Helping new retailers through the fog

Thanks to the free day of training we offer people who purchase a business running our POS software, we get to develop some good relationships.  We do not expect anything from the free day of training other them learning more about the software already installed in the business.  Our no sales pitch approach builds trust.  We are often used as a sounding board when they face business challenged.

A couple of new retailers who have gone through our free training have been in contact recently to discuss challenges they face.  Four to six months in can be tough for a new retailer.  Cash is tight. They are out of easy gain ideas for the business.  They feel they may have taken on more than they can handle.

Thanks to our broad user community we can usually connect new business owners with others nearby who can help them through.  We also offer help ourselves through analysis of business reports and a review of their data to look for opportunities for change which they can implement.

Our help also extends to store visits to look for opportunities to improve the business and to reenergise and refocus the owners.

As retailers ourselves we understand the unique challenges of independent retail.  We are glad to be able to draw on that to help users of our POS software.

This connection we have with our customers, beyond our software, is something we enjoy and encourage.  It makes our work more interesting and demonstrates a bigger-picture  approach we take in serving our custoemers and the retail channel in which they operate.

Darwin newsagent user meeting this week

We are hosting a meeting of our Darwin based users this Thursday at 10 am at the Holiday Inn Esplanade Darwin. Access is free.

Luke La from our Brisbane office is hosting the meeting. He will brief our customers on our latest software developments as well as providing training on newsagency magazine management standards.

This is our second time in Darwin for a meeting like this in the last year.  We are fortunate to have a strong Darwin user community.

We no longer endorse Cardplai

Given the problems with the Cardplai product since launch, their poor communication with our customers and consumer dissatisfaction with their offer, I want to go on the record and say that we withdraw our endorsement.  We supported Cardplai for no compensation whatsoever.  We felt it was good for newsagents.  The promised promotion of newsagents has not materialised.  The commercial benefits for newsagents have not materialised. The company has placed barriers in the way of open communication with newsagents.

We have stopped selling cardplai products in our newsagencies.

We wish Cardplai all the best and note that we will not block access on our software platform.

Why people change their POS software

We have been asking some of those who recently joined Tower Systems from using other software why they switched to us. Strong word of mouth about our customer service and poor experiences with their prior system are the prime reason. The second reason is the depth of functionality in our software. Our energy is a third reason – that we continue to change and offer new and unexpected benefits. Our free online training was cited as a good example of the third reason.

No matter why people change, we gladly welcome new more business owners to our community of retailers.

The installation rush is on

We have six people out of the office and installing systems this week. Some are doing two installations. It is a very busy week capping off a very busy month. This is not unusual as retailers gear up to be ready for Christmas with new computer systems. The rush will carry over into October and November based on bookings we have in place.

The downside of the rush is the amount of travel our installation team undertakes. This comes with the personal burden of being away from home as well as the impact on the family left at home.

While we try and balance time away, there are some times of the year, like now, where it is difficult to avoid long stretches of travel.

Four free training workshops this week

We are pleased to be hosting four free online training workshops this week.  Here are the details:

  • XChangeIT Compliance Sept. 29 11:00
  • Magazine Management Workshop Sept 29, 14:00
  • Mastering Sub Agents Oct. 1, 11:00
  • Business reporting Oct 1, 14:00

Bookings can be made online at the booking page on the Tower website anytime.  Access to the sessions is entirely free.

Our online training workshops are another part of the Tower AdvantageTM program.

Software innovation for newsagents

We anticipate releasing to newsagents by early next week a new software facility which will make managing a key aspect of a newsagency easier.  This is genuine innovation from us, something no other newsagency software develivers today.

We have been able to develop this innovation thanks to co-operation of a major supplier and our own experience in our company-owned newsagencies.

The new facility will give us something else to show when people ask what is different about our software compared to software from others.

This is exciting for us because software and service are the two points of difference between software companies.  As competitive beasts, we always get excited when we have developed something which we know is truly unique, even it it can eventually be copied by others.

The new facility will be delivered without cost to newsagents using our software and covered by our support agreement.

Newsagents chasing industry standard POS software

The migration of newsagents to our POS and newspaper home delivery software from other software has been considerable this year.  My sense is that we are in the middle of a long overdue shake up in the newsagency software marketplace.  Eight software suppliers for 4,500 businesses is not viable.  There are signs that at least two are reducing focus on newsagencies.

A software company needs between 300 and 500 users to justify the software development and support infrastructure investment in a channel.  The changes to IT standards this year and next year will drive further churn and intensify the shake out.

