Easy cardboard

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Cardboard is fundamental to our newsagent customers.

While some barcode cardboard, most do not because they do not want to damage the product with an adhesive label. We have addressed this by delivering easy to use touch screen technology which is colour, size and grade of paper based.

We have an easy to setup template which includes touch buttons read for our users to implement.

Stores which track sales by colour are reporting interesting results which are driving further sales increases. This is what we are trying to facilitate with setup help like this – sales growth based on clever management of data.

Advice for online training

We have published an advice sheet for people participating in our new series of free online training.  This advice will help people get the most from any event in which they participate.  It covers broadband requirements, cameras we recommend – if they want to be seen –  how to put your hand up to ask a question and a range of other tips to make the experience more beneficial.

We figure the better we can make these online events the more beneficial for our customers since they won’t have to leave their businesses to learn how to get more from their computer systems.

New training courses for newsagents

We have announced several new (free) online training opportunities for newsagents.  Our newsagent customers are able to access these live training opportunities from their home or business through any computer with broadband access.  Voice content is over the phone line via a toll free number.  The new courses on offer are:

Magazine Management 9am Jan. 22 at 9pm and Jan. 29 at 10am.  Hosted by Jonathan Tay and Michael Elvey.

This session will cover all aspects of magazine management; from Arrivals, Returns, Putaway Management and over/under supply. This session will allow for questions as the meeting progresses and at the end of the session time permitting.

Re-Ordering 2pm Jan. 22 at 2pm.,  Hosted by Gavin Williams and Jonathan Tay.

Learn how to make the most of Tower Systems’ Retailer software’s advanced reordering functions.  Learn how to create an order electronically, send it to suppliers, then once the stock is in have Retailer arrive it automatically without the need to enter it manually.

Business Discussion Jan. 23 at 11am. Hosted By Mark Fletcher.

This will start with a quick review of benchmark data from December 2007 and be followed by an open discussion about how people are innovating in their business.  Our goal is to get newsagents sharing challenges and ideas so that, collectively, we can help each other to build better businesses.

New Owner Training Jan. 29 at 2pm.  Hosted By Jonathan Tay and Paul Stamp.

Have you recently taken over a newsagency? Well then this session is for you.  It is designed to give all new owners an overview of the software and its capabilities.  We will cover all the things that new owners find challenging, from balancing registers to arriving stock.  This session will have plenty of time for your questions.

Each session will run for between 60 an 90 minutes depending on questions and discussion.  Interested people are invited to book by email on bookings@towersystems.com.au.  You will need access to a computer connected to broadband and a voice phone line (for a toll free call).

User meeting for bike retailers

Hosted by Jonathan Tay and Tim Batt at 12 noon January 22 for an hour, this online user meeting will guide bike retailers using our software through new multi-store facilities, the new repairs module in development and other bike shop specific enhancements.  

Half the session will be devoted to answering questions from participants – people can interact as if in the one meeting room yet can be spread across Australia and New Zealand.

To book for this free online event, please email bookings@towersystems.com.au.  I’d hurry though because in the 24 hours since announcing this session to our users half available places have been taken.

Getting to know you

A side benefit of the benchmark work we have been doing with our newsagent users over the last two months has been deeper interaction with several on real business challenges.  We are privileged to gain an insight into unique challenges, the result of which we see in the benchmark data.  Our queries have lead to several deep business discussions which go to the heart of the role of the business owner.

While it may seem odd to some reading this that a business owner would doubt their role, in the newsagency channel it is not surprising.  Many newsagent suppliers have strict controls in place which deny newsagents the opportunity to properly manage their businesses.  It is only natural therefore that over the years newsagents pull back from managing and let business happen around them.

One reason we started the benchmark project was to awaken newsagents and have them take a more proactive role in managing their businesses.  I am seeing this working – based on conversations and meetings over the last couple of days.

In a couple of cases, the benchmark data has been a real shock – to the point of it not being believed.  Once the data (bad news) is proven and accepted we can set about working on the business and making it stronger.

We get a thrill out of this pro-bono business building work.  It drives our own use of the software while working with our customers, making a win win.

I wouldn’t enjoy this work if we were a regular software company making programs and shipping them out and interacting with our customers on a technology basis only. 

Scan sales data

We are working with several suppliers across three product categories on scan sales data projects.  Each has the same story about the challenge of getting accurate sales data from their small business retailer customers on a timely basis. 

We have developed some unique facilities within our POS software to facilitate providing scan sales data how and when it suits the supplier.  Our customers are happy that there is no extra work and the suppliers are happy to finally get data in a form their in-house systems can easily process. 

With so many products now supplied on a just in time basis, understanding product needs in a timely manner is more important than ever – hence our focus on working with key suppliers in designing the unique facilities in our software.

Convenience store software

We are finding ourselves selling our retail management software into more convenience stores.  Some are newsagencies which have converted to a convenience format and others are c-stores which have opened in greenfield locations where a full service newsagency could not be supported.

