Buy yourself flowers

Every Friday we send an email to our users with news, support tips and details on upcoming training events. We also include marketing tips. Here’s today’s marketing tip. It’s a bit obscure but worth a crack.

 

Buy yourself a bunch of flowers and put them behind the counter. I bet you get compliments for now nice they look and plenty of questions asking what they are for. If nothing else, the flows can be a good discussion starter. You’ll need to have a reason for the flowers. I’d suggest you say to any customer something along the lines of: I bought them to brighten your day. My reasoning is a bit obscure – your shop is their shop, their home kind of so you figured you’d like to make the house attractive for them and others who visit. There is no commercial imperative as such, other than leaving your customers with enjoyment from the flowers and your explanation.

I thought of this idea when I saw flowers being delivered to a shop yesterday for someone’s birthday. It started me thinking that we buy flowers for a purpose so why not for no reason at all, as a talking point. I’d be interested to hear from anyone trying the idea.

Settling in expansion

Programmers filling two extra positions on our development team in the last month are having a positive impact on our software and our devel9oopment schedule. We have some excellent enhancements coming down the line including some new electronic products exclusive to us, new functionality and performance improvements.

The expansion of our development team as part of our overall expansion plans in each key area of the company – a program we commenced last year. We are focused on shared responsibility across our core departments, shielding the business from relying too much on one person. I want to be able to slip under the proverbial bus and have Tower Systems continue to go from strength to strength.

In the development area more so than any other the expansion will drive healthy debate. It’s to be expected given the creative aspect of software development. This debate will make for better software and that, of course, is the end game.

Boys and their toys

I blogged a few days ago about the Nintendo DS units we bought so more people could play at lunchtime. Below is a photo of the play group busy today.

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Gavin, Mike, William, Blane, Michael and Andrew are locked in battle and entertaining others in the office with their excitement. It’s a lot of fun to watch and listen to.

Website issues

The Fujitsu data centre where our Tower website is hosted is experiencing issues.  This is causing intermittent outage.  We went with external hosting to increase uptime.  While this could be the case long term it’s a rocky patch at present.  Thanks for your patience.

New online training schedule announced

We have developed several new training seminars for delivery through our free online training platform. These are in addition to face to face group and one on one training. The total list of training seminars is listed below followed by the schedule of dates:

Magazine Management: This session will cover all aspects of magazine management; from Arrivals, Returns, Putaway Management and over/under supply.

Re-Ordering: Learn how to make the most of Retailer’s advanced reordering functions: create an order electronically, send it to suppliers, then arrive it quickly and accurately.

Putaway management: Learn how to use Tower Systems’ software to manage putaways from start to finish – from the placing an order through to SMS messages when titles arrive and customer collection. This course is a must for taking control of putaways.

Security: Protect your system and your data from fraud – fully use the security facilities to protect yourself. This is a must for every owner.

Catalogues: Handle seasonal and other sales in no time with the catalogue facilities built into the retailer software. This session makes catalogues easy for you.

Loyalty marketing: Unlock the value of the data in your Tower Systems software – use the loyalty tools to better market to your existing customers. Do this based on their purchases. This free training shows you how.

New Owner Training: Have you recently taken over a newsagency? This session will provide an overview of the software and its capabilities and answer your questions.

Online training schedule

Tuesday, 4 March 2008 10:00 AM Magazine Management

Tuesday, 4 March 2008 2:00 PM New Owner Training

Friday, 7 March 2008 10:00 AM New Owner Training

Friday, 7 March 2008 2:00 PM Magazine Management

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 10:00 AM Re-Ordering

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 2:00 PM Putaway Management

Friday, 14 March 2008 10:00 AM Putaway Management

Friday, 14 March 2008 2:00 PM Re-Ordering

Tuesday, 18 March 2008 10:00 AM Retailer Security

Tuesday, 18 March 2008 2:00 PM Point Of Sale

Tuesday, 25 March 2008 10:00 AM Catalogues

Tuesday, 25 March 2008 2:00 PM Loyalty

Friday, 28 March 2008 10:00 AM Point Of Sale

Friday, 28 March 2008 2:00 PM Retailer Security

Each session will run for between 60 an 90 minutes depending on questions and discussion. Anyone is welcome! To book, please email bookings@towersystems.com.au.

