Tower Blog

A blog about smart POS software for independent small businesses.

Month: July 2006

MYOB link ready to go

We’re about to release our third version of a link to the MYOB business acocunting software. We threw out the first several years ago as it was mediocre. We threw out our second just on a year ago because MYOB changed their softwasre link standards just as we completed the work (that’s another story). This link, our best, uses clever third party software as a kind of marriage brker is great. It allows us to deliver a seamless Point of Sale, back office and accounting solution all in the one package from a user perspective. The benefit to us of using a third party company is that we do not have to work with MYOB the company and that’s a heap of frustration taken from us.


Camera system catches magazine thief

We received a call this morning from a client about his integrated point of sale / security camera system. The technology helped him apprehend a ‘customer’ with a magazine shoved up his jumper yesterday. Such theft costs an average newsagency over $100 a week – more than security technology costs. The client was happy with this small victory as well as being able to easily find where $300 cash had been misplaced at the counter. Marrying point of sale technology with leading edge security technology and providing for a common database/vision search is a killer application for small businesses concerned about customer and employee theft.


Maybe it’s the sunshine

In Cairns yesterday I was stuck at the Qantas Club while their network worked through problems caused by fog in Melbourne and Brisbane. As I approached the counter I steeled myself for the gruff impersonal service I was used from Qantas in Sydney and Melbourne. Rather than what I expected the service was friendly and helpful. I asked how long they had been with Qantas, figuring that they had not been fully indoctrinated. No, this was a long term Qantas employee. If it were up to me I’d put them in charge of employee training and motivation. Her response was how could you be grumpy living and working in Cairns. This experience shows that there is hope for Qantas yet.


Competition helps win the sale

On the links page of our website we list our competitors in the newsagency software space. We do this to facilitate comparison between the major IT companies. I took this step to demonstrate that we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from a sales prospect doing their own research. Too often we rear of a small business owner buying a system based on a sales pitch without consideration that there may be other companies out there. We hear this when things have gone wrong and we have been contacted to replace another system. By listing our competitors potential clients can assess each company based on its web presence – the support it provides, its transparency and the various means of contact supported. Hearing from a prospect that this was one of their reasons for purchase with us is encouraging as we are about to list our competitors in the jeweller and hair salon marketplaces.


More IT jobs moving overseas?

First it was the Indians, now the Indonesians are trying to move Australian work offshore. The pitch in the letter I received last week from an Australian owned front company was simple – software development in Indonesia costs less and the quality just as good.

All it will take is one competitor to significantly reduce development costs to get others to take up the opportunity. They will have no choice.

Personally, I have no interest. My software company develops vertical market solutions for newsagents, hair salons, jewellers, bike retailers and gift shops. Moving development offshore would mean letting go of valuable intellectual capital invested in developers, designers and the rest of the team which creates and supports our software. While in a business sense it may be naive to hang on to such a cost structure, one has to hope that such knowledge reflects in a better solution.

While companies representing overseas programming shops can tout for business as much as they like I’d like to see some in-depth reporting of the impact on an already challenged Australian IT industry.

I wonder if companies using overseas outsourcing can claim the governments R&D tax break?

I also wonder how many of the Indonesian programmers were trained in Australian universities and given their work experience here using our country’s flexible student visas?


Employee theft story #77263

Another day, another call from a client who has uncovered an employee theft problem. In this case, sloppy cash management practices and difficult personal circumstances make it all too easy. If the business owner used the facilities in our software to manage cash then the employee would not have had the opportunity. The owner’s decision to balance the register manually without checking against data from the POS software was an invitation to steal. We feel like we are beating our heads against a brick wall on employee theft sometimes. The tools are there to stop this yet too many small business owners do not use them.

Why do employees steal? Because they can.


Poor customer service from Virgin Blue

Seven of us flew from Melbourne to Hobart with Virgin Blue on Tuesday. We boarded the plane with boarding passes printed using their web check in service. On board we found other passengers in six of our seven seats. The flight was delayed ten minutes while the Virgin Blue staff sorted out the mess. Our group was split and spread over the plane and those traveling alone were left in the group of seats together which were allocated on our boarding passes.

This is the second time the Virgin Blue web check in has let me down. This time as then (two months ago) the Virgin Blue staff said that a web check in is not a real check in. Hey, Virgin, if that is the case you need to remove it as an option from your website. Also, what does it say about securing when two people with the same seat allocation are allowed to board? The confusion on board could enable someone to travel when they should not.