That we handle magazines, newspapers, perishables, phone recharge and integrated eftpos all from the one package makes our offer compelling to the convenience space.

Our recently released multi-store facility, seamlessly linking a network of stores, is proving to be particularly interesting to people who own multiple c-stores.

It is our newsagency roots which help us the most in this space since it is the most complex – handling the arrival and return of magazines to stringent requirements of publishers.  Products like MYOB and QuickBooks don’t touch this.

More online training coming

Following the success of our online training and online user-meeting yesterday, we are planning to announce more sessions and dates later this week.  We are preparing three more training courses as well as another user meeting.

Beyond facilitating users getting together who would otherwise have never met, we see these free training courses as an excellent way of helping users of our software to learn more about the technology without the cost of leaving their businesses.

As we deliver more live training online and host more user meetings, our technique will improve and this, in itself will improve outcomes for our users.

We’re not forgetting our face to face training and user meetings – the first national tour of twenty dates will be announced next week.

CRM update

Our new internal CRM solutions continues to help better serve our customers.  While it is easy to manage people we talk with regularly at user meetings and on the phone in support calls, it is harder to stay close with people who don’t call or participate in meetings.  We’re using CRM to stay closer to these folk – not in an intrusive way, just to say g’day and check that they have current information about updates and the like.

We know that we’re only as good as our last support call in the eyes of many customers and with a long time between calls we feel that it is important to ensure they have access to up to data information so they genuinely benefit from software enhancements.

We’re back

Regulars here would have noticed we’ve been offline for most of the last week.  Our server, hosted in Sydney, melted down because of issues with our blogging software (Movable Type 4).  We switched software and, thanks to the stellar efforts of our web developer, Richard Lee, are back online.  The posts dated over the last week are posts written on the day but not published.  So far, the move to WordPress has been uneventful.  We should have a new design up sometime in the next few days.

Retail benchmarking

I completed work on the weekend on the second of our benchmark projects based on data from newsagents using our software.  The first project covered November and this one December.  I compared performance of each business for December from 2097 to 2006.   It was a privilege having access to year on year data for so many of our customers and being able to delve into the performance of each business.

Tomorrow we will send the benchmark report to all participants.  A few days later we will publish this to other newsagents as the results will be helpful for those who want to grow their businesses.

We are committed to helping users of our Tower Systems software go beyond the basics.  We want to help them use the software to drive greater success through their businesses.  We are doing this by engaging with our customers one on one and by groups in analysing business performance.

The challenge with benchmarking is that it relies on averages and for some businesses this is not enough.  I’ve made noted on the reports provided and we will be mailing these back to participating newsagents.

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.

Choosing black hardware

While technical specifications remain important, more and more, the colour of hardware is important for retailers.  Most equipment we ship now is black.  This is requested more often than the usual grey tones of traditional computer gear.

Retail is so much about fashion, regardless of whether you are in a fashion store, so we are happy to serve the request and have been helped considerably by our suppliers in this.

Expanding the development team

We have been fortunate to hire two additional programmers for our core development team.  Both start in February.  This expansion is part of our plan for 2008 and reflects our commitment to continual software enhancement.

Online training popular

The free online magazine management training we announced for newsagents earlier this week filled quickly.  Our newsagent customers love the opportunity to access live training without the need to leave their business.  We should have more dates announced in the next few days.

More suppliers on board

Two more suppliers to users of our software have come on board by supplying electronic invoices as a result of blog posts here. While we had let them know we could process electronic invoices, we had not connected with the right people – people who happened to read of the service through this blog.

It’s a reminder of the need to consistently communicate through various means to suppliers, our customers and prospects.

If you are a supplier to newsagents, jewellers, gift shops or bike retailers please let us know and we can help you provide invoices electronically.

First online user meetings announced

We are pleased to announce details for our first online user meetings. Now our users can participate in a meeting for a much lower cost.

Using the latest in online vent hosting tools, you participate through your computer screen (connected to the Internet) and your phone (connected by a toll free line). It’s as good as being in the room together without having to leave the business.

Jewellers. Tuesday 15th January at 12pm. Hosted By Jonathan Tay and Andrew Halpern

This session is devoted to all things Jewellers. We will guide you through our new multi-store facilities, that are the perfect for any Jewellers that have multiple sites. We will also take you through the new features and our current development of jeweller specific functions. There will also be a dedicated question and answer session to end the meeting.

Newsagents. Tuesday 15th January at 2pm. Hosted By Jonathan Tay and Gavin Williams

This session will run newsagents through the new features of Retailer 2.2a. The rest of the session will be dedicated to answering questions and providing over the phone training.