AFL & NRL tipping for 2008

We are continuing with years of traditional and offering free and open AFL and NRL tipping competitions through our website. Registration should be open sometime in the next few days. For the record, contact details are private – we don’t contact participants for anything other than tipping matters.

Building quality software

I was fortunate to read yesterday the testing notes for one of the enhancements to be delivered in the next update of our software.  I say fortunate as I don’t usually read the detail – that’s what we have our software development manager and team for.

The testing notes were prepared by Paul Stamp from our Help Desk, they were his comprehensive feedback to the development team and summarised hours of testing he had undertaken on one function in the software which has been enhanced as part for the next update. The testing notes are a requirement as part of our testing regime and represent the formal communication back to the development team on their work and the usefulness of the enhancements.

By the time the enhanced software was handed over for testing it had already undergone two rounds of testing within the development team. Paul’s feedback will lead to more changes and they will come back for testing by Paul again.

This is how the testing process goes at Tower Systems. The tester is in control of the enhancements in that until he or she says they are ready for live use they are not passed. This control outside the development team provides for some colourful conversations. The goal (and the result) is better software.

Once cleared for release, this enhancement will wait for the rest of the update to come through the same process. Once this is done, they update goes out to retail businesses we control. If it proves itself there it goes into beta testing in a wider circle of users. It’s only after it process itself here that the update is widely released.

There is no point is rushing the development and deployment of software enhancements. More time taken today will reduce the time we all could waste tomorrow on a problematic update.

Here, we have a large cast developing, testing, re-testing and managing software updates.  It is key to our point of difference.  The work is worth it.

Website enhancements

We are releasing some enhancements to our website this week following some excellent feedback from some of our customers. The enhancements include the ability to search our advice sheets and other accessibility changes. We have an enormous pool of knowledge associated with the website so making access easier improves the customer experience. The changes should be complete by the end of the week.

The last support call

We have a saying here: we’re only as good as our last support call. In fact, it’s more than a saying, we believe it in our hearts.

Yesterday was a challenge for support calls. The team got through but it was a challenge. Unexpectedly and for reasons outside our control our Help Desk team numbers were down by 33% across the country. The day had started before we knew and much of it was spent catching up. What helped us through the day was the commitment of others inside Tower Systems who took calls and helped our customers because they knew that we’re only as good as our last support call.

We’re only as good as our last support call is is not a catchy mantra, it is a reminder that in the small business world your reputation is all that matters and that only takes one call to tear it down.

Thankfully we had capacity yesterday elsewhere within our team to cover.  As with any situation where our service levels fall behind our goal to get to any inbound call within 15 minutes we will assess and adjust so we’re better prepared next time we’re 33% down.

Looking for office space

We’re at capacity in our Melbourne office.  This is not how it was meant to be when we purchased all of level 3 in our Elsternwick building three years ago.  As a backup we bought half another floor in the building two years ago.  However, our need for more space has come around sooner than when that half floor is available to us.  So, we’re looking at our options.  We won;t be moving from here, just working smarter with what we have.  We’re not sure what that means.  It sounds good though.

Nintendo DS for lunch

ds.JPGWe’ve purchased two Nintendo DS units for lunchtime fun at our Head Office. These company owned units will supplement the DS units brought in by team members and lead to some more robust competition.  Even though I’m not one for computer games (not since moon alien and missile command in 1979/80 when I spent too much time playing), I’m pleased so many have a good time with them at lunch.

While the DS units may not directly help us write better software or provide better support, they will help people relax more at work and that’s got to be good.   Certainly, the cheers which reverberate through the office when someone wins makes those of us not playing smile.

IT support vacancy in Brisbane

Our most recent team member for Queensland feels that he is not the right fit for us.  This leaves a vacancy which we are keen to fill.  It’s a customer service role, combining field and telephone work, helping our users make the most from our software.  It’s part business mentor, part IT specialist, part friend and part sounding board.

