Tower Blog

A blog about smart POS software for independent small businesses.

Month: April 2008 (page 2 of 4)

Support for Queensland newsagents

qnfpack1.JPGWe are proud to be the Platinum Sponsor of the Queensland Newsagents State Conference on Tuesday this week.

Our newsagent conference support is another opportunity to demonstrate practical support for the newsagent channel.

In addition to speaking at the conference – on entrepreneurship – and providing a free laptop computer to one lucky attendee, we have put together a special offer to promote better business management practices among Queensland newsagents.

Now more than ever, suppliers serious about the newsagent channel need to demonstrate their support, to put something back for newsagents.

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Just read: The Working Poor

poor.JPGI have just finished reading The Working Poor by David K. Shipler.  It’s a rough book to read because of the stories of hardship workers face in jobs which pay too little.  I am glad I read it.  It reminded me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed in many ways.  It portrays the daily struggle of those living in or on the edge of poverty in America while working a job.  I especially enjoyed the epilogue, a catch up of people in the book and their journey since the author’s initial contact.

Reading The Working Poor I was reminded of some small business owners in similar day to day struggles to live.  I know of a husband and wife working sixty to eighty hours a week each to run a business from which they collectively make $50,000 a year or less.  While they have some responsibly for their situation, much of the revenue of the business is determined by others as is the ability of the business to pass on increased operational costs.  While the $50,000 a year does not make them poor under the definition, the $7.50 an hour they earn makes them among the poorest paid in Australia.

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Making the newsagency sale easier

For several years now we have provided a free day of training to anyone buying a newsagency where our software is used. This free training is usually delivered prior to take over and helps prepare the purchaser for the business in advance. I was talking to a newsagent this week who told me that the free day of training is what made his business more appealing to the family which signed to buy their newsagency. It demonstrated, he said, an IT relationship which helped better present the business.

People looking to buy their first newsagency have a lot of information to assimilate. So much that there is no chance they can remember it all. Our training is designed to make the computer less daunting and to show where they can find what they need. More important than that, we establish a rapport which is often the beginning of a wonderful new business relationship.

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Stunning sunset

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As the photo shows, Melbourne witnessed a stunning sunset yesterday. We were fortunate to witness this from our where we can see across Port Phillip Bay. The importance of the view we have from our office was illustrated when six people told me how great the view of the sunset was. I had to see it for myself.

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Friday lunch

friday_lunch.JPGWe put on a a lunch in our board room today to help some of our new team members got to know each other.

The food (tasty burgers from Grill’d – which we highly recommend) was quickly consumed and the room was taken over by some of the team peering into their Nintendo things, intensely playing games.

Those of us not into computer games are planning a poker tournament for the next Friday lunch.

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Buy one and three move

We switched a newsagency from  another system to ours two months ago.  It has gone so well that the owner has signed to move his other two newsagencies.  We needed to prove the transfer process and our support commitment.  His comment to us was the first month is the real test and you guys came through with flying colours.

With the number of newsagents owning multiple businesses growing, the ability to support the group is important.  Our capabilities in this area are strong because of what we have done for our own newsagencies.

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Eftpos banking arrangements finalised

We have finalised all arrangements for the St/George / Bank SA Eftpos baking deal for our customers today.  In addition to excellent rates we have been able to negotiate highly competitive back office fees on terminals and PC integrated processing.  Being the software company behind the technology used on the counter has enabled us to go further than most traditional retailer banking deals.  Details on sign-up are being sent out next week.

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Managing stock how you want

Users of our software can choose the KPI they prefer with which to measure the performance of stock in their businesses.  Return on investment, return on floor space, return on shelf space, stock turn, GMROI – we support a broad range of KPIs to serve the diverse range of business knowledge of our customers.

By providing flexibility in the KPIs, our customers know that as their needs mature, the software can travel with them and provide more detailed performance measurements at the item, category, department and supplier level.

Stock management in small business is more than gut feel in today’s retail environment.  Our commitment is to give out customers tools which hale them more successfully compete with the big end of town.  Our stock management tools are key to this commitment.

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More new advice sheets

We have published three more new advice sheets at our website today:

  • G32 – Receipt Logos
  • J1 – Jeweller Marketing
  • N24- Newsagent Marketing

We have more advice sheets in development to ensure that up to date documentation is available for our users.

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Managing stock questions at the counter

Being able to answer question queries at the counter is important in retail. This means being able to bring up query, reporting and other screens while you’re in the middle of something else. Our software has handled multiple tasks (multiple screens at once) for years – especially through point of sale where handling questions at the counter is crucial.

Here is one of the any screens accessible at the push of a button from point of sale. It shows history for a title, when it’s next due in and allows you to easily create a put away – this is logical since a customer asking when a magazine is due in is, in our mind, a putaway opportunity.

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The design of the screen has been refined over years based on feedback from our users. The key is to make it as useful as possible without getting in the way.

