Eftpos integration growing

We are rapidly heading to 100 users using our integrated eftpos facilities – this unlocks credit and debit card processing at each register rather than having to process back at a central point somewhere behind the counter. The facility is a considerable time saver. It also reduces mistakes.

Bulking up POS registers with more facilities and integrated products makes them more valuable hubs in the business. This provides more meaningful business data and this feed better business decisions. All motherhood stuff really.

The integrated eftpos tools have reinforced the importance of good point of sale software and good management support in-store backing this up.

FIJI expansion

We’ve sold our third point of sale system in FIJI.  The one question in the office when people hear this news is can I do the installation?  Everyone wants a trip to FIJI.  I don’t blame them, it’s a wonderful place.

Lower banking fees for newsagents

We sent a fax to newsagents Friday with an update on the lowest ever banking fee offer we have negotiated for the newsagent channel.  We also provided updated information of other benefits associated with the eziPass offer we have pitched to newsagents:

Here’s a quick update on eziPass, the phone recharge and electronic voucher platform many newsagents are switching to.

More calling cards
eziPass more international calling cards including products not available on the Dialtime terminal.  See the following sheet for a list of products and commissions.

Preferential banking relationship
Rates negotiated with St.George/Bank SA are the best newsagents have seen.  They provide lower debit and credit card fees and lower terminal fees.  Paperwork will be available from mid next week for newsagents to complete to access these savings.

No special equipment
eziPass runs on any computer.  If you use Tower Systems software it is integrated with point of sale.  If you don’t run Tower Systems a stand alone version will be available in two weeks.  eziPass is free.

No long term contract
eziPass is available without a complex long term contract.  www.eziPass.com.au has a copy of the agreement for you to see and complete to get on board.

Optus and Vodafone
While recharge for Optus and Vodafone customers is not currently available, we  anticipate an announcement in the next week.  We doubt that Optus and Vodafone will ignore the eziPass network – we already have 350 newsagents on board.

Tower Systems offer
eziPass is available to all newsagents regardless of the system they use.  However, if you want the point of sale integrated version – saving time, cutting mistakes and helping you sell more, call your local Tower Systems expert for details on their special offer: NSW/ACT/TAS: Nathan Morrison – 0417 568 148; VIC/SA: Tim Batt – 0403 189 379; QLD/NT: Luke La – 0434 072 417; WA: Joe Bredice – 0412 899 013.

I’m surprised to see activity mysteriously appear of the blog of a competitor following my posts about our bank deal here.   It’s been suggested that they predated a post to make it look like they cut a bank deal ahead of ours.

Training newsagent suppliers

We hosted another training session in our Sydney office yesterday for field representatives of a newsagent supplier. These are becoming regular events in our Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane offices. We train the reps in reports available from our software, how they can provide data which is more beneficial for newsagents and how newsagents can compare the performance of their products to those of other suppliers.

Suppliers with a better understanding of the facilities in our newsagent software are better equipment to work with the 1,500+ Tower Newsagents to drive better business outcomes.

We have involved newsagents in this training to ensure we cover their needs when talking with supplier representatives.

Preparing new advice

We are in the final editing stages of a batch of new advice sheets.  They should be ready for publication through our website by mid next week.  While some cover technical functions within the software, others are business management focused and talk about strategy and how several parts of the softwasre can be used to solve business challenges – we cover the why as well as the how.

Each advice sheet we publish goes through a time-consuming process: planning, writing, editing, peer review, final editing and in-field testing. I personally do a pre-publish review because the advice sheets represent our brand not only to our customers but also to suppliers and even competitors.

Our focus is on making the advice understandable for people of a broad range of technical skills, to give them confidence in our advice and our software and to ensure the best business outcomes for them.

Half of the new advice sheets have been developed as a result of feedback from users during support calls as well as feedback from our recent online training series.

New jeweller offer

We have just released a new offer for Jewellers, something we tested recently with great success at the JAA trade show in Brisbane.  The offer is based on the latest version of our jeweller software and includes our brand new repairs facilities which have been called the best in the industry by key jewellers operating successful repairs operations.

The new brochures will arrive in the mail next week.

Competitive help

In addition to the support roles I blogged about earlier this week, I am interested in hearing from anyone with experience with the POS Solutions software who is looking for a career in IT. We would like to help the 600 or so newsagents using POS Solutions.

Electronic vouchers coming to all newsagents

eziPass, the electronic voucher platform we created for newsagents, is close to being available for in newsagencies where our point of sale software is not in use. The development project is on-track for a mid April release.

We already have several hundred newsagents keen to load this free software and sell mobile phone recharge, amusement tickets and other products directly from the computers at their counter.

Our development team and that of our products partner have been working long hours to ensure that eziPass standalone is as easy to use and robust as the integrated product already used by 350 newsagents.

