26 free online training workshops in Jan/Feb

We have announced our schedule of free online training workshops for January and February 2010.  This comprehensive training program provides many excellent learning opportunities for our customers and their employees to learn more about our point of sale and business management software.  the training can be undertaken anywhere – all you need is a computer with broadband access and a phone for a toll free call for the audio content.

This online training program is in addition to our face to face user meetings and training sessions.  It is another part of the valuable Tower Advantage TM program.

Click here to download a copy of the training schedule. This was posted to all of our customers earlier this week.

Point of Sale software makes mix and match discounting easy

Using Tower Systems Point of Sale software, retailers may easily group specific items together for a discount price – if a specified quantity or group of items is purchased.  For example, any combination of three chocolate bars may attract a price of $2.00 while as single bars they may be $1.00 each.

This level of discounting can be setup at the head office or at the store level.  By managing the discounting through the POS software, retail staff can focus on managing sales rather than remembering the various discounts which apply at any point in time.

Retailers can have as many items in a Mix and Match list as they want.  They can also edit this list at any time or bring the discount offered to an end.

The level of flexibility in discounting options for grouped items is crucial in competitive retail situations.  Our software provides retailers with pricing options which enable them to more easily compete with major retailers.

Our advice sheet G25 explains how to set this and other forms of catalogue discounting up.  We have more than 100 advice sheets at our website.  We also have a free training video on catalogue setup at our website.

January 2010 newsletter released

We posted out our newsletter for January 2010 yesterday to more than 2,000 customers.  This includes a report on the results of our recent customer survey (to which many customers responded – thank you!) and news of some customer service initiatives to be launched early in the new year.

We are committed to this print newsletter to help catch anyone up who misses our weekly email news.

Point of Sale software tracks real margin

This time of year, retailers are busy with sales, moving old stock to make way for new lines.  Plenty of product is heavily discounted.  Our Point of Sale software carefully tracks the real margin achieved from each sale.  This is crucial in measuring margin contribution by item and supplier.  We see gross margin is the most crucial metric in retail.

While many retailers can rely on markup formulas to manage margin, it can become compromised by sales and other strategies.  Gross margin is vitally important and needs to be tracked.  It flows directly from sales, it’s the best indicator of profitability and cash flow, it’s the dollars from which a business covers expenses, and it is the best measure of productive or valuable inventory investment is.

We understand this and track margin accordingly.  It is reported in many of our reports – to help guide better business decisions.  We back access to the information with training on how to use this to improve the business.

So, in the current sale mode, while volume is good, keeping a watchful eye on margin is mor important.

Busy help desk yesterday

Our first day back from the break was busy yesterday.  Many of our customers are using the quiet time between Christmas and New Year to catch up on housekeeping.  This means getting software updates loaded, new hardware installed, new supplier links setup, business changes made – or all of the above.

Our workload was compounded by a couple of client businesses experiencing internal disputes which needed our help in resolving by recovering ‘lost’ data.  It is amazing the variety of non software related issues we are called to help resolve.

Helping newsagents evolve

With more newsagents choosing to specialise on either newspaper distribution or retail, we are making it easier to manage the split and to maintain customer relationships.  Indeed, we have seen an increase in this work in the last four months.

We help newsagents separate the distribution business data for a new owner.  We also, enable the retail business to act as a payment point for the distribution newsagent without compromising the security of their business data.

We have used other payment point software in our own newsagency.  We know from this experience that the Tower offer is more useful, easier to use and beneficial to both businesses.

We will continue to help newsagents as they evolve their businesses into more focused specialisation.

Supporting retailers between Christmas and New Year

While most software companies (and other businesses for that matter) will operate with a skeleton staff between Christmas and New Year, we are close to full capacity.

We’re busy working on several initiatives for 2010 – but more on that later.  Our key focus over the next three days is to deliver our excellent customer service.  This includes a program of outbound calls to help frequent callers with training and other services to help them be more self sufficient.

It is always interesting coming back into the office after a few days away.  Thankfully, there are no major issues confronting us so our plans for the next three days can flow as set.