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Point of sale software speed

The place where the speed of a point of sale system matters above all others is at the sales counter. The photo shows one of the registers at one of our own newsagencies. This is where we test every update long as one step in our extensive QA process. If it fails here the software is not sent to our 1,500 newsagent customers. We do similar live QA testing in other businesses in which our software runs. performance is key and we have too much at stake to send out software which is not the fastest going around.

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The blog post about nothing

I am stuck on a four hour plane flight tonight and am enjoying the phone being off and some time alone. I find that long flights are ideal for reflection. Even with the interruptions of meals and drinks you’re in a less noisy environment than at the office or elsewhere.

I enjoy plane travel because of this time alone. No phone, no one at the office door. I’m usually more productive in a flight than the same time in the office. I certainly get more reading done.

It is in this reflective frame of mind that I was thinking about 2008 and how the year is shaping. We hit the ground running, from January 2. New positions created in the business, online training launched, one major software update released and another due in a couple of weeks, expansion interstate, expansion overseas, I could go on. It’s mid April and it feels like a full year.

The most valuable moves so far this year have been the developments in our management team. We have six key managers looking after the core functions of the business and each of these people is guiding us to an exceptional year. Gavin Williams, new to our General Manager role is settling into the the most senior leadership role in the company as is Jonathan Tay as our new Software Development Manager – both have introduced significant changes in their roles which have strengthened our business and our offer to our customers.

2008 has also seen a far more significant role played by our Group Retail Manager, Ben Kay. With six (and soon to be seven) retail stores operated by the company, Ben has an important operational portfolio as well as a key role in driving software development based on our personal retail experience.

Now that I appear to be writing up a list I need to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of our Technical Manager, Simon May – his knowledge and commitment to our customers is breathtaking. Michael Elvey as our Customer Service Manager keeps us focused on service and ensure we resource appropriately. At the other end, Andrew Halpern runs the most energetic and professional marketing department you’ll find in a software company in Australia.

Backing all this up is the financial engine. Our Financial Controller is Norman Partington. His contribution and that of his team to the accounting side of our software is a bonus beyond the traditional accounting function in a business like ours.

Now that I’ve names the management team I guess I have provided a shopping list for poachers. I hope not. This team, and the teams working with them make Tower Systems a well structured team business. I could disappear tomorrow and know the business sis in good hands.

This is not a blog post to name some names and make people feel good. It’s long overdue public acknowledgment that ours is a busy business and our success is due to the efforts of many people lead by an excellent team.

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Anzac Day newspaper advice

We have released up to date advice on handling newspaper deliveries on the Anzac Day weekend.

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Ethics and blogging

Howard Owens has an excellent blog post on information ethics in the context of blogging (among other things). His words are an excellent reminder to all bloggers and those who comment on blog posts. Here is part of what Howard wrote:

The information ethic begins with each person who both understands the power of information and the scourge of misinformation.

This is a role not solely for journalists, but journalists as the paid purveyors of information must not slip in adherence to high ethical standard (the ethical burden on journalists has never been greater); this is not a role not solely for bloggers, but bloggers as the vanguard of a new information river, must take on the burden of protecting and cherishing information; mostly, this is a role for all participants in the conversation, both the creators and the followers.

Not all participants will rise to the occasion, increasing the burden on those of use who recognize the responsibility.

The information ethic requires that we strive always for honesty, transparency, accuracy and fairness.

Howard is right about the role of bloggers and our obligation to protect and cherish information. While in this place I’m occasionally engaged in competitive positioning, I don’t lower the standard of honesty, transparency, accuracy and fairness.

For those who read my newsagency blog, I have posted this in both places as it’s as the points made are important in both forums.

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Advanced stock management

Many small business owners see stock management as a common function in point of sale software. That is, they expect all systems to handle this fundamental requirement.

Not all computer systems are the same when it comes to stock management.

Smart computer systems go beyond telling you what sold and for how much. They allow multiple views of the data, so you can find out what you need to know about your business in a way which is most useful. They highlight sales trends, what sells with what, compare trading periods and compare suppliers of competitive products. Smart systems also enforce stock description and pricing standards in your business when you;re not there and enable you to answer complex stock questions at the counter or elsewhere.

Computer sales people often gloss over stock and say oh, we have what the others have, everyone does. Be wary of such a claim. It suits them to make it and seeks to stop you doing your homework.

Smart stock management is not in every computer system. Caveat emptor.

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New advice sheets for Tower Systems users

 

We have loaded six new/revised advice sheets to our website:

 

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1,500 newsagents

We’re proud of achieving 1,500 newsagents as customers and are taking some trade ads this month to celebrate…

newsagent-letter-tower-blog.jpg

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The exclusive magazine distributor link

We have been working with a magazine distributor for more than six months on a new link between their business and newsagents. This link, for the first time, provides a magazine distributor with visibility beyond their own titles and in a way which does not breach newsagent contractual obligations to not share title sales data with others.

The visibility we are providing will help the distributor take a whole of newsagency view when making supply decisions. This is what developing software for newsagents is all about – making genuine progress on decades old challenges faced by newsagents and taking a step toward fixing faults in the magazine supply model.