Managing for tough times in retail

The economy is on a bumpy ride. This is reflected in inflation figures, interest rate hikes and the stock market roller coaster among other measures. While we don’t know where the current bumpiness will take us, it would be smart to start focusing on being ready for the ride. Here are some tips which you might consider:

  • Sell more to existing customers. Refresh up-sell opportunities at the counter and through the store. Make sure your team understand how and when to up-sell.
  • Have your best people selling. If this is you as owner of the business, do it.
  • Make the business bright and happy – happier customers will spend more.
  • Promote your business. Many business owners reduce marketing spend in a downturn – do this and you reduce traffic to your store.
  • Expand. Not too much, in categories complimentary to your offer today, separate your business from competitors.

If all you do after reading this is think about how you’d react in tough times it’s a start. Too often, we deal with a challenge when it’s too late.

We published this advice today to our customers in our weekly email bulletin. 

Online software demonstrations

Online software demonstrations are popular all of a sudden with small business owners.  While big business has embraced the web for demonstratsions and meetings, small business owners have prefered face to face engagement.

Thanks to the cool Web Ex technology, we’re able to provide an online experience which suits many looking at our software.  We demonstrate the full functionality of the software live as well as provide access to more members of our team than we’d usually send to a demonstration.  For example, if a sales prospect asks a complex technical question we can quickly bring in one of our support team or even a software developer – demonstrating that there is more to Tower Systems than the one sales person a prospct would usually have initial contact with.

Besides showing off our online support and training facilities, online sales demonstrations show respect for time and costs and this is what we are finding some really like.

Anyone interested in an online sales demosntration can contact us through sales@towersystems.com.au.

Help desk vacancies

We are creating two additional Help Desk support positions – one in Melbourne and one in Sydney.  With sales considerably ahead of budget, we are soaking up the additional capacity created in new Help Desk roles already created this year.

We will give preference to people with experience with our software or, at the very least, experience in any of our vertical markets – newsagency, bike retail, jewellery or gift shop.  We have found that practical experience is more important than technical knowledge.

Anyone interested in applying for one of these new positions should email me for a position description – mark@towersystems.com.au – tell me a bit about yourself.

CRM drives better call management

We have turned on additional functionality within our Sage based CRM system.  The latest enhancement improves email advice to our customers about call progress.

If we cannot take the call when they call for support, one of our team logs details of the problem in CRM – the CRM system emails these details to the customer.   Immediately the call is picked up by a help desk team member we email the customer – including the name of the person managing the call.  Once the call is resolved we send a final email. While our customers can request that we don’t provide the email trail, no one wants it turned off. 

People placing the call like the transparency of who is working on the call and the summary of advice provided on the phone.

Business owners like that they have a trail for any call made by any of their team to us – this is particularly helpful is the owner is not working full-time in the business.

While all help desk interaction is human, having a solid CRM solution in the background, managing calls and ensuring we meet service levels is an important part of the Tower AdvantageTM.

We purchased an internationally respected CRM solution rather than write something ourselves because, well, we’re not CRM specialists.  CRM is unlike retail management software – our area of expertise.  The benefits of th decision two years to go for the best of breed solution are starting to be obvious.

Our commitment

commitment_magnet.JPGSeventeen years ago we sent fridge magnets to newsagents to promote our commitment: We remember how important your business is to ours. The photo to the left is of one of these magnets as seen on a fridge two weeks ago.

Seeing this magnet is a blast from the past. It says something about marketing which sticks – literally.

When I wrote we remember how important your business is to ours I meant it. I chose the magnet as the medium for the message because I thought it would last longer than a flyer or some other paper based communication. It did.

Over the years I’ve read plenty of books on business strategies, attended courses and a swag of conferences. The one piece of advice from all the gurus and experts which really matters is that in business customers come first. Today, as I wrote seventeen years ago, this means we remember how important your business is to ours. I we forget we hurt our customer’s businesses as well as our own.

Watch for a revised form of this magnet soon.

Supporting newsagents

Tower Systems has signed on as a Gold Sponsor of the national conference for newsagents organised by the ANF later this year. We have also signed on as a Gold Sponsor for the Queensland state conference organised by the QNF.

By supporting important learning opportunities for newsagents we practically demonstrate our support for the newsagent channel.

With more than half all newsagents using point of sale software partnered with Tower Systems, such industry support is appropriate.

Inventory management for gift shops

Gift shops are a bit like ducks – elegant and calm on the surface and paddling furiously underneath. Certainly that it how it is with managing stock in gift shops.

We are spending considerable time with gift shop owners on strategies for better stock management.  It’s not as straightforward as it seems since what sells today will not necessarily be replaced with the same item.  Our work is in tracking categories, ‘captions’  and price ranges.  This helps with buying one-off items to fit the range which has sold.

The work we are doing with gift shops has relevance for newsagents and jewellers and will result in enhanced reporting and management tools for these markets.

Newsagents blackmailed on support

A newsagent called me to discuss my blog post about software companies which block access to some software functions if the annual software support fee is not paid. It is not the first time I had heard a story like his:

I bought the software I use in my newsagency three years ago. My support fees have gone from just over $1,000 a year to $3,500 a year. When I bought the system I was told that support coverage was optional. Now I find out that it is not. I refused to pay the latest support bill because I thought that it was too much for the service provided. The next day I could not access invoices from the magazine companies. They told me they would permit access if I paid my support bill.

