Selling cake

cake.JPGWe sell slices of cake soap as shown in the photo in our gift shops. This is easy thanks to the search facilities in the software. We can sell by finding the item using advanced stock search facilities. We can also sell by barcode and PLU but for the cake the search is better.

Our software helps in other ways with the soap. It can remind the team that the soap is provided with a certain type of packaging. Providing additional information during the sale like this drives consistency. It is another way technology can be used by a business to ensure that its points of difference are followed.

Preparing for the Melbourne Gift Fair

The Melbourne Gift Fair starts this weekend and our marketing team is busy creating new marketing collateral for the event. With our gift and homewares customer base growing rapidly, we are looking forward to meeting with many users at the four day event.

If you find yourself at the Gift Fair, be sure to drop by and say hello and check out the latest release of our software. We will be previewing some new features.

Our stand at E4311 at the Showgrounds.

Widescreen support

The update of our software which we are about to ship includes the ability for our users to configure the software for widescreen use. While used by only a small group of users at the moment, this will change. hence the importance of the added flexibility.

Help with magazine returns

In the light to communication from ACP Magazines to newsagent association and marketing group leaders about more stringent auditing of magazine returns, we are helping the Tower Newsagent community with several initiatives:

  • Scheduling more free online magazine returns training sessions.
  • Revising advice sheets covering the magazine returns process.
  • Ensuring all of our help desk team members are across the ACP crackdown and can provide accurate advice on the correct approach for accurate and on time magazine returns processing.
  • Including a returns component to our next series of face to face user meetings.

While our software meets all industry standards around the returns requirements, it is easy for someone to ignore warnings we issue and overstate the quantity being returned. Hence the importance to remind our user community that our software has appropriate checks and balances to ensure accurate returns processing and to thereby help our newsagent community avoid receiving a breach notice.

The tough get going

Out of the doom and gloom stories about the Australian and worldwide economies, we are encountering strong business people with plans for the future.  Typically, they are investing as if it is business as usual, on greater efficiency and infrastructure which will drive growth.

It is great to see so many small business owners getting in the job rather than being paralysed by negative headlines.  What is especially exciting is that some of the most innovative ideas are coming from long term owners, the group I’d have expected to be the least up for embracing the opportunities of change.

Cutting theft in retail

track_sale.JPGThe risk of getting caught is key to cutting theft in retail. Our integrated security / point of sale solution provides greater certainty of capture. As the photo shows, we record items being sold and list them over the vision of the sale. We have offered this link for many years. Our own experience is that the link pays for itself.

Beyond cutting theft, our link also eliminates disputes about amount tendered, when an item was purchased and other queries at the counter. These facilities boost confidence of team members when dealing with difficult customers.

In the back of the shop one can monitor the 8, 16 and even more cameras on the management screen. This is also where we can search the vision based on stock items and other criteria – for when we need to check when an was last sold.

With theft in retail costing between 3% and 5% of sales and a professional security system costing around .5% of gross sales, the financial benefits the point of sale / security system integrated package are obvious.

C-Store 2008 wash up

c-shop-blog.jpgThe two days at C-Store in Melbourne late last week proved to be very worthwhile.  We now have some excellent supplier connections which will benefit our convenience channel customers and our newsagency customers.  We also learnt about some aspects of convenience business management which can add value across each of the markets in  which we operate.

The show was also valuable internally for us as we sought to pitch our software in a more accessible way than as a pure technoloigy solution.  Convenience store owners buy technology differently to, say, newsagents and stationery retailers.  The flyer to the left reflects part of the change in approach developed by our marketing department.  The more traditional technology pitch is replaced by colours and other elements which connect the offer to the specific channel.

Diversity is important to software companies like us.  Beyond learning from one market and applying those learning to other markets, there is the benefit of economic balance.  One market may be challenged while another is up.  Also, our team have less chance to become stale and even jaded.  Serving in a limited number of carefully selected marketplaces benefits is in many ways.

Saturday support doubles

To help newsagents deal with the continuing fall-out of the collapse of Bill Express and to ensure that the needs of our 1,000 other clients we have doubled the Saturday Help Desk team again today.  This is in addition to our usual after ours numbers.

Managing returns across multiple newsagency locations

The release in two weeks of the latest version of our multi store software for newsagents enhances the magazine returns facilities for our newsagency users running multiple retail locations under on a shared software platform. This is a significant enhancement as we are delivering the latest newsagency supplier standards to stores networked together. Not an easy task given the data tracking requirements of the EDI standards.

We are seeing more multiple location ownership newsagency situations arise and with these, more opportunities to help newsagent balance stock between more than one retail outlet. This is a case of newsagents being ahead of suppliers or supplier standards at least. We have some thoughts on standards in this area since we have had this situation with our own newsagencies since October last year when we purchased our second store.