Above all else, we are looking for someone who understands the needs and challenges of small business and enjoys helping people.  The rest can be learned.  Email me for more information if the position sounds interesting: mark@towersystems.com.au.

Tom Cruise, Scientology and that book

tom_cruise.JPGI’ve just finished reading Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography. While I am not a Tom Cruise fan, I was drawn to the book because of my own brush with Scientology when I purchased a software company in 2000 which was owned (unbeknown to me at the time) by a Scientologist and run according the principles set by the ‘church’ of Scientology.

Within 24 hours of buying the business I became aware of a Scientology connection. It took several weeks before the extent of the Scientology influence over the business was clear. What followed was a tough two years while the business was realigned.

Had I known of the Scientology connection prior to signing the purchase agreement I would not have proceeded – having read Bare Faced Messiah many years earlier. Employees had been coerced into undertaking Scientology training, data was collected on the most ridiculous stings – Scientology has a thing for stats – and, the first training provided to customers as part of their learning when they purchased the software was a course based on the teachings of Scientology founder, Science Fiction write L Ron Hubbard. As I note, it was a dreadful time dealing with the mess which erupted from the clash of Scientology versus, well, normal.

So, I wanted to read Tom Cruise biography because of what I had heard it had to say about Scientology more so than what it said about Tom Cruise. Once I found out that Australian publishers were too scared to publish it here, I arranged for a copy through Amazon.com.

I found Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography eminently readable. The account of Tom Cruise’s past, his rise to fame and how he lived in the prism of fame was interesting. Equally interesting, to this Australian, was Morton’s account of Nicole Kidman’s life with Tom Cruise. She does not fare well in this book, poor Nicole. There was also passing mention of James Packer which felt placed to me to support a point about Scientology. This is a book about Scientology.

The big take-aways for me from Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography, if only half of what Morton has written is true, are: Scientology is clearly not a religion, it is a cult and it is dangerous – Governments ought to withdraw its religious status; Tom Cruise is a bigger nut than I thought – actors should not have access to any stage or platform other than to act. I am glad my brush with Scientology was relatively brief.

The book provides an interesting connect with my own Scientology story: the way they attract people into the cult and how they use data to control and manipulate once you are in the web. It reminded me of what I found in the employee and other files of the company I purchased. I’m glad I read it and am disappointed that it has not been published in Australia.

Curiously, more have requested to borrow my copy of Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography than any other book I have ever mentioned reading.

Easter marketing tips

Here are some sales/marketing tips which we sent out yesterday to all of our users for Easter.  Some are old chestnuts and others are, well, different.  Above all, have fun with the season.

Egg Hunt.  Invite families in to hunt your store for eggs on one day.  Make this a big event.  Get the local paper to take some photos.  Let the school, kinder and other groups know.

Easter Bonnet Parade.  Invite oldies groups, retirement villages and similar places in to do a parade.  This could be on the same day as the egg hunt.  The more groups you involve the more your name will spread in the community.

Colouring contest.  An oldie and a goodie.  Get a good image and hive kids colour it in.  The key is to display all the entries – note on the form that you will display all entries as this gets parents coming in to look at the work of their kids.

Easter of all nations.  Invite your customers to write about Easter from the perspective of their nationality.  Keep the brief histories to a page.  See how many countries you can get represented.  This could really help cross cultural boundaries and connect people who otherwise may not have met.

Window decoration.  Invite a school class or kinder to paint your window in an Easter theme.

Egg race.  Put a big chocolate egg on a small spoon and see who can race a distance around the shop without dropping the egg.

How to make a bonnet.  Create an advice sheet or some flyer which helps people participate in Easter.  There are other sheets you could do: why send an Easter card or traditional Easter meals etc.  The more knowledgeable and useful you appear the more people will rely in you for seasonal connections.

Of course, the various events noted could all be done on the one day, creating something wonderful for all ages.

Loyalty marketing in retail

The loyalty marketing tools in our software are designed to drive sales and track customer performance. Both are important to businesses using loyalty marketing to drive sales.