Personally, the Virgin Blue system reallocated me to a middle seat. I hate middle seats. I travel around 100 times a year domestically yet this loyalty to Virgin counts for little. They took my preferred aisle, gave that to someone else and stuck me down the back in the middle. This shows little regard for customer service.

Their approach to resolving the problem was appalling.

After we landed in Hobart a passenger from row one (not part of our group) told me that the Virgin flight attendants were complaining about us. They said “look, they’re just standing there” – as we waited for the double seat allocation to be corrected. Well, Virgin, what were we to do. There was a bear in my seat and where should I go? These same gossiping Virgin staff also bitched, apparently, about the web check in service.

We’re flying back to Melbourne today. I have used web check in again. Let’s see if Virgin Blue continue their poor service.


Poor customer service from ANZ Bank

How is this for a story from a colleague about their customer service experience with ANZ Bank this week:

A customer wanted a $10 ozcall phone card on EFTPOS through Dial Time electronic terminal. The phone card part of the transaction failed and staff thought that was the end of it. Customer left the shop. Next person wanted a $20 phone card and guess what it charged $10 to the first customers EFTPOS. We can’t refund manually through terminal as not all the numbers of the card print out. We ring ANZ Bank and they can identify the transaction but won’t reverse it nor will they give us the remaining numbers for us to reverse the transaction manually (Privacy Act) However, they will charge us $21 to advise the customer to return to us for the refund. ANZ advise us not to do anything and see if customer picks it up.

No wonder retailers get frustrated dealing with banks.


Poor HP customer service

Here is a story relayed to me today by a client about their service experiences with Hewlett Packard:

After experiencing problems with my – not long out of warranty – HP3330 I rang support &
was forwarded onto their customer service centre based in India.

After a lengthy period on the phone to try & resolve the problem I was than
advised the item had to be sent to HP Sydney for maintenance.

At this point I asked for an approximate cost and period of repair & was advised
approximately $250 & 3 days. This seemed reasonable & duly dropped it out to
DHL at the airport.

Two days later I receive an email from HP Support India advising that they
were pleased to submit there final quote of $547.70, more than double the approx quote…

This was a surprise as the customer service rep was confident she had pinpointed the
problem during our phone contact. This increase was totally unsatisfactory & so started
several calls to discuss the increase.

Its now 6 days since I received this quote and after being advised the matter would be escalated “internally” the only contact I’ve received has been from an Indian Technician to say the quote given was fixed and no further negotiation would be agreed to. Should I want my property return it would cost me a $66 handling fee.

I’ve had little choice but to OK the repairs to get my property back however I’ll be writing
to HP about my experience.

By the way, have you heard the latest HP Computer deal where you receive a “free return flight”
with a new HP desktop or notebook computer…

Sadly, this story is not uncommon. My company had issues with Sharp a few years ago. I regularly hear about poor service from Dell. 3M refuse to recall clearly faulty touch screens. What is it with big business hardware makers? They have forgotten they are in the service business.

HP should sort out the mess above quickly or risk losing more customers.


The best POS software – only you can know

A common question we are asked by people considering our POS software is how it compares to what they currently use or to other products in the marketplace. We cannot answer this question because we don’t know the other systems the way we know our own. Only people who have used both for as reasonable period of time can make any knowledgeable statement. So, that’s what we say to enquirers – that we cannot objectively comment. We can and do point out what we know to be differences but we are careful to focus only on what we know to be true.

It’s difficult choosing a point of sale system for a business but the more effort put into the decision the greater the opportunity of making the right decision. Only the software itself can tell you if it is right for your business – not the salesperson or their level of hospitality or brown nosing.

The best advice I can provide for anyone looking for a point of sale system is to work out what you want; talk to users of the systems on your short list; ask existing users for others to talk to; check out the company online; talk to suppliers in their marketplace; and, only then, talk to the software company. It’s your decision, keep control.


Tower Advantage TM

The Registrar of Trade Marks has approved our Trade Mark application for Tower Advantage TM. We received our certificate yesterday. This gives a name to the things we do which we consider set us apart from our competition. The Tower Advantage TM is about bottom line benefits. It grew out of frustration for small business which invest in IT and achieve little. By focusing on tangible outcomes for and with our clients we see ourselves as in a league of our own, as arrogant as that sounds. Hence the name Tower Advantage TM. No one else has this. Only we can deliver the Tower Advantage TM.