Key to leveraging the benefit of owning more than one newsagency is the ability to move stock between stores freely and providing suppliers visibility of such movement. As a retailer I want to move stock to where it will sell. The creaky old magazine supply model makes this difficult. Smart technology can help retailers hurdle this challenge and focus on selling the product.

I am certain that advances in this area of common ownership of multiple newsagencies will be significant in the next few months.

Magazine innovation moves to next level

The magazine supply model innovation we developed exclusively with magazine distributor NDD and announced here two months ago is about to move to considerably wider use. It is one of several enhancements in our next major software update for newsagents. The feedback from NDD on the trial, which has now been running for six months, is excellent. The data demonstrates valuable results for newsagents, NDD and their partner publishers.

We are proud that our innovation in this project is delivering tangible financial rewards exclusively for Tower newsagents. This is what it’s about for us. With more than 1,500 newsagents using our software, we take our commitment to improve the financial return our newsagents achieve from their relationship with us very seriously.

For no additional cost, our newsagent customers, through the NDD enhancements in the next update, will have facilities which will enhance their their bottom line. Yes, we are very proud of this particular innovation.

Loving marketing

andrew_loving.JPGAndrew Halpern, our Marketing Manager, loves his work. He loves the results of his work more as this photo of him embracing the stand he was responsible for developing with Vienna Chen, our gifted in-house designer.

Andrew and Vienna are a powerhouse of a team, creating a variety of marketing collateral for print advertising, product brochures, promotional products, trade show stands and other materials for each of our five marketplaces.

Andrew has every right to embrace the trade show stand.

I took the photo at the C-Store trade show yesterday. Andrew spent time there talking to suppliers and researching the marketplace so that our product collateral better reflects that specific marketplace. Too many software companies make a technology pitch. Our goal is to focus on outcomes specific to each market.

A busy convencience store trade show

tower_c-store.JPGOur stand at C-Store 2008 has been busy since the trade show opened this morning in Melbourne.

In the photo you can see our corner position with two of our sales team – Tim Batt and Nathan Morrison. Nathan is the one with his new iPhone to his ear.

At our C-Store stand we are seeing newsagents and convenience store owners. We are also getting to spend good time with suppliers to these markets. Being an exhibitor gives us time plenty of valuable discussions over the course of the trade show.

UPDATE (10:30PM): The day ended well for us.  More newsagents visited with us as well as some newsagent suppliers.  The decision to take a stand was clearly a good one based on the feedback from the first day.  The other benefit for us is gaining a first hand understanding of the commercial synergy between newsagents and convenience stores.  Some of this will be evident in updates we release over the course of the next year.

The website CRM sales lead link

Thanks to a link between our new website and our in-house CRM system, sales queries lodged via the website are immediately and automatically forwarded to the right recipient and tracked for a timely response. This cuts the time taken to get the contact to the intended recipient. It also provides us with facilities which to enable us to better manage all contacts.

Given the volume of contacts we receive every day, eliminating double handling improves efficiency and helps ensure a more certain outcome for those contacting us.

The website / CRM link implemented so far is stage one of deeper links coming. It is a good demonstration to sales prospects of our approach to efficient business.

Auto backup of reports

To protect against key reports being lost we are automatically saving copies in PDF format to client systems. This helps if a reprint of these reports is important. It means the users save time from recreating the reports themselves. While our users have had the ability to create PDF copies of reports for years, we have only automatically generated PDF backups of reports occasionally. Our latest changes in this area is as a result of assessing the time

Convenience store software

The launch this week of our convenience store software has been announced to the world.

Tower Systems Launches Convenience Store Management Software

July 22, 2008 — Tower Systems today announced the imminent launch of retail management software developed specifically for the Australian convenience store channel.

The new convenience store software has been developed in close consultation with Australian convenience store operators and suppliers.

This new software, which is being launched at the c-store 2008 exhibition in Melbourne this week, provides fast access point of sale facilities for this rapidly growing retail sector.

“Moving into the convenience channel was a logical choice for us” commented Mark Fletcher, Managing Director of Tower Systems. “With more than 2,500 independent retail customers and 1,500 of those newsagents we found ourselves providing many facilities convenience store owners were asking for.”

Tower Systems has packaged its convenience store POS software with a complete hardware kit for an introductory price of under $7,000 including GST.

Proprietors owning more than one location can use Tower Systems’ multi-store version of the software to even more cost-effectively address their IT needs.

In addition to traditional point of sale facilities, the new Tower software provides an easily customisable user interface which enables each store to create hotkeys for the fastest selling items, electronic voucher product without the need for additional hardware and electronic invoice links to key convenience suppliers.

Tower Systems software is already being used at convenience stores in several Australian states.