The multi-store Christmas for our Point of Sale software

The four Sophie Randall stores I own had a busy Christmas like many retailers.   These stores use our multi-store point of sale software – all stores are connected via a hosted version of our POS software.  While their registers, integrated eftpos services and other facilities are local, they can see stock holdings in each store as well as our warehouse.  They can also easily transfer stock, share customers and undertake other shared work.

We measure the success of multi-store software by register uptime, speed and data accuracy.  Our own experience in our own stores setup to our standards is 100% on all three measures.

In terms of sheer volume of business processed, the two days before Christmas as well as Boxing Day are the three busiest days of the last twelve months.   We handled this well.  What makes this gratifying is that a week before Christmas we installed a software update which will be released early in the New Year.  We wanted this stress tested so putting our own retail businesses in the firing line made sense.

It’s great owning a live trial site where we can further enhance our multi-store software and learn – also where we can show our software to other retailers with multiple outlets in a live environment.

Changed Christmas patterns

I have been working several retailers with challenges in their businesses and through this have noticed a change in shopper buying this year.  While the first reason to consider could be the lack of the federal government’s stimulus package this year, I suspect it is more to do with the day Christmas falls.

This year, with Christmas Day on a Friday, sales data suggest that shoppers used the ‘extra’ day in the week for good last minute shopping.  In two stores I have already seen data for, that ‘extra’ day was key in driving a better Christmas than last year – if only by a whisker.

While more data will be available over the next few days, it is fascinating to see what an ‘extra’ day can mean leading up to Christmas Day.

After hours software support

While our offices are closed for a few days, our after hours support service is in place for urgent help.  We publish the numbers every month in our printed newsletter, every week in our email newsletter, on our website as well as on bright orange support cards which we send annual to our customers.  The numbers often go missing so here they are again: 0418 554 963; 0418 528 577; 0419 842 334. I am a backup number should these numbers be busy – 0418 321 338.

So, even though we are closed, we’re here to help should the need arise.

Christmas break

Our offices have now closed for the Christmas break.  Our after hours and emergency numbers will operate all through the holidays for urgent calls.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Getting ready for the Boxing Day sales

We have been helping our retail customers this week to prepare their businesses for their Boxing Day Sales.  We took calls yesterday on how to use the catalogue facilities in our software to manage the discounting.  We make it easy with discounting across a date range.  This can be done by product, department or category.  It can be set to end on a certain date.  Our advice went beyond traditional software support for a couple of customers.  As new retailers, they wanted advice on what to discount and the level to offer.  We were able to tell them about what we have found works in our own retail businesses.  We define rules and timelines and stick with this.  And, as I bang on here plenty of times, we measure and adjust the business accordingly.

Christmas in the office

office_christmas_2009.JPGAs is tradition, we decorated the office to bring some Christmas cheer in a few weeks ago.  We’ve also enjoyed gourmet mince tarts and some other delights.  Tomorrow, we’ll throw on some lunch and drinks before everyone heads to family and friends for a few days R&R.  We close mid afternoon until Tuesday morning.

In among all this Christmas cheer, we continue to focus on responding to support calls, push forward on our next software update and close good business – December has been an excellent month.

While all of our offices will be closed from tomorrow afternoon, our after hours service will continue.

How to fix common computer problems

A few years ago we created an advice sheet on common computer problems knowing that at least a third of all calls to our help desk would be addressed by this simple to follow sheet.  This advice is as useful today as it was when we first developed it.  We encourage our customers to print the sheet and stick it on the wall for all employees to see and follow. Fixing a simple problem without needing to call for support helps the retail business and lets us focus on issues which do need our expertise.

We offer more than 150 up to date professional advice sheets as part of our point of sale software documentation package.

Driving magazine putaway business for newsagents

putaway1.jpgThe image shows how one newsagent is using our receipt promotion facilities to attract customers back to sign up for a magazine putaway.  This image is printed on receipts for sales involving magazines – the software detects that and selects the image based on rules established by the business.

Using the receipt as a conveyance for promoting the business is smart.  We have offered this facility for years.  We’re happy to share the graphics with our customers for their own use.