There is no point in rewarding customers for doing with you what they will do anyway. Hence the use of the software tools to drive sales and increase average spend. In this instance the loyalty reward in the carrot.

There is also no point in any marketing system like this unless you track customer performance for it’s the shopping basket which can tell you a lot about customer behaviour. Beyond the reward for the customer you can better categorise customers and thereby better serve them. It’s a win win.

So, from basic VIP club facilities through to points and money based loyalty facilities to customer performance analysis, we have toold which can set your retail business alight. Proven and mature facilities.

Why is this on my mind today? A prospect told us that the Director of one of our competitors told them this week that we don’t have loyalty facilities. He would know that such a claim is untrue. By blogging about the facilities I put it on the record and, in a round about way, I challenge him about his false statements.

Handling the SMH price rise

Thanks to early warning from the folks at the Sydney Morning Herald about the price rise next week we have been able to republish our easy to follow price change advice and get this to our users well in advance of the change.  The more publishers let us know about changes like this the easier we can make it for newsagents.  We published the advice earlier today – in advance of weekend billing by newsagents who charge in advance.

The returning team member

We’re soon to be joined by someone who used to work for us a couple of years ago. This is not unusual – we’ve had six or seven people come back after leaving us to travel or pursue other interests for a while.

If someone has good skills, likes the company and can make a valuable contribution I’m glad to welcome them back. So, in a few weeks we welcome an old friend back and in doing so create a new position to take up the opportunity.

What’s interesting is the perspective returning friends bring – both of their original time within the business and their view of the world in the context of coming back.

I was talking with another small business owner earlier this week and he said he’d never have someone back after they have left. While I can understand some people taking that view, for me it’s too narrow.

More spin, spin, spin

Bernard Zimmermann one of the owners of POS Solutions is at it again, publishing false information to justify previously published false information.

Yesterday he made a series of claims about me. These are untrue.

He says I started my It career working side by side with him at Fluor, an engineering company. I did not start my IT career at Fluor. I had been in IT seven years by then (CSIRO (4 years), GMH (2 years) and CBA(1 year)). At Fluor I was a Systems Programmer, Bernard wes an Application Programmer. We were in different areas. We had little to do with each other.

Bernard says I then brought (sic) my first newsagency software – inferring this is when I started Tower. I started Tower just prior to joining Fluor. We had developed our newsagency software prior to this time – so the timing Bernard claims is way off. Further, his claim that i acquired the newsagency software elsewhere is false. By the time I was with Fluor I already had a full time software developer working in Tower Systems – in addition to my evening and weekend work.

Barnard says he came across me next when I was selling software to real estate agents. I have never sold advertising to real estate agencies. Indeed, I have never sold advertising.

Bernard says he has been banned from publishing comments here. He has never been banned from posting comments at the Tower and newsagency blogs.

The blog post from Zimmermann conatins considerable false information – all because he is trying to spin that his company sets IT standards for newsagents. It does not. POS Solutions today is a pale imitation of what it once was. It serves, I estimate, around 600 newsagents. This number is falling. POS is fading because of appalling support. I offered to purchase the business. They declined. Since my offer, in writing last year, Zimmermann has stepped up his public slanging including saying he offered to purchase my company. His attempts to rewrite history are breathtaking.

Zimmermann ought to focus on building his business. He can start to do this by treating all newsagents equally. I know of people who have waited more than five days in the last week to get a call back on a serious problem with the software. If they were one of his chosen users they would have received a call back immediately. Fixing this is more important that being a revisionist when it comes to history.

There’s no doubt I benefit from the POS Solutions mess. Each week we are converting people from their software. This growth is one reason we have increased our team in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. It’s a good challenge.

I am sorry for airing dirty laundry here. It’s a waste of my time and your time – if you are still reading that is.  I feel that I have no choice. If I leave Zimmermann’s blog post unchllenged then it becomes fact by default.   His false statements need to be shown for what they are.

Free laptop for newsagents

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Tower Systems is offering a free new Dell Inspiron laptop to every newsagent in Australia.

The free laptop offer celebrates the official launch of our exclusive free online training program for newsagents and easier access to newsagency software from anywhere in the world.