Software companies have a considerable suite of changes coming which will require development and roll out investment.  This will intensify pressure on software companies to build market share to fund the necessary development or focus attention elsewhere.

This is a natural process and reflects the maturing of the newsagency channel in terms of use of IT.  Newsagent suppliers and newsagents themselves are more serious about and demanding of technology than ever before.  Both sides want real and constantly improving benefits.  Delivering this is hard work for a small software company.  The businesses with less than 300 newsagent users will struggle.

At Tower Systems because we have the critical mass to support the investment.  This is not out of luck, we have created this position for ourselves.  We have pursued market share.  We went out and bought newsagencies to better understand the needs of newsagents.  We have developed relationships with suppliers so we are at the table discussing standards and representing our 1,500 newsagent partners.

We occasionally hear from a newsagent that they are concerned about our size, they think we may be getting too big. This would only be the case it we abuse our market share.  There is evidence to the contrary:

  • As we have grown we have reduced software support fees.
  • We financially support newsagent associations and through them their members.
  • We support newsagents in financial difficulties.
  • We have advertised the channel on TV and in other places.
  • We develop free marketing collateral for newsagents to use to build stronger businesses.

As newsagents ourselves we experience the value of good software every day.  As software companies pull out of the Australian newsagency channel, newsagents can be confident that Tower Systems will remain committed to helping newsagents build stronger and more valuable businesses.

Newsagents considering buyying software should ask about the number of newsagents using the software under consideration.  They should check this wwith publishers who also have the data.  In the newsagency channel of the future size will matter.

We love organised customers

One of our team visited a client earlier this week to upgrade a computer which we had installed several years earlier.  The job was made considerably easier since the customer had kept all original CDs and manuals in a box in a safe place.  While software is often replaced in such an upgrade process, sometimes we need to get back to the original CDs, having these available saves time.

Our installation team always leaves original CDs and manuals together following an installation.  It is refreshing to see them kept this way so long afterwards.

While I am talking about original CDs, these are important since they demonstrate that all of the software provided is legitimate.  We sometimes find illegal copies of software supplied when we work with existing hardware and software.

EDI update for newsagents on the way

We have been working with XChangeIT on the preparations for an update to be released next week. This update will address several issues which have caused the EDI file challenges for newsagents. We are grateful to have had an opportunity to provide feedback to XChangeIT on the advice they will send to newsagents on the update process.

We appreciate when suppliers give us a heads up on changes they plan and seek out our feedback on their communication.  Since we will get calls as a result of their actions, we can influence the language and detail of their material to resuce stress for our customers and help deliver better outcomes for all.

The rodent problem

We have a small warehouse in the same street as our Head Office where we store stock.  Earlier this week we spotted a rat running aross the floor.  Given the OH&S risks we immediately engaged a company to clean the warehouse of unecessary junk and another company to lay traps and take other action to rat-proof the space.

In each case the service we received was immediate and excellent. Our warehouse space has been secured and the rat problem addressed.

While I am not happy that a rat got into the warehouse,  I am pleased with the speed with which it was addressed and that we were able to organise what we needed online.  Their service is a reminder of the importance of fast and professional customer service when you have a critical need.

Staying on top of support call traffic

Some days, staying on top of support call traffic is a challenge.  Such has been the case this week.  We have many of our users switching to a new EDI platform, others gearing up for sales (and loading new catalogues), others beta testing new software from us and plenty of new customers learning our software.  I am not complaining, these are situations we have to deal with.

We obsess about callback time, how long we take to get back to someone.  When I say obsess, I mean we really do from those taking the initial call to me.  I have our CRM software open on my laptop and am acutely aware of response times and intervene accordingly to ensure that we honour our service commitments.

Support call traffic is the heartbeat of our business.   If we get it right we grow and if we get it wrong we lose customers.  Thankfully, our customer growth shows we are getting it right.  However, this growth brings, in the short term, more call traffic as new customers learn new software.  It’s a never ending cycle.

My response as owner of the business on days of heavy traffic (and when I am in the office) is to engage in handling support calls.  If I know the answer, I’m glad to help.  If I don’t I’ll try and find it or at least get the caller to someone who can help.  The rest of our management team is the same, taking calls and directly working with customers to drive the best experience possible.

This personal engagement keeps our senior management in touch with the issues of the day and helps us to evolve our processes to deliver better service.