Driving shelf space efficiency

In addition to tracking the performance of floor space in retail, our Point of sale software also tracks performance by shelf space.  Our retail partners can easily allocate shelf space by product categories and rely on the software to report on sales and gross margin contribution by shelf space.

We have seen the shelf space metric change the view of the performance of categories within a business.  A product category which may perform well in terms of floor space could be overtaken by a product category which uses shelf space efficiency and achieves good sales from this space allocation.

The key to shelf space efficiency is the fixturing used.  It must drive a rewarding density without sacrificing visual appeal.  We work with retail designers to navigate this fine balance and to track performance.

Beyond traditional Point of Sale facilities, our retail management software works deep within retail businesses to help the owners and employees drive greater success. We play in the space, helping our retail partners to understand the reports in our software and through them to unlock a better return.

The Tower Advantage TM delivers many benefits long after the software is installed.

Using recepits to bring customers back

2011_diary1.jpgFurther to my December 12 blog post, smart retailers use their receipts as effective markerting tools.  We do in our own retail stores.  We print messages based on the contents of the sale.  The image to the left, for example, is placed automatically on receipts which include a diary item.

Our Point of sale technology allows us to include these marketing messages which reflect the contents of the sale.  Smart POS software for smart retailers!

Slowdown in call traffic

We have noticed a slowdown in Help Desk call traffic as Christmas approaches.  the slowdown is faster this year than previous years.  Feedback from our customer survey indicates that this is likely due to better resources for our customers online – advice sheets, training videos and online training – plus more people taking time away from their business this year than last year.  Already we are receiving less than half the calls we usually receive each day.

We are taking the opportunity to catch up on lower priority work.

Driving retail floor space efficiency

Floor space efficiency is the best measure a retailer can have in judging the performance of any part of the business.

Retailers pay rent per square metre of floor space yet few measure the performance of their business based on space allocated by department or category.

By ignoring this metric in favour of overall product category performance can hide performance problems within a business.  By focusing only on margin and not floor space efficiency can also hide business growth opportunities.

Consider, for example, a product category which generates exceptional sales, uses little floor space but which delivers only a slim margin.  A total margin contribution report will show the product as inefficient.  However, a margin per square metre of floor space will most likely show the category as a hero of the business.

Smart retailers need to look at the performance of their business from multiple views, including return on floor space.  Tower Systems retail management software provides tools which enable such multiple views.  In addition to floor space performance reporting, we also offer shelf space reporting – taking the analysis of the performance of the business to an even deeper level.

By using our software to undertake such deep analysis, smart retailers unlock greater value from their technology investment.

We will gladly help any of our retailer partners to create and assess these and other reports in our software.

Saturday support for the Christmas rush

We have been offering an office based Saturday Help Desk service, in addition to our after hours support service, for more than two years. Today is especially important since it will be one of the busiest days of trade for retailers. Knowing that we are there to help with any query further demonstrates our commitment to our customers.

We back the Saturday help Desk service with access to management support including me – we understand the importance of having access to help when you need it sicne we are retailers too.

We are the only software company in our marketplaces to offer a fully resourced Saturday Help Desk service.

How change can help cut theft in retail

Theft in retail businesses often relies on regular work and operational patterns being followed: the banking being done at the same time, the refund policy being lax when managed by some staff, checking the cash banked back to takings being lax, the bins always being empties by the same person and so on.

By regularly changing processes, a business can make theft harder to perpetrate.

I know of a retail business which uncovered employee theft by changing the bin emptying process.  I know another business which uncovered theft by changing the people who balanced the cash at the end of the day.  I know of another retail business which cut theft by requiring the owner to approve all refund requests.

Theft in retail, customer theft and employee theft, can be cut by setting policies, adhering to them and ensuring that all employees adhere to them.

Our Point of sale software can also help retailers cut theft thanks to a range of public and not so public facilities which protect the interests of the business owners.  These facilities, like business policies, require setting.  Once done, the Tower Systems software monitors activity and can warn you of potential misbehaviour.

Theft kills retail businesses.  It is easier to stop than many think.