Every newsagent, whether a Tower Systems user or not, can access the free laptop for newsagents offer.  The laptop is free with any purchase over $9,000 for software only or hardware and software as long as one module of Tower software is included.   The laptop can be for any use but since it includes a built in camera participants and use it for free online training and other webinars.

The free laptop is a Dell Inspiron Laptop based on an Intel Dial-Core 1.6Ghz processor, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard disk drive, 15.4 inch widescreen XGA, DVD RW drive, Integrated Graphics media Accelerator, Integrated 2 mega pixel webcam, Wireless dual band network card, 6-cell Lithium Ion Battery, Microsoft Windows Vista Home, Microsoft Works software and one year next business day on site warranty.

This offer expires March 31, 2008. The photo shows the actual model laptop we’re giving away.

Enhancements for book retailers

Thanks to some excellent feedback from several users and book suppliers are are finalising some excellent software enhancements which will suit retailers playing in the book space. While we have had book facilities for years and improved them over time, this next suite of enhancements is the most significant in several years.

As is often the case, the timing changes is being driven by customers who want to move to our software. Delivering the enhancements within the agreed time and specification starts a new relationship off on the right footing. The benefit for us is that we better position ourselves in a good marketplace.

There is no substitute for user (and potential user) feedback on software enhancements.

False statement from POS Solutions

So it was good the newsagency industry adopted our invoice files as a standard for the industry invoicing.

This statement was published by Bernard Zimmermann or POS Solutions yesterday. It is false. The newsagency industry did not adopt POS Solutions file formats as a standard. The standard was developed through a broad consultation process involving newsagent suppliers, software companies and external IT consultants.

Why give focus to a competitor? In this online world publishing anything, even something false, gives it credence. I’d rather give a competitor some focus and correct a false statement than leave it there without challenge.

Unfair shopping centre rental

Following my involvement with the Productivity Commission Inquiry into retail tenancies last week I have been approached by several people with data across a range of businesses in capital city shopping centres.  If the data I have been shown is accurate, small business is treated appallingly.  No surprise there I guess – landlords have efficiencies in dealing with a national tenant compared to a small business with one lease in one centre.  However, does that justify a rent difference of six and ten times the per square metre rate?

Even comparing like size and location within the centre for like, the difference is more than six times the rent for the independent retailer.  Six times!  And that is in comparison with a chain with not even 100 stores.

For newsagents, 1,450 of whom are customers of my software company, this rent penalty by shopping centre landlords is debilitating.  Newsagents control the price of less than half of what they sell.  This denies them the flexibility of other retailers.  The margin on their fixed price product is slim, 25% or less.  This makes them economically vulnerable to the annual rent rises of 5% and more.  So, for newsagents, the Productivity Commission Inquiry is timely and important.

I have encouraged those privately sharing this data with me to make a submission.  I hope they do.  The more we focus on the disparity in rent and other commercial terms for small businesses compared to national tenants the better.

In our work here we are privileged to have access to a relationship beyond IT.  This insight helps us better serve our customers and the community more widely.  We are resolutely committed to helping small business retailers be strong.

Bending for elvis

Newsagents have received a new publication about Elvis Presley which defies conventional wisdom in terms of pricing.  The one product has variable pricing depending on the issue being purchased and the version you buy.  We created advice to help our newsagent customers and released this when the title launched. 

Selfishly, this is a benefit of owning a software company and a newsagency.  We new from our experience the impact of the pricing model and came up with a practical solution.  While it would be helpful if publishers didn’t try and bend the pricing model of magazines, that we can cope with this is good for all concerned. 

The response to this is a test for any software company.  If they didn’t have advice in the market yesterday, well, its too late.  It’s one thing to say you’re connected with a marketplace and another thing altogether to demonstrate it.

Leaders deliver

Below is our latest advertisement for newsagents, running in this month’s National Newsagent.

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We are picking up on the results of the recent survey by the ANF on newsagent satisfaction with computer systems. We’re proud of our results. The survey is the best independent indication of newsagent attitudes to their computer supplier.