The move against DOS

It is a scandal that some newsagents were conned into buying DOS based software as recently as two years ago on the pretense that it complied with industry standards. It did not – those selling the software knew this as did the suppliers aware of the claims.

These newsagents and others using the DOS software are holding the industry back and have done for years now. One reason newsagents cannot leverage their national network is because of this non-compliant software.

While users of the DOS software are being told they must upgrade to compliant Windows software, the spotlight ought to be focused on the company which is at the heart of the problem. Their role in this is shameful.

Those involved will say the DOS to Windows conversion software is free. I see this as semantics. There are all manner of other charges. It is not free. Tower Systems is helping out, newsagents look at our sustained compliance and commitment to service and are taking the opportunity to make the switch. This did not need to happen, newsagents could have been provided complaint software from the outset and saved the industry a ton of money.

Everyone involved in this con ought to be ashamed – newsagents are paying the price for their naiveté. Newsagents ought to ensure they are not conned again.

Connecting newsagents and suppliers

For years, newsagent suppliers bemoaned the lack of good data on which to make supply and other key decisions. Over the years we have engaged with suppliers on data based projects to help bridge the gap they experience with newsagents. Right now, we have three such projects under way and each is bearing excellent results. Good clean data delivered electronically to the suppliers, outside of traditional newsagent/supplier EDI channels, is facilitating better decisions which will benefit newsagents.

Our roles are varied from developing the technology with supplier IT representatives and testing in our own newsagencies. In one such project we have been providing data for several months and this helped prove the value to the supplier of the data we said we could provide access to. Being a user ourselves provides us with a significant advantage i this vital newsagent / supplier interface area.

Expansion announcement

Tower Systems yesterday settled on the purchase of Quayside Newsagency in Frankston.

This provides us with another newsagency in which to experiment with our software, train our Help Desk team and improve the connection we have with newsagents and newsagency channel suppliers.

Our investment is further evidence of our commitment to newsagents and our desire to walk in the shoes of our customers in order to better serve their (and our) needs.

Simon Frost has been promoted from a key role on our Help Desk to manager of this business, reporting direct to me. Simon has been working on Sundays at our newsagency in Forest Hill for the last year.

We have much work ahead of us with this purchase and look forward to the lessons to be learned and results to be achieved.

Magazine arrivals/returns workshop

If you are in Victoria, join us and test run this new free workshop. Hosted by Michael Elvey and Gavin Williams, this workshop will provide high quality training in the magazine arrivals and returns processes. We will show you how you can save time with Retailer, how to get live with EDI returns, how to ensure data accuracy, label printing, managing putaways, MPA compliance, identifying stolen magazines and managing supply. Tuesday Oct. 9 at 1pm. Anyone is welcome to attend. Book by email at: bookings@towersystems.com.au.

Playing with a competitor

For years in the newsagency space, Tower Systems printed its magazine bar code labels on sheets (65 labels per sheet) and our main competitor, POS Solutions, printed theirs on rolls. Three years ago, to help newsagents who wanted to shift to Tower, we introduced support for the “blaster” printer POS supplied. Now, it’s part of our offering – we let our customers choose the method of printing they prefer.

From an economic perspective we recommend labels on sheets – they cost far less per label and look more attractive – but we don’t mind. By offering both styles we have all bases covered.

Lying software sales people

A newsagent considering our software in NSW was told by a competitor this week that our software had a deficiency in the way it managed bringing in new magazines into the business. The claim by the competitor was put with such conviction by the competitor that it made our prospect doubt us. What was a certain sale for us is now something we need to work on. While we are happy to show that what the competitor has said is a lie, sometimes part of a lie sticks.

I hope that the experience this week is a one-off and that appropriate counseling for the new employee of the competitor involved will guide them to focus on their offering rather than lying about us.

I stress to all within Tower Systems that we need to focus on what our software offers and to demonstrate every claim we make. I also remind our team that we can bring any prospect into any of our retail businesses and show first-hand how we use the software ourselves to achieve we claim it can achieve.

The software sales person who lied is now in our sights. We will watch him carefully. Another lie like this week and we will take action. It is disrespectful of newsagents and it demonstrates a lack of confidence in his product to win the sale on its merits.

Blissful ignorance and the fool

There is a chap in Victoria who has never used our software – indeed, has never had a demonstration from us – who is going around telling all who will listed that our software is dreadful. While he has been doing this for years, since he sold his newsagency he has more time and appears to put more energy into spinning against us. That he invests so much energy is a surprise and a waste of his business acumen.

It’s a free world and he is entitled to his bias like anyone. It is unfortunate that he spreads this with false information.

This chap was found out recently when a third party invited him, upon hearing his misleading pitch against us, to take a deep look at our software. Two months later and he’s not made the time – I suspect because he does not want us to show him that what he says about how our software works is untrue.

Ignorance can be bliss sometimes. Other times, it makes you look like a fool when the system you continue to criticise is used by twice as many as the system you champion.

Data compliance kudos

We met with a major supplier to newsagents in Victoria yesterday and were pleased to discover that it is only those using our software who are meeting the data exchange (EDI) compliance KPIs set by the supplier. Kudos for Tower Newsagents is a blow for newsagents who have invested in software from competitors. The channel needs to be compliant, not just half the newsagents in the channel.

I am frustrated because our software has been compliant with this supplier for two years. I see that as two years lost to the channel because the supoplier has not jhad access to up to date EDI data. Newsagents lose since they are being supplied based on manual, out of date, data.