I’m that or 1,500 newsagent customers will benefit from this latest work.

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Years of stock history

Effective stock management in retail relies on having access to extensive sales history. Users of our Tower Systems software can store as much sales and other history for stock items as they wish. In our own retail businesses we keep five years of data. We know of retailer who keep as little as a year. Most keep between two and three years.

The key with keeping historical data is to use it. Our software has some excellent tools for using this historical data to help guide good business decisions.

We have found that our users like the flexibility on how long they keep their data. Hoarders love that they are not forced to let of do data they want to keep. As with any good software, users have the control.

Years of stock history does not slow the system down.  Thanks to smart up-to-date technology we can manage masses of data without a speed delay.

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Shortcut to adding a stock item

Adding a new stock item is a breeze with our software. If the new item enters the business via and electronic invoice it is added automatically. If the new item is being added manually new users can use a wizard which steps them through the process over several screens which educate about the stock process as well as collecting appropriate data. People who know how to use the software can ignore the wizard and use our regular stock entry screen and get it done faster.

Our point of sale software is full of shortcuts for people looking for fast ways to get the job done. For every one of these shortcuts there is a more time consuming approach for first time users who are learning the software.

The key is to learn the shortcuts and get the job done faster – and still accurately. This is where our free online training and user meetings are helpful in educating users about time saving opportunities – long after the system has been installed. We are committed to helping our users continue learning the software long after it is installed.

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Free newsagent training this week

We have four free online training opportunities for newsagents this week:

 

  • Tuesday, 15 April 2008 10:00 AM Magazine Management
  • Tuesday, 15 April 2008 2:00 PM Stock Re-Ordering
  • Thursday, 17 March 2008 10:00 AM Magazine Management
  • Thursday, 17 March 2008 2:00 PM New User Training

Each of these sessions runs for 60 minutes, longer depending on questions., Access is free. All you need is broadband and a phone – for a toll free call for audio.

Book by email, please email bookings@towersystems.com.au. Even if you to do not use Tower Systems you;re welcome to participate and see how this online training works.

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Why use a touch screen at the retail counter?

touchscreen_but.JPGI spent a couple of hours behind the counter yesterday at one of my newsagencies. We needed extra hands on deck because of the lottery superdraw. Being a Saturday there were plenty of unusual items sold – the weekend product is more obscure than the weekday mix. Thanks to a smart layout on our touchscreen registers we were able to easily handle the traffic.

Good touchscreen layout is key to fast and accurate processing of sales.

Being able to sell a newspaper with a single touch of the button saves time and improves accuracy. I have seen some newsagents use five or size keystrokes to sell a newspaper. Every keystroke eliminated is gold in retail. Touchscreen beats a regular keyboard every time!

Cardboard, for example, is a breeze with the touch screen. Customers told us they didn’t like barcode stickers on cardboard so we created touchscreen buttons to track cardboard sales by size and colour. It’s easy and accurate and part of the touchscreen facilities. While this functionality may be a small point to some, others reckon it’s just about the best part of the software – being able to easily sell small items which are challenging to barcode.

The photo shows the main point of sale screen on one of the registers at our newsXpress Forest Hill newsagency. we played with this for weeks until we found the product and facility mix which suited our business. Others do it differently. I especially like the fast tender keys – showing notes – as well as the single touch button to manage customer accounts.

The point of sale screen is the heart of the retail counter. From here we have to be able to quickly answer just about any query, process sales, fix mistakes and handle business admin tasks – all with appropriate security.

Owning our own retail businesses has helped us tweak the facilities to improve speed and accuracy.

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The exceptions test any business

I was reminded when on a Qantas flight earlier this week that it is the exceptions we encounter in business which test us.

A passenger on the flight experienced a medical emergency and required urgent in-flight treatment. I was seated across the aisle and saw first hand the swift, calm and professional response from the Qantas team – the same team which spends most of their day taking care of meal services and checking tickets.

Our Help Desk services are a bit like the Qantas experience: most days it’s business as usual with each call. The real test is in how we handle the exception – an emergency or some extremely time sensitive situation. Key to this is swift identification of the call being different to the usual.

Hopefully, we’re like the Qantas team I saw, swift calm and professional.

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Two for one training offer

We have launched a two days for the price of one training offer for existing users of our software.The offer is open for April and training must be used by May. It’s another way we are trying to help our users get more from their IT investment.

If you would like training in your business please contact one of our sales people of Michael Elvey michaele@towersystems.com.au to facilitate this offer.

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Theft management offer

It is difficult to engage retailers in a discussion about theft. Most prefer to think it is not happening in their business. Our theft management marketing is multi layered and ranges from a public service announcement approach to a focus on strength. here is the cover of our latest postcard:

theft-management-tower-blog.jpg

The security bridge, the link between our software and the CCTV technology is exclusive to our software. It is the smart way to bring vision and data together in a form which reduces the time managers and owners spend on managing theft in a retail business.

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