Dressing for Darwin

lukejason.JPGJason Leung and Luke La from the Tower Systems Brisbane office joined me in Darwin yesterday for a business development discussion and a user meeting with Tower Newsagents. We have good user coverage in Darwin.

We enjoyed catching up with people at the meeting as well as in their businesses. Jason and Luke also delivered some one on one training in-store for some of our users. We make sure that we get to Darwin as part of our national user meeting cycle.

Jason and Luke were smart and dressed for the weather. Darwin is one of those cities where comfort is more important than look if you are out of air conditioned buildings.

0 likes

Access POS is not Tower Systems

Despite what they might want internet browsers to think, Access POS is not Tower Systems.  Access continues to pay to purchase the Tower Systems keyword on Google.  They even headline their ad Tower Systems yet the ad has nothing to do with Tower Systems.  We have complained to Google that this is a form of passing off.  Google refuses to act.  All we can hope is that people searching for Tower Systems click on the Access ad to rack up their costs.

We would be happy to put anyone interested in the Access versus Tower comparison in touch with any of the many who have switched to us. We estimate that they have ariound 100 newsagents left using their software.

I have posted this item in the hope that it comes up in Google natural searches and thereby combats the paid ads being run by Access.

0 likes

Charging to access supplier invoices

At Tower Systems we do not charge our users to access electronic invoices from suppliers.

Two software companies suppling newsagents charge a fee to access supplier invoices.  In each case, if the fee is not paid access to invoice data is blocked. This blackmails small business users into paying for software support so they can get access to supplier data.

Once the software development is done, there is no cost to software companies to provide access to the data so there is no reason to charge a fee. XchangeIT, the EDI service providor to newsagents, funded the development of the necessary software so there is no reason to charge newsagents a fee.

Newsagents ought to be very careful when considering systems and understand if such fees apply and take these into account in costing the software.

With the considerable changes coming in this area in 2009 there is a risk that newsagents will be caught by what I would call unfair business practices.

0 likes

Businesses pursue value

One consequence of the current economic conditions is that small business owners are pursuing value in their transactions. By value, I mean an ability to derive a good return from the investment.  Conservative software companies like us with a long track record and achieving consistent growth are appealing to businesses which want to automate.

Smaller software companies, with a few hundred users or less, are at risk as are those which are shrinking in terms of their customer base.

So, value is the name of the game – value from being able to benefit from today’s software investment for many years into the future, value from partnering with a firm capable of continuing to enhance your investment, and, value from using software which genuinely helps you cut operating costs and increase sales at the same time.

There is no room in today’s new marketplace for spin -this is where history counts for something by proving that you do deliver on your promises and provide good value.

0 likes

Software support fee warning

We have a support fee price list and charge the same to all users of our software based on the modules installed and the number of retail locations in which the software operates. Not all software companies do this. Last week we saw charges ranging from $1,500 to $3,500 to small businesses using exactly the same software in exactly the same circumstances – bringing a new focus to mates rates.

If you are unsure of the support fees you are being charged, make some calls to colleagues, check that others are paying what you are being charged.

The $2,000 difference we saw last wee is unconscionable and was only billed, in our view, because the software company involved thought they cold get away with it.

Software companies which charge fairly and transparently have nothing to worry about from customer queries.

0 likes

Spin, spin and spin

POS Solutions, is an Australian company. The company provides software and services to small and medium businesses, where the company has enjoyed steady growth so making it particularly well-known in Australian Newsagencies where its software has taken hold as the market leader. It has recently moved to Pharmacies.

Its product and services range from entry software through to multi user enterprise software for retail point of sale software.

It has over 2,000 clients in Australia.

This is the entry for POS Solutions, a competitor of Tower Systems, at Wikipedia, authored by someone called Zprogrammer. The October 2007 entry is inaccurate.

In a letter to a client dated October 12, 2006, George Tzilantonis, the then Business Development Manager for POS Solutions states:

Pos Solutions has over 1200 Customers Australia Wide

For the Wikipedia entry, written just one year later, to be correct, POS would have needed to add 15 new systems a week between October 2006 and October 2007. Bernard Zimmermann, a Director of the company, told me late last year that they were had been adding two or three systems a week. While I don;t believe his claim, I am in no position to prove this.