Jeweller software on show at New Zealand jewllery Fair this weekend

Tower Systems New Zealand will have our software for jewellers on show at the New Zealand Jewellery Fair this weekend.  we will be demonstrating our latest software including repairs, manufactured goods, point of sale and jeweller specific reporting.

Jewllers in New Zealand  have made an excellent contribution to the enhancements we have included in our software this year.  Some of their suggestions will be on show in Auckland this weekend.

Tax bonus for gift shops

gift_shop_software_a.jpgWe are marketing our gift shop software to gift shops around Australia with a new postcard campaign. The core pitch of the campaign is the benefits of our software: better business control, faster and more accurate selling, better business decisions as well as access to the federal government’s 50% tax break which ends in December this year.

Our gift shop sales are growing rapidly thanks to great gift shop software and our own experience owning and operating gift shops.

200 newsagents sign on for Tyro broadband eftpos

We are about to pass 200 newsagents using our integrated Tyro broadband eftpos offer. Every location has great stories to tell of time saved, mistakes eliminated and, as I wrote last week, theft caught.

From a technology perspective, Tyro is easy to work with. From a customer service perspective, they are fantastic. Indeed, we would rate their introduction to our platform as the best managed we have seen in years of bringing new products to our customers.

The view from the Help Desk

sunrise.JPG

This is the view from the National Help Desk this morning.

While we have help desk facilities in four states, our Melbourne office (our Head Office) manages 80% of the call traffic. When I bought the office, the view is what won me. It is sensational – more so in person than you can see from the photo. Every day we get to see shipping traffic, weather changes and, well, life on the streets and in the parks below.

I decided on giving the Help Desk the best view in the office because their job is the toughest. They are on the phone all day, often dealing with complex questions from people not familiar with technology. So, rather than the usual gloomy windowless cubicle, I gave them the best seat in the house. With Melbourne’s weather recently, that seat has delivered some amazing sights – last week’s lightening show was spectacular.

Reviewing trade shows

With our second last trade show of the year now over, we are taking time over the next two weeks to review our plans for 2010.

We have completed twenty four trade shows under this year and as a result have excellent contact and closure data to guide our plans.  In some markets, trade shows are passing theur use by date while in other markets they are growing in importance.

The gift fair just completed in Sydney has been good for us, generating some excellent new leads.

The phonecard opportunity for convenience stores and newsagents

I was asked to write an article recently on the reason retailers should consider phonecards given our experience serving more than 1,000 retailers with our eziPass phonecard vending platform. Here is the article which was published last month in Convenience World:

Phonecards present excellent basket-building opportunities for convenience businesses. Too often, however, the opportunities are overlooked in favour of mobile phone top-up revenue.

Just about every customer presenting at the counter could benefit from a phonecard to cut the cost of their calls interstate or overseas. Too often, convenience stores and newsagencies miss these opportunities because there is no call to action.

Thanks to Point of Sale integration, selling phonecards is easier now, removing one barrier to achieving greater sales. From every register, within the point of sale software, you are able to sell many different phonecards quickly and without the need to carry physical store or the need to use a separate terminal.

Here are some reasons to consider engaging with the phonecard opportunity

  • Easy to pitch. Most people call others interstate and overseas. Most people like saving money.
  • Good margin. The margin on phonecards can be as high as 30%.
  • Excellent for cash flow. You only pay for what you sell once you have sold it.
  • Value add. Through simple training your staff can identify good sales prospects and make the pitch – easily lifting a drink or snack sale to something more valuable.
  • Destination opportunity. By promoting range and speed of selling, you can become known as the go-to phonecard retailer in your area.
  • Easy passive pitch. Posters in the window, a counter mat or a wobbler on the register – each of these passive pitches can work to drive sales.

The word phonecard can be offputting to some retailers as there are not necessarily cards involved – most can be sold as vouchers produced by the point of sale software. This means that no stock is required – reduced theft opportunity and more cash-flow friendly.

Retailers using this point of sale software integrated method of selling phonecards are finding it easier to pitch the products to customers as an impulse purchase – for personal use or for a gift.

There are several target customer groups for phonecards, each can be as valuable as the other. Understanding these customer opportunities is key to driving sales.

The tourist / backpacker. This is a big market yet remains often untapped by retailers. Backpacker hostels and many tourist locations sell phonecards to this market. Retailers can make the pitch by identifying the customer and by promoting phonecards near items they are likely to purchase – such as maps. The pitch itself is about saving money.

The migrant. This is also a big market – and easily tapped. Promote phonecards to popular overseas countries near foreign language newspapers if you sell them or next to Western Union if you offer the money transfer service. Train your staff to conversationally pitch phonecards – calls using phone cards will save your customers money when calling relatives and friends overseas.