We’re not perfect. Eleven of our 345 newsagent customers do have out of date software which we stopped selling in 1998. They need help in becoming compliant and we will work with them to reach the industry standard benchmark. Eleven is nothing compared to the hundreds of others who are not compliant.

Interfacing with mobile phones, PDAs and PSPs

In 1998 we launched our first portable device interface – to provide newsagents with the ability to manage newspaper home delivery from in the vehicle. We were using ebook technology initially with great success.

In the ten years since we have released enhancements to this technology including an interface to the Sony PSP device launched at my Newsagency Blog in this post in October 2005. Many of our 1,400+ newsagent customers have ditched the daily printing of newspaper home delivery run lists for these portable electronic versions. They’re saving paper and time. Many have done for years.

Back in 1998 we were leading the world – I know because of meetings I had in the US and UK at the time with software companies working on solutions for newsagents and others delivering newspapers and magazines.

This is on my mind today because two of our competitors in the newsagency space have started touting their offering of similar functionality. While they are welcome to add such functionality, to claim it as innovative is spin at best. This is not new technology. They are not innovating, they are catching up.

New products delivered

We were trying to fly under the radar with new functionality to be announced for our software in a few weeks. The plan was to sneak it into the software, play in our newsagency followed by a couple of other trusted colleagues and then announce to the world. We had not counted on some tech savvy users who saw a new software module delivered with our last update. So, an announcement is being planned for later this week.

What is exciting about the new facility is that it brings to the point of sale products newsagents have not had access to previously as well as products they have had to use additional hardware to sell.

What for us started as a labour and money saving innovation will be revenue generating once the full suite of additional products is announced.

Next time we’ll be sure to give our more tech savvy users a heads up.

Beware of lite software

Back in the 1990s software companies embraced lite versions of their software as a means of selling a product for a lower price. To make the lite product they usually took away some valuable facilities. We experimented with this in the early 1990s but dropped it after a year because we found that in vertical markets, such as newsagencies, lite software was no solution.

Small Business owners are not what I would call sophisticated IT purchasers. I don’t mean that in any derogatory way. They do not buy based on a specification or functionality sheet. They buy on sales pitch. This is why newsagents and small businesses generally ought to be very wary of lite software. What is it which has been removed from the regular software to enable the lite version to be sold for so little?

At Tower Systems we do not sell lite software. Our commitment to business outcomes demands that we provide the best solution and this is the complete solutions.

The privilege of being your own customer

magz.jpg

Today I was fortunate to attend a conference hosted by ACP Magazines in Sydney. I was there as a newsagent -= for those new here, I bought a newsagency in February 1996 to provide a live place where my team and I could test and muck around with our software in pursuit of a better product.

Sitting in the conference room and mixing with other newsagents it reminded me of the privilege of being a customer using our software. Every day we are accessing an experience unlike any other computer company serving newsagents. We have exclusive insight but more important, we have peer level access to our existing customers.

Over lunch there was a question from someone using our software which led to a broader business discussion. Such contact is invaluable and beyond what a software company could expect through a traditional client relationship. Being available at events such as the ACP Magazines conference holds me and everyone in my software company accountable to our 1,435+ customers and for that I am grateful.

Newsagent trade show stalker

Our stand at the newsagent trade show in Melbourne today was a magnet for the Director of a Victorian competitor. This chap walked past many times over the course of today and each time took careful notice of the people we were talking with. No one else at the trade show passed our stand or hovered nearby as much. His stalking was off putting for some newsagents who wanted to talk to us without him knowing. Bernard – focus on your business and not ours.

The show itself has been a wonderful success. We met with pelenty of existing customers and did get to make contact with some excellent prospects.

Next weekend the newsagent trade show moves to Sydney.

Easier returns and stock take for newsagents

pde_sexy.JPGTower Newsagents have been using PDE technology for more than 15 years. This new unit maintains Tower as an innovator in time saving technology for newsagents. It is fast, easy to use and taps into the Tower stock management facilities at the store level.

With the release of this ultra sexy unit, Tower Systems now supports four different PDE units for newsagents – providing a choice in the technology which best suits your business.

We are releasing support for this PDE into other markets in which Tower serves.

Newsagents responding to new marketing

The new marketing material sent to newsagents this week has uncovered some excellent sales opportunities. Some newsagents have called saying they have never heard of us before – yet we’re using the same database as always. The response goes to show the importance of re-crafting your marketing pitch. We had relied on the same pitch for years and since it was very successful felt we could stick with it.

In this new material we focus on valuable business outcomes our customers tell us they experience using our software. What I feel is resonating is the visual impact of the marketing. Professional design coupled with stunning execution by our printer has resulted in something which feels valuable in the hand.

Connecting our attention to detail and our commitment to quality through our marketing material is paying off. The rest of 2007 is going to be very busy.

Newsageny software brochure

newsagents-catalogue.jpgHere are the first three panels from our new newsagent brochure. This will arrive in the main in Australian newsagencies from early next week.

Like the other brochures in the series our focus is on the positive impact using Tower Systems’ software can have on a newsagency and all stakeholders from employees to family to suppliers.

With more than 1,400 newsagents actively using our software today we have a wonderful community of newsagencies of all sizes from which to draw ideas to continually improve our offering – this process of constant improvement is imparted in the brochure.

We know form our own experiences in recent years that providing excellent software backed by the best possible yet fairly priced service where all customers are treated equally pays off wonderfully. The brochure helps us celebrate that and invites more newsagents to join with us.