Tzilantonis’ 1,200 relates to all markets. Once you strip away pharmacies, hardware and other businesses, you are left with 600 to 700 newsagents. This is the number newsagent suppliers have for POS and their market share as well.

POS Solutions is not the market leader in the newsagency marketplace, not by any measure. They do not have 50 employees as is claimed – if they did people would not have the difficult they appear to in getting access to support.

The reference used to claim market leadership in the Wiki entry is a newsagent year book published by the ANF. The author of the POS Solutions Wikipedia material has taken the information in the ANF document out of context. Here’s what someone reviewing the page had to say about the claims:

While trying to establish notability of the company after the author user:Zprogrammer keeps removing the {{notability}} without improving the article, I came across the blog of a competitor. Obviously this needs to be taken with caution, but at least it indicates that some of the claims need better independent sources, to decide, who of the two is right. In particular the issue of market leadership as well as the number of customers need reliable quotes. The source given in the article for market leadership, the National Newsagents 2005 yearbook, is not on the given web site. –S.K. 16:21, 17 October 2007 (UTC)

Why does this matter? It goes to credibility if Wikipedia and, if Zprogrammer, the author of the Wikipedia entry, is from POS Solutions, it goes to the credibility of their company.

Newsagents are trusting folk, many have not purchased a business computer system before. We owe it to them, and to the laws of the land, to be honest in all of our representations.

I am caught between a rock and a hard place in posting this. On the one hand, why give oxygen to a competitor? On the other, newsagents need to know that they need to test what they read and are told about software companies. The Wiki entry for POS Solutions is an example of something which is spin (at best) and ought to be disregarded.

UPDATE: Zimmermann has blogged about my post here. He does not commit to addressing the concerns raised by people at Wikipedia about the veracity of the claims made on behalf of his company. Instead, he tries to discredit me and, in doing so, digs a deeper hole for himself.

0 likes

Grocery price inquiry

I am glad that the new Federal Government has asked the ACCC to inquire into grocery prices. I am especially pleased that the inquiry will consider the competitive position of small and independent retailers.

Coles and Woolworths dominate supermarket and related retail in Australia. Their dominance is unhealthy for farmers, other suppliers and consumers. They do little to genuinely support local communities and care less about genuine development of their people.

While I am not looking for any protection for small business, I am keen to see fairness imposed in these massive supermarket chains in their dealings. In my work with some of our small business customers I have seen first hand the impact of major supermarket behaviour. Hopefully a formal inquiry by the ACCC will pull some of the more questionable behaviour back.

0 likes

Cutting humans out of retail

I was interested to see a report in The Age about Microsoft playing in the shopping space with a console connected to the cart you walk around the store.  While it may attract retailers looking to cut labour costs, I see it as another example of big business not understanding that retail is about human based customer service – yes, even in supermarkets and massive department stores.

0 likes

Jetstar fails at customer service

One of our employees injured himself and was not able to fly.  When we called Jetstar to advise them and try and make alternative arrangements they refused to help.  It seems that even though the reason for not flying was genuine, they had no compassion for our situation.  This is despite our spending of $200,000 a year on air travel.

What made this worse was the appalling English of the Jetstar representative.  We suspect they were not located in Australia.  The phone call to them took much longer than it should have because they did not understand what we were calling about.

This appalling customer service from Jetstar ensures that we will only use them when we have no other choice.

For the record, Virgin and Qantas have allowed us to make changes in circumstances such as those we presented to Jetstar.

0 likes

Will the real Tower Systems please stand up?

We have lodged a formal complaint to Google about the infringement of our business name by a competitor as shown on the screen below when you search Google for Tower Systems. The headline used by Access POS on their AdWords ad – Tower Systems – has nothing to do with what they are advertising.

accesspos.JPG

We contend that their goal is to pass themselves off, on Google, as us – certainly that is what the headline for their ad suggests. Our advice to people searching Google for Tower systems is BEWARE! AccessPos is not Tower Systems.