The humble barcode as an advertising tool

barcode.jpgAdvertising Age has the story about Design Barcode, a small Japanese company which won this year’s Cannes Titanium Lion for graphically enhancing barcodes. They have brilliantly turned a mundane business marker into clever marketing. At their website they have a gallery of barcodes which will delight anyone working with barcodes for a living.


The high cost of employee theft

What do you say to the owner of a business hit by employee theft when the employee involved is their own child? Not much is the answer. Of course, they, as parents, are saying enough to themselves. The most common reasons for employees stealing is because they see it as a victimless crime and because they can. The call over the weekend from a stressed parent/business reminded me of the human damage from theft. In this case their son stole around $500 a week from their small business. He was able to do this because his parents were slack in managing cash and weak in using the IT tools they have. By not changing passwords, not worrying about whether the register balances and by letting employees cancel sales they invited this problem upon themselves.

Just as the risk of getting caught by a speed camera slows us on the roads, so to would the risk of getting caught by more vigilant employers.

These parents have called in a professional to deal with their son.


Shonky software sales tactics

We have been in a competitive situation against a company recently which reminded me of the 1980s. Their package deal price for the prospect started at $27,000. A day later it was $22,000. Two days later they found a $5,000 bonus discount to offer and their latest offer is $12,000 plus three days of extra time worth $1,500. While companies can and will discount as they see fit, such deep discounting makes a mockery of having a price list and a stated policy of not discounting. It helps them in that from our point of view we never know how they will price a deal. It also weakens them in that as word gets around people will know that you can screw them on price and in small business channels word does get around.

Our view on price is that it has to be fair for both sides since deep discounting hurts too much – if not today then in a year or two. The type of discounting from our competitor demonstrates a fear which will not help them build their business.

We won the sale. We also won by holding firm on price and focusing on the value proposition. Plus we won by seeing desperation in the eyes of a competitor.


Woolworths in the coffee game

My local BWS (Beer Wine Spirits) bottle shop is now open early in the morning serving commuters coffee through their drive thru. I noticed because of the traffic impact of the line waiting to purchase lattes, cappucinos and espressos. In the right location and a half decent coffee this will help Woolworths suck revenue from the independent coffee outlets.


Catching employees stealing

Our integrated camera / point of sale system is proving a hit even on small transactions. It is now very easy to hold employees accountable on discounts. Discounting for friends is a common employee fraud situation. The system tracks all discounts and lets you view by event, employee or time. This means you can more easily identify patterns. Employees seeing this technology in use are less likely to give discounts to friends.


Software support renewal achievment

More than 90% of our small business clients renew software support annually. This is an excellent vote of confidence in our service and our fair approach to support pricing. With software support optional we let our clients decide if the investment is worth it. With 90% renewing it means we’re well ahead of many other software companies. Internally our view is that we are only as good as our last support call.


Beware of support fees

One of our competitors list a client yesterday because their free software upgrade offer of a year ago did not disclose that the new version of software was free because they now charged an annual licence fee. Their former client switched to us because of the unexpected and high annual licence fee they were hit with. For a small business turning over under $600,000 a year a $3,000 licence/support fee is too high. Switching to us they can pay for a while new system and be ahead in three years. Their annual support fee is just on $1,000.

Given the nature of support and other annual fees I would like to see the software companies forced to disclose life of system ownership costs.


We need to compete with ourselves

Independent and small retailers often complain about their big business competitors and the barrier they present to expansion when, in fact, the biggest barrier can be found within. This is why I recommend that small businesses spend more time competing with themselves. In my own retail business I have a single report I focus on most of the time. It is a following year to date and month to date comparison by department and category this year against the last. I compare unit sales and revenue. This one report drives most business decisions. So, instead of spending too much time worrying about the national chain store down the road is doing, I am competing, this year, with what I did last year.

Our Point of Sale software provides more than 70 reports but it is this one report which guides the business. It’s easy to follow, like any good report, and quick to get a grasp of.

The report lets me look at my business as a prospective purchaser would – purely based on numbers. Is there growth, if so, how to achieve more. Is there a fall away, if so, where and why.

Running a retail business is pretty straightforward if you have access to up to date accurate data and that is what this report provides.