Newsagents are being ripped off by software companies which make annual software support fees mandatory. These companies must have poor software or poor support or both. If their software and support were good newsagents would not need to be forced to take the coverage, they would want it.

Newsagents should either refuse to pay support or switch systems. Either way they starve their software supplier of cash. They will eventually get the message.

At Tower Systems, software support has always been optional. This ensures we focus on providing good software backed by timely and professional support.

The newsagent who called me is switching to us. In pure software and support cost terms, he will be better off in less than three years. Beyond the cost, I’d expect him to reap even greater rewards from the decisions our software will help him make than would have been the case.

Bike shop software user meeting April 3

Bike shop owners and managers are welcome to join us for an online user meeting to discuss bike shop software at 11am, April 3.

We will demonstrate software enhancements about to be released, provide some training in repairs, lay-by and other key functions as well as take questions on any topic.  We will also be asking for suggestions for future updates.

To participate in this online user meeting you’ll need a computer with access to broadband and a phone – we streak the audio through the phone for quality reasons. We provide a toll free number for you to call to participate. Participating in this user meeting is the best way to influence our plans for the rest of 2008 so please join in. Reserve your place by emailing bookings@towersystems.com.au.

Online demonstration for gift shops

We are hosting an online demonstration of our software for gift shop owners for Thursday April 10 at 2pm AEST. This is a first for the gift shop channel. Anyone can participate as long as they have broadband access and a phone – participants call a toll free number to connect for the audio. To participate, register by emailing bookings@towersystems.com.au.

This demonstration will provide a practical example of one of our training and support delivery mechanisms. In addition to online training, we provide face to face in-store training, group training sessions and active participation at trade shows and other industry gift shop channel events.

Better bank rates for Tower Systems customers

I announced preferential credit and debit card banking rates for users of our point of sale software on Thursday. We estimate that, on average, our users will save around $500 a year if they take up the offer we have brokered.

On a per transaction basis, fees offered through the StGeorge / BankSA relationship are 10% better than the fees newsagents have today.

We have been able to negotiate a better banking deal by not taking any commission or cut from sign up or transactions. It was important to me that we put the maximum benefit possible on then table for our customers.

This banking move coupled with the easier access to eftpos processing at each register point makes transacting business through Tower Systems software a better deal.

Replacing Easter eggs

For most of our 27 years in business we have given Easter eggs to everyone on the Tower team on the last working day before Easter. This year, we broke with tradition. Instead, we made a $1,000 donation to the Smith Family for their Learning for Life program.

I settled on the Smith Family after considerable research. Learning for Life is the type of program I was looking for. The funds are used to provide financially disadvantaged students with support for personal development, after school programs, books and excursions. It is very practical program and the Smith family is transparent about us of donated funds.

We are continuing with our monthly financial commitment to the Lighthouse Foundation and other groups we support. We felt that by foregoing some chocolate we could extend our community support this Easter.

I am grateful to our customers for it is their faith in what we do than has enabled us to contribute to the work of the Smith Family. I am also grateful to the Tower team for allowing the tradition to be broken.

1,500 newsagents

We passed an extraordinary milestone today – our 1,500th system in a newsagency.  In a channel of 4,600 stores and with around 2,650 of these with systems, a 56% market share is an achievement of which we are most proud.

Game time lunch time

We put on lunch today to kick off the Easter break. The gamers in the office were more interested in getting on with winning at Mario Carts. The photo shows, from rear left, Andrew, Gavin, Michael, Mike, Leighton and, front row from left, Phoebe and Amy amm competing with each other.

easter_games1.JPG

Out of the shot are another fifteen of us not playing and doing more serious work.  With his back to the game players is Henry one of our new software developers – making a good impression!

Expanded training options

We have been recording some of our online training seminars so that others interested in the subjects being covered can replay the sessions at their leisure. This is part of the Web Ex functionality we are paying to use – they are true leaders in the online training platform market. I’m glad we have partnered with them.

As we build our library we will start to promote this resource to our users and seek feedback on other topics to add. Online training access is free as is access to the library of recorded content.

While online training will never replace what we deliver face to face in the businesses owned by our users, it provides a flexibility and review capability which adds significant value to the relationship.

The supplier (dis) connection

One quickly understands the importance of a retail channel to their suppliers by how easy they make doing business with them. For example, suppliers who respect their retail partners make doing business easy – they offer electronic invoices, price adjustments, orders and the like. Suppliers who care less about their retail partners throw up road-blocks.

We find ourselves navigating suppliers on the issue of their retailer interface more and more. Thankfully, our size in a couple of marketplaces helps our view being considered.

This should not be hard. Smart suppliers should want their retailers to transact efficiently with them. they should want their retailers to reduce keystrokes, place orders electronically and receive invoices electronically. They should want regular sales data the better businesses decisions they can make as a result of this.

It troubles me that it is in the channels populated by smaller businesses where suppliers care less. The weak are condemned to be forever weak. That’s how it seems or at least how their attitude comes across.

Smart suppliers will want to help make their retailer partners smarter because they will know that our of this both businesses benefit.