0 likes

ACCC challenge on Google Ads

That the ACCC has charged that Google has engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct is most interesting. I know from my own experience that there are people using Google who think the sponsored links are part of the natural search results – i.e. that they are not paid ads. This is why I am angry that a small competitor my company in NSW – Access POS – is paying to buy the phrase Tower Systems. Geoffrey Stott, the owner of Access POS knows that people searching for Tower Systems are not likely to be looking for his company. My view is that he is seeking to trade off our name and grab business off out coattails. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

Giving court attention to how advertisers can buy competitor company names in keywords and how ads are diffrentiated from search results is a worthwhile pursuit regardless of the outcome as=nd I say this as a some time user of Google AdWords.

0 likes

Trading off our name

How cheeky is this: Access POS, a competitor in NSW, is paying to have their business advertised when people do a search for Tower Systems using Google. If you click on their ad they are charged a fee by Google.

I estimate that Access POS has between 100 and 150 newsagent customers and while we have ten times that, it is a concern that they are seeking to trade off us in this way. We have switched 32 Access POS users to Tower Systems in the last fourteen months. Besides the software and service differences, there is also a difference in licencing – Access POS users have told us they are unhappy at having to pay an annual licence fee.

The folks at Access POS have a track record of trading off the reputation of others. For several years they have used the newsagent owned N brand on their website – this infers some form of endorsement or approval. To my knowledge they have no such endorsement or approval. Indeed, last time I checked their software was not approved to all current industry standards.

0 likes

Software support or licence fee risk

Small business owners need to be very careful when they “buy” software. More and more companies are “selling” access to the POS software for one year only. Unsuspecting customers find out about the one year licence when they receive an invoice for a licence fee as well as annual support when year one comes close to an end.

We don’t do this. When our customers purchase a licence to use our software there is no time limit. They can use the software as long as they wish.

I saw an invoice yesterday from a newsagent using a competitions POS solution showing a total software cost for year tow of $6,000+. The small business can’t afford this. However, having invested man weeks in setting the system up to their requirements they are not keen on switching. They feel; duped.

Hence the need to thoroughly research the total cost of ownership of any POS software you are considering.

0 likes

Aussie products can’t afford supermarkets

Small Australian companies are finding it harder to get their products on the shelves of major supermarket chains:

This policy, which is being adopted by both Coles and Woolworths (who together have over 70% of the market place) is to free up supermarket shelf space to allow for the introduction of their own private label range. In effect it is proposed to limit consumer choice across all products sold. For example the jam or tomato sauce category will include their two top selling products plus a range of Coles or Woolworths branded products.

The effect of this policy is creating major difficulties for all the Australian owned manufacturers, including those that produce our products, to the point where we have been struggling to keep a large proportion of our product range available on supermarket shelves for our loyal customers to purchase.

In recent weeks the problem has been compounded by Coles suggesting to many of our manufacturers that unless they receive large sums of money by way of an up-front payment, which in some cases is up to $100,000, then they will no longer be prepared to carry our products. Interestingly, none of the requests for money are being sought in writing.

You’ll find more about this at the Disk Smith Foods website. Small businesses need to work together to provide competition for the two major supermarket chains. We should promote each other, buy from each other and lobby on behalf of each other. Coles and Woolworths are big, in part, because of the laziness of small business.

Thanks to Craig Kelly of Southern Sydney Retailers Association for pointing me to this story. Kelly says our food prices are rising faster than elsewhere and that this is in part due to the last of Price Discrimination Legislation.

My interest in all this is small business. Tower Systems only sells software to small business. It’s what we have done for 26 years. Commercially, it suits us to support small business. Outside of that, I believe small business has more to offer our community than bland retail experiences offered by the majors.

0 likes

Bank fees don’t make sense

I have three businesses which process credit card payments – a newsagency, software company and online ink and toner sales business. Our eftpos merchant fees were .79, 1.15 and 1.45 respectively. The online ink and toner business is 100% eftpos transactions yet it has the worst fees.