Thanks for the free kick

We picked up a sale from a competitor last week.  Without wanting to sound arrogant, this is not unusual.  However, this time, the circumstances were odd.  The user called their software supplier with some questions, were told that the old DOS software was unsupported and ordered to spend around $15,000 upgrading.  This is despite the fact that the user still had eight months on their prepaid support contract with the firm. 

The poor customer service experience led to the owner switching to us.  While I am happy to have the business,

Online training session for newsagents

We are pleased to announce that our first online magazine management training session for newsagents will be held Tuesday January 15 at 10am. This session will cover all aspects of magazine management; from Arrivals, Returns, Putaway Management and over/under supply. This session will allow for Questions as the meeting progresses and at the end of the session time permitting.

Using the latest in online vent hosting tools, you participate through your computer screen (connected to the Internet) and your phone (connected by a toll free line). It’s as good as being in the room together without having to leave the business.

First benchmark report released

We have this morning sent the first benchmark report to Tower Newsagents who participated. This report has taken longer to prepare than expected but the good news is that we have the process sorted out so next time it will be faster. The results are interesting and, I hope, helpful.

We’re the first software company servicing newsagents providing regular sales benchmarking.

Saturday customer service

We rested our Saturday help desk for two weeks over Christmas / New Year. It was back in full swing this past weekend. Even though we have only offered the service for a few months – in addition to our usual after hours mobile phone service – the Saturday Help Desk has quickly become an important service to our customers. Not only are they able to access a full service Help desk Saturday but the people in the office on the day also get to complete important desk work such as researching problems using backups and other tasks which take more time.

The two weekends off reinforced the value of this service. I’m glad we started it.

Tower Systems, newsagents too

Tower Systems is a unique software company serving newsagents in that it owns and operates three newsagencies. Tower started in 1981 and it bought its first newsagency in 1996. These newsagencies, along with the 1,450 other newsagencies using the Tower software, benefit from better magazine management, tight theft control, electronic links to suppliers – including several exclusive links – and a suite of valuable marketing and management tools.

With complete hardware and software packages starting from $7,000, Tower Systems has packages to suit all types of newsagencies from small to large, distribution to retail, city to country. Each system is supplied with on site training and genuine 24/7 support – support regarded by many suppliers and newsagents as being the best in the business.

Newsagents using the Tower software get to play first with industry innovation. As this publication goes to press, Tower newsagents are exclusively participating in three trials with newsagent suppliers. Such trials are part of the Tower AdvantageTM, a unique range of software facilities and services delivered by Tower Systems to newsagents which provide valuable commercial benefits.

Beyond facilities such as touch screen POS operation, scanning sales, end of shift balancing, generating orders, linking to suppliers through XchangeIT and managing customer accounts, the Tower software also provides valuable management insights into the business.

The Tower team has developed management reports exclusive for newsagents which guide profitable business decisions. The use of these reports is guides by specialist training and at free groups meetings hosted by Tower.

As newsagents themselves, the folk behind Tower Systems understand that the real value of good software is unlocked months and years after you have bought the system. This commitment to newsagents is what has made Tower Systems to largest software supplier to newsagents in Australia.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago in response to a request for information from a publisher preparing a yearbook. I have posted it here since this blog is often used as a research resource by people considering partnering with my company.

The MBA quiz

I have been answering questions today for an overseas MBA student who is writing a thesis on entrepreneurship and longevity in business. His questions started gently enough but soon delved deep into why I enjoy starting businesses and why I’ve been running Tower for twenty six years. Some of my easy answers were unacceptable, he wanted more. It was a challenging ninety minutes and I learnt more about myself that I expected today.

People often call me a workaholic and those who don;t often ask if I ever sleep. For me, the key to my success in business is in building good teams and giving people enough freedom to build success for themselves. Their success makes it look as if I work harder than I do. That’s how I see it at least. Variety is the key and this is one reason I am glad to have multiple businesses in which I work.

I have another interview session with the MBA candidate next week and am already steeling myself for tougher questions.

Stored value cards

One of our customers is preparing to go live with a stored value card – a gift card – across a group of stores. Using our software a customers will be able to purchase a gift card in one store, give it to a friend and have them redeem in any or all of the stores.

While this functionality is common in big business, it is uncommon in small business. It is another facility we have added to our software without charge to our existing customer base.

we are excited because we have been closely involved in the process of card design as well as the back-end technology to mange balances, breakage etc.

Webex to host Tower Systems’ online training

Late last year we contracted with Webex last year to host our soon to commence online training curriculum and user meetings. While we could host ourselves, it was their guaranteed performance, uptime and event management services which made the choice sensible for us.

Software companies are like doctors, too often and try and do things themselves which ought to be done by companies which specialise in the area. Hence our decision to invest in a long term contract with Webex. They will do for us better than what we could do for oursleves. Part of this includes offering toll free access to the audio component of the sessions.

With our contract comes our exclusive entry page. This has been completed – in advance of the announcement of our first training session and our first user meeting, both of which will be announced next week.