The gift giver. If someone buys a greeting card and is unsure what to give as a gift, suggest a phonecards. Everyone has friends overseas or in the country – a phone card will give then a gift of conversation. This is a harder pitch to get right as phonecards are often not thought of as gifts.

The keys to making good money from phonecards is to make the selling fast and easy, offer phonecards from reliable providers, train your staff in fast selling techniques and being proactive in promoting the category in-store.

By engaging with phonecards retailers can turn them from a poor-cousin into a hero product which generates good sales with a healthy margin and for little of the risk of usual products in convenience stores and newsagencies.

The Australian phonecard marketplace is worth more than $200 million a year in retail sales. This alone is reason for retailers to engage.

Key to success with phonecards is understanding the various products in the marketplace.  This task is made more difficult by a vendor who spends too much time and money telling you that they have the best products.  What they claim is the best choice may not always the best choice, especially if they fail to back their offer in the long term.

Gift cards popular with retailers

While we like to think that every innovation we release will be a hit, we are realistic in our expectations. We have found over the years that we are better off letting the market show us what it likes. Sometimes we are quite surprised.

Our recently released range of gift cards is one such surprise. Many of our customers have contacted up about getting gift cards made for their businesses. These are proving more popular than we expected.

While users of our software can source gift cards from anywhere, we are pleased that many are partnering with us and the suppliers we have sourced for our own retail businesses.

We offer off the shelf designs as well as from scratch designs – all using the logos of our customers.

The success of the cards is a testament to the efforts of our marketing and creative teams.

Point of sale training on offer this week

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

  • Point of Sale training Sept. 15 11:00
  • Training for former POS Solutions users Sept 15, 14:00
  • New staff training Sept 17, 11:00
  • General questions and discussion – on anything Sept 17, 2009 14:00 Hundreds of newsagents have done this!

We keep running these sessions because our customers like them and participate.

Gift software on show at Sydney Gift Fair

photo.jpgOur stand at the Reed Gift Fair in Sydney from today through to Tuesday is open for business with the latest gift shop software on show.  Attendees at the trade show will get to see our point of sale, stock management, back office, lay-by, loyalty club, theft reduction, reordering, business management, customer service and multi store management facilities for gift shops and other businesses likely to be represented at the show – such as newsagents.

Our gift shop software is selling well and to store owners and has been endorsed by many suppliers keen to trade electronically with gift shop owners.  We continue to innovate, releasing new facilities this year to add value to the gift shop offer.  Many of these innovations are as a direct result of gift shop owner suggestions.

There is no  better way to demonstrate support for a marketplace than to  support their industry trade shows.

The photo was taken of our stand this morning, a few minutes before the fair opened.

Just read: Brand Revitalisation

images.jpgWe get involved with many different retail group.  Through this I have developed an interest in retail brand management. Six Rules for Brand Revitalisation by Larry Light and Joan Kiddon is one of the best books I have read on brand transformation. It tracks the journey of the turnaround of the McDonalds brand from inside out, their menu through to their customer service.

While the key takeaway messages from most business books can be distilled down to a few pages, this book is worth a considered read.  I took my time and digested each of the six rules one at a time.

There are many books about brand management and related topics on the shelves.  This one is difference.  Its unique story about McDonald’s makes it stand out as does the author’s accessible approach to the vital topic.

Legal threats from a competitor

I was surprised to hear that a competitior who has lost business to us has called at least one of their lost customers recently and threatened legal action for no justification.  This is an unfortunate turn of events.  If the software company had paid this much attention to the business when they were a customer they may not have lost them.

A nasty phone call with heavy-handed legal threats is not the way to build good word of mouth.

Balancing the needs of different users

One of the toughest tasks running a software company is deciding what goes into a software update. There are many factors to weigh. We try and navigate these fairly, considering all stakeholders.

The change most difficult to navigate is that requested by a single user to serve a particular way they use the software in their business. Personally, I find making a decision on such change requests difficult. On the one hand I do not want to let down a customer with a reasonable request for their business while on the other hand I do not want to make the software more complex for other users.

Most software decisions are made by Jonathan Tay, our Software Development Manager, and his team. He does an excellent job navigating change requests and weighing up the implication of each. He and I talk through requests and this is where, sometimes, we have to make a decision on changes sought by just one or two of our customers.

Our online software ideas facility is proving to be useful in learning from our customers what they think.