An email to the bank last week resulted in a 20% reduction in fees for the ink and toner business. While not ideal it is a start. The bank says online transactions are riskier. I pointed them to our perfect record over two years. They said we may be good but the industry is not. So, the bank makes us pay for others – not fair in my view.

We’re going to talk with other banks and see if we can do better. We’re on a mission with bank fees having cut our mobile and fixed line phone bill by more than 60% in the last year, we know what can be achieved with some of these fixed business overheads.

0 likes

Fake fuel discounts

Woolworths must think consumers are idiots. They want you to shop at their supermarkets to get 4 cents a litre off petrol and then buy something in the petrol outlet convenience shop to get a further 4 cents off. Checkout the details of the deal here. The discount is off inflated prices – just go to an independent fuel outlet to see what the real price of petrol is.

If I owned an independent fuel outlet I’d be vocal in exposing the sham of the Woolworths offer. It’s a discount when you don’t get a discount. Unfortunately, their size and advertising spend will stop consumers seeing the campaign for what it really is.

Small businesses need to use clear and consistent messages to demonstrate the real discounts they offer every day. They need to NOT mimic the likes of Woolworths. They ought to give every customer a flyer exposing the Woolworths offer and comparing it to their genuine discount offer.

0 likes

Green shmeen and the business of the environment

We need to stop business buying a green stamp of approval.

Okay so everyone is now going green. Great. Businesses are trying to outdo each other by being greener than others. This is the new loyalty program – you remember loyalty programs – they used to offer a point of difference to the early adopters until everyone came along and made loyalty programs pretty much useless as a differentiator. Do you really believe you’re saving 4 cents at the petrol bowser with the supermarket dockets? I don’t. Do you really think FlyBy points are worth anything? I don’t

Green is heading in the same direction. Do you really trust the companies, and I mean BIG companies, which claim to be chasing a carbon neutral operation? I don’t.

Now that companies realise they can make money off of being green it suits them to buy green power, recycle more and do anything to get the logos on their websites and products. We’ve done it – more than a year ago we switched to green power – because we believe in it not to make money. For years, Gary Hall, one of our software developers, has been running a recycling program: – paper, cans and plastic are all recycled; three years ago we switched to filtering water in-house from water in plastic bottles; for years all toner cartridges are recycled.

I’m all for companies becoming more green, as long as it is real and not just something they cost justify based on the returns they could achieve. Before paying for trees etc to offset the damage their processes cause, maybe they could look at making the processes more efficient.

We are working on other practical steps:

Reducing use of the lift by walking the stairs to our offices.
More efficient lighting.
Updated cooling systems.
Moving from petrol to hybrid vehicles as we change over.

Government and environmental organisations need to ensure that big businesses cannot buy greenness and that it is earned through practical and worthwhile change to their business practices.

0 likes

Mandatory software support

We’ve heard of another software company in one of our vertical markets now charging a mandatory software support fee. That is, if a user does not pay a software support fee then the software stops working as it should. People buying a small business with software need guarantees as to what they are paying for in terms of the software. If the software is a year to year proposition as described above then there ought to be no charge in the purchase price.

With Tower Systems software support is not mandatory – we let our users choose year by year if they want this coverage. If they elect to not take software support, the system keeps running as usual.

0 likes

Misleading advertising of POS software and hardware

Access POS, one of our competitors, has been claiming for at least six months that many of the prices they offer are “less than one third of our competitors” . As their biggest competitor, I want to put on the public record that none of their prices is less than one third of our prices. Some are less and others are more expensive. For example, their receipt printer is 30% less than ours. However, a comparable computer from Access is 22% more expensive than our price. In the software area one module is 30% less than our price and another module is five times what we charge.

We have around seven times the Access newsagent client base so why should I care? I care because even one newsagent taking the Access bait without shopping around and carefully comparing prices and total cost of ownership would be one newsagent too many.

