertips.

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Shaw Floors, Beaulieu International Group, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Carpet One, Mohawk Industries