Handling the new Eftpos fees

The recent changes by the Reserve Bank will mean that small businesses have no choice but to introduce fees to customers to recover the costs they themselves are being hit with. Our newsagent customers have been told that as of November 1 one of the major suppliers, Bill Express, will charge a fee per Eftpos debit transaction. We have been discussing this with a group of our customers and are surprised at the different rules they want us to implement. What we thought would be a very straightforward change to automatically apply a surcharge needs to be more flexible – ensuring that businesses can be as flexible as they wish in their implementation.

We’re seizing the opportunity to deliver another point of difference through our software.

Navigating user requested software changes

We have an open invitation for users of our software to pitch enhancement requests to us by email. Every year we receive more than 350 such requests. Each has to be considered and this can take anything from a couple of minutes to many hours as we delve into the software and assess the cost and implications of each change.

We ‘process’ these change requests two or three times a year in advance of planning development for the coming period – our updates are usually set six months in advance.

This year, 50% of the content of our updates has been determined by these user enhancement requests. While that is a statistic of which I am proud, it means that many requests from users are yet to be action and they would prefer that I focus on them. This is where it gets tricky because everyone considers their request the most important. Many say that if I make their one change sales of the software will skyrocket. It’s not true, of course, but users wanting their change made don’t see that.

While I own the software company and its intellectual property I am happy to engage with the client base in an on going conversation about software enhancement. Such robust debate undoubtedly results in better software.

POS Software for Gift Shops

The launch of our new software for card and gift shops is going very well. While we have played in this space before and there are similarities with jewellers and newsagents, we are treating card and gift stores as unique businesses. We already have sales as a result of our new marketing. The facilities card and gift shop owners seem to like the most are our loyalty facilities, flexibility at the sales counter, employee tracking, reordering and overall business management.

It’s challenging entering a new marketplace but in card and gifts we have found a place very comfortable for our business and business owners we’re delighted to be dealing with.

Retail trade show disappointing

We went to the Retail Expo in Melbourne yesterday and were done in less than an hour. There is no point in running these events and dragging people away from their businesses if there is nothing worth seeing. There was little in the way of technology innovation and little in the way of retail design innovation. We went wanting to see what our more mainstream competitors were up to. Not much by what was on display.

Coupons on receipts

We have offered the facility to include coupons on receipts generated by our Point of Sale software for several years. Only now are some of our users embracing the opportunity. We like the idea of coupons so that customers are lured back into your business with an offer of, say, a discount for quick return and purchase. We think that too many businesses push customers elsewhere with their loyalty programs. Since we know what is often purchased by others purchasing an item we can use the receipt to make an offer for the companion product – selling to your customers once they get home.

Newsagency software update

We have released an update to our newsagency software. This update focuses on delivering user requested enhancements across four key areas. It’s our third update for the year and clears the decks for a database change to be delivered in the next month. About a third of the update content is a change for News Limited – to help strengthen the data connection between newsagents and News Limited circulation people.

Is the twenty something generation lost?

My retail business has been trying to fill two positions for six weeks. We have received more than 200 applications. After culling these to a shortlist of ten, six didn’t turn up for the interview or called the day of the interview with a lame excuse (my thumb hurts, I have to take my flat mate to the doctor etc) and three to whom we offered a position declined days later with a lame excuse (I forgot I have a family holiday or I forgot I have to fly to New Zealand to give evidence in a criminal trial).

We almost got to the point of saying that if they turn up for the interview and then for the first day of work we’ll give them whatever they want. Not really.

In retail with the pay good, $20 an hour for casual adult team members, prospective employees have options – especially good employees. It’s a sellers market and this is reflected in the excuses we get. Thankfully we have found someone but the experience made us realise that we have to do more to sell any vacancy in our retail business. The solution is a combination of money, flexibility and career options. Now, all we need is some candidates who actually turn up for an interview.

Software for gift shops launched

gift-blog.JPGWith the release of the latest Giftwrap magazine for card and gift shops comes the launch of our new gift shop software package. This is an old but new marketplace for us. Old, because many newsagencies are in this space as are jewellers – both are markets we know. New, because our approach this time is completely different.

We’re embracing the style, fun and uniqueness of gift shops with a solution they can tailor to their needs, especially in the reporting area. The software has facilities and reports designed to serve the unique needs of card and gift shops.

Anonymity

Anonymous comments in response to blog posts, especially those making a personal attack or claim, are worthless. Hiding in this way suggests a lack of commitment to the view put. People should never be afraid of debate to support and advance their view. Anonymous postings do nothing to advance a view.

Naked blogging

Something I blogged in another place has resulted in a public ‘discussion’ with various people claiming to represent a competitor. In two of the comments posted he references my blog entry, When people move on…, which I posted here a few days ago. The correspondent has, very publicly, taken my blog entry completely out of context. It makes me wonder what other things they say about us out of context or referencing only a small portion of a larger statement.

Blogging exposes the blogger and their business and in doing this puts both at risk of abuse by competitors looking for a cheap shot. My piece, When people move on… was hard to write as it goes to the core of a loneliness many small business owners must feel.