About Tower Systems

Founded in 1981, Tower Systems serves in excess of 1,500 of Australia’s 4,600 newsagents and another 1,000 retailers. The company also operates six retail businesses as live development and testing sites.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Mark Fletcher Mobile – +61 418 321 338, email – mark@towersystems.com.au. Web: www.towersystems.com.au

$100,000 saving on support calls

phone.JPGSince we installed new phone systems in our Brisbane and Sydney offices six months ago offering local call support, we have saved our customers in excess of $100,000 on support call costs. Our national phone system allows our three busiest offices to operate as if all team members are in one location – hence the ability for a Brisbane user to call that office and for the call to be picked up in Melbourne without it costing the usual STD call rate.

We are proud of the tangible savings we have delivered to our users and will continue to work on ways to reduce the cost of technology ownership.

Stress balls for trade show attendees

stress_ball.JPGWe are giving away stress balls to people attending our stand at gift, newsagent, convenience and jeweller trade shows this year.

Our pitch is that good software is like a stress ball for your business – is helps you better handle difficult decisions, it makes running your business easier. What better stress relief for a business owner is there than that? They are also a nice distraction for people stressed on the floor of the trade show itself.

Of course, some people see computers as adding to the stress of running a business. On those occasions when things may not run as smoothly as you might like, the stress ball may help.

Either way, the stress balls are popular with people visiting us at trade shows. We have given away cake, boomerangs, pens, mugs, pads and mouse mats. These stress balls are the most popular.

Update in beta phase

A beta release of Retailer version 2.2, the next major release of our software is now running in more than thirty locations including several of our own.  It will remain in beta in these locations until any issues encountered are resolved.  While or hope is that we can move into production within the next three weeks, the timing is controlled by user feedback and our own QA processes.

Retailer 2.2 is a significant update in scope and technical accomplishment.  For commercial reasons I will not document the new features and other enhancements here.  Instead, we will advise our user community privately in the next two weeks.

Our approach to software updates is conservative.  We build updates over time, undertake considerable in-house testing, test in the field in our own retail businesses and then test in beta sites as documented in this blog post.  Once an update is ready, we ship this ti our users on CD.  This provides a complete backup copy for safe storage.

Our users told us some years ago that they did not want us connecting to their businesses and updating the software automatically.   They felt it took some control away from them and, in the event of ann update with a bug, put their business at risk.

Our approach lets the more conservative of our users wait to hear how others have gone with the update. The control they have, while frustrating for some suppliers waiting for users to have the latest release, provides the level of service and control our users want.

Welcome Matt

Matt Gale joined our Melbourne based Help Desk team today, filling a new position we created. Following his induction, Matt will spend at least two weeks behind the scenes, working in one of our newsagencies and undertaking intensive training in our software. He will then be slowly eased into the Help desk role.

Introducing any new team member into a customer service role is something we take seriously and slowly. We ensure that they are up to the task of handling calls solo before we release them to do that. So, it will be a while before you get to speak with Matt on the phone.

Pre sales role vacancy

I blogged here a few weeks ago that we have created a new admin role to handle pre sales and installation scheduling work. This area of our business has grown significantly – hence the need to create a new role. The challenge we face is finding the right candidate. While we have received applications from some fine candidates, none has the specific mix of skills we are looking for. We have fine-tuned the advertisement on Seek in the hope of uncovering the perfect candidate.

The new role is important to us for several reasons: it will help us better manage new installation growth, it will improve the efficiency of our sales team; and, it frees up more skilled resources for post sales customer support.

If you know someone with good admin skills and current IT knowledge please let them know about this new role.

The week of convenience

cstore.JPGThis week is about convenience for us.  On Thursday and Friday we are exhibiting at C-Store 2008 – at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre.  This is our first trade show for the convenience store marketplace.  We will be launching the convenience store version of our point of sale package.  There is tremendous synergy between the newsagency marketplace and the convenience marketplace.  Already serving in excess of 1,500 newsagents positions us well for this move.  If you get to C-Store 2008 be sure to drop by and say g’day.

Double Saturday staff

We have doubled our Help Desk team today because of a backlog of calls. Most the backlog is as a result of the collapse of Bill Express which has affected newsagents in a variety of ways. We are happy to take calls and help resolve issues even though they are not related to our software. Our Saturday Help Desk operates in addition to our usual after hours services.

Call for photos

I am working on a project for newsagents which requires photos of newsagents, their staff of their family facing the camera, smiling – either in the shop or, ideally, outside showing the front of the shop. They need to be photos you own the rights to. I am looking for one photo from each newsagency – the very best you have. In digital form only. preferably 2MB or better. I need them by Monday next week. Please email your photos to mark@towersystems.com.au. I will announce more details on this project in the next two weeks.

Our admin team

ac_team.JPGOur new website introduces updated photos of our team. One such photo is this one of our admin team: Gavin (General Manager), Charbel (Accounts), Phoebe (Reception), Georgia (Accounts), Amy (Reception) and Norman (Financial Controller).Software companies at our end of the market often claim to be bigger than they are. By publishing photos of our team here and on our website we are demonstrating transparency and accuracy of our claims.

We have more photos to take of our interstate team members. They will be added over the next few weeks.