0 likes

Not all employers are the same

I hate it when I hear people on the radio representing employers saying things I don’t agree with. I don’t know who it was today but there was some bloke on ABC Radio (The World Today I think) saying that Workchoices was great because it got rid of unfair dismissal laws and made it easy to get rid of renegade employees. He was right of traditional right wing views yet he was an employer spokesman. Well he was not speaking for me.

Yes I am happy to have some balance in dealing with dismissals. However, the new system is easy for employers to rort and that is where small business will suffer because small business owners are more likely to operate under a conscience than their big business share price driven counterparts.

I wish media outlets would canvass more widely when looking for employer representatives as we’re not all always signing the same song.

0 likes

Why computers slow down

Computers slow down over time for a variety of reasons: software outgrows hardware, databases grow, sometimes exponentially, in size, additional software is added, viruses, basic housekeeping is ignored. It’s not the end of the earth. Most software companies have advice available to help users tidy systems so that performance improves. We do. Our advice sheet #1 covers this topic well.

Advice sheet #1 is publicly available from our website for anyone to access. And access it they have. One competitor especially. They have accessed this advice sheet and sent it to sales prospects claiming it as proof that our system is slow.

Our software is not slow. Indeed, we’re happy to submit it to any performance and functionality test to prove its usefulness and speed.

Our system slow advice is useful for anyone using their hardware for a variety of purposes and over time. It will help systems have a longer life and improve the enjoyment gained from the system. While we could hide this and other advice sheets so the competitor could not access them, we prefer to be transparent – demonstrating we have nothing to hide.

0 likes

Woolworths farmer noise

Everywhere I turned today there was noise about the Woolworths farmer profit gift. On ABC radio in Melbourne the more callers were suggesting it was a cynical PR exercise than genuine. The Nova radio stations got involved and proved it was more PR stunt. The TV stations tonight gave Woolworths plenty of air time to advertise their brand.

In all of this, the impact Woolworths’ buying policies has on farmers has been lost. The company has not, from what I have seen and heard, offered fairer long term arrangements to farmers. They have not committed to using Australian produce for their home branded product. They have not answered their critics about the growth in their profit compared to the decline in what farmers are paid for what they supply.

Now that the Woolworths drought day is coming to an end we ought to direct our shopping to small and other businesses who commit to fairness in their dealings with farmers.

0 likes

Time bomb POS software

What software company in their right mind lays a land mine in their software which trips if you do not pay for software support? My company does not but it experiences the consequences of this action by others from time to time. One consequence is sales and that’s good. The other consequence is frustration at all POS software companies by impacted. Fair enough too – first time computer users who get burnt are likely to tare others with the same brush.

When people tell us about POS software which stops or behaves unusually following a decision to not take up software support we advise them to take the matter to the appropriate State Government department. Unless they do this the software company involved will continue to leave the land mine in the software and get away with intimidating users into paying for software support.

My view on software support for small business that it ought to be voluntary and that if it is not taken up, the software continues to operate. This con of a time bomb which stock software or hampers the user enjoyment is offensive to the profession.

0 likes

Banks play the merchant fee game

Last year we approached our bank about Visa and MasterCard fees and were knocked bank. They would not budge from 1.445%. Last week we told them of an offer of .9% from another back. They matched it. It says something about how much they appreciate us that we don’t get a deal until someone else offers it first.

0 likes

Beware of local computer technicians

Every year at this time it seems we are asked to fix a mess left by a local “computer guy” who has left one of our clients in a mess. The story is always the same. We’re asked to quote on a hardware upgrade and miss out of the business by being between $500 and $1,000 more expensive. The local computer guy gets the gig and upgrades the system. Then, over the Christmas break, things go bad and we have to come in and sort out the problems -0 because the local computer guy is uncontactable and we’re on 24 hours a day. More often than not we find hardware different to that quoted and unprofessional setup / configuration work.

We acknowledge from the outset that our upgrade prices are higher. Such is the cost of quality hardware and professional service.

Our commitment is that our customers get what they pay for in terms of hardware specs and professional services quality.

We don’t muck around when we encounter botched jobs by local computer guys anymore. We charge to fix the problems – especially when we’re having to take people off other work to help out.

0 likes