Rather than use this and my other blog as a place for corporate spin, what I write is warts and all. I do this in the belief that doing this demonstrates a humanity many companies have lost. It’s also good therapy. We are all frail and pretending we are not would make us delusional. I’ve called this piece naked blogging because when you’re naked there is nowhere to hide – as should be the case with a good corporate blog.

To my the people registering comments – whether they are a competitor or not – I say stop reading this and start blogging yourself. Oh, and stop taking a few words out of a long blog piece and twisting them to serve your petty jibes.

Time for an investment allowance

It seems every day we read about the Federal Government slinging money at car makers, farmers, miners and other channels. Independent retailers are doing it tough and could benefit from an investment allowance – providing a tax break to help them fund capital investment in their business. The funding could be for shop fits, IT, equipment or maybe business coaching. The Fraser government provided a 40$ and then 20% investment allowance and this sure got businesses spending on their businesses. I’d like to see it again – not only because my company would benefit but also because I see many businesses in need of such investment and struggling because of all the other taxes and charged in their operation. This could be a short term way the government puts something back.

Behind the scenes with our technology

We are hosting a walk through our retail business for people interested in seeing how our technology works in a practical sense. Our ownership of the software company and a retail business gives us a unique advantage. This hosted walk through practically demonstrates the advantage. We have set aside Tuesday September 26 @ 10am. Since the shop will be open we need to limit the group to 10 people. Manager of the business, Ben Kay, and I will be on hand and take you through the business. We will also have a Tower Systems support specialist on hand to answer any support questions. People wishing to attend should book by email to bookings@towersystems.com.au.

This is the third of these sessions. We will keep running as there is interest.

Our retail business plays a key role in the direction of our software company. It gives us practical experience and makes us closer to our users and their experiences than most of the software companies. Many enhancements over recent years have come from experiences on our own shop floor – as programmers we can see ideas through the eyes of what we know we can do, more so that an end user who is more focused just on their business.

Rules eliminate customer service

A friend was telling me about his Ikea shopping experience. He put his purchases on the conveyor belt but left three of the items with the barcode facing down. The sales clerk, rather than turning the items the right way up, reversed the conveyor belt and told my friend to turn them the right way up. The sales clerk would probably have been admonished for intervening and providing service beyond the impersonal everyone is a number Ikea experience.

This is why we need independent retailers. We need businesses where customer mistakes are corrected, where it does not matter which way you present an item at the counter it can be sold, where you get a smile and where you are a named person and not a number or a grunt. Shopping at places like Ikea drains the life out of you.

When people move on…

One of the great things about small business is the opportunities they provide for people to cut their teeth in business – the first job or, in our case, the first job in IT. It is an important role companies the size of mine play, providing a place for people to navigate into their career and professional life. Some people move on and others stay. The balance usually occurs naturally. Occasionally it is sad to see someone leave before their time. Only rarely is it the other way, that they overstay.

Last night, past and present members of our team gathered to farewell someone who’s time with the company came to an end two weeks ago. While I could not make the drinks, it is surprising and pleasing to hear of former employees making the journey to ‘our pub’ for the farewell event. It makes you think that the friendships made on the job do count for something. Or, maybe, they come back for these events to see what’s changed.

It was at one of these events a few years back that a former employee pitched their case to re-join us – nothing wrong with that if they have the right skills for the position.

What is difficult in all this is the need to remain somewhat detached as the employer. It’s is a fine line as to how close you get. One the one hand friendship is to be embraced and on the other the ability to retain respect for difficult decisions means you have to pushback on the opportunity. Then there is the demand of work which keeps you away from things you’d like to do.

All of this is on my mind tonight because of a text message I received from the person being farewelled last night. He was angry I didn’t make it to his farewell drinks. While I called, it was not good enough. No excuse was acceptable – a view he is entitled to. His text ended with “Last time I speak to you.” It’s a wound I hope time heals.

Free training for new owners pays off

For years it was a challenge on how to handle the change of ownership of one of our small business clients. Then we decided to offer a day of one on one training free of charge. The result has been retention of more clients following the change of ownership. From the outset we establish our own relationship rather than relying on the outgoing owner to hand over. Both parties of a business change of ownership have enough on their mind. We’re glad to help our and keep a client. The investment has proven to be well worth it. It’s one of the reasons our supported active user ratio is above 90%.

Vacancy – Receptionist

We’re looking for someone to join our reception/administration team based in Elsternwick, Victoria. If you are interested please make contact with Renata Keran renatak@towersystems.com.au for a position description.

I’d hate to be under a MYOB billboard

MYOB is running a billboard campaign using arrows pointing to the businesses in the building underneath. I have seen several of these now. If I were in one of the offices MYOB is pointing at I’d be asking for a payment from the software company. It’s a smart alec, arrogant even, campaign which misses the opportunity to promote the benefits of their software. Too cute by half I say.

Damn statistics

I must be on a list somewhere deep within the Australian Bureau of Statistics as it seems that every few months I have another set of data gathering forms to fill in. I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years with no noticeable benefit: no reduction in red tape; no offer of government assistance; not even government support for the sector in which my business operates. While I understand the need for government to gather data in order to develop policies, surely it is fair to expect an outcome from the time spent providing the data.

What really irks me is the threats the ABS folks make if you suggest you will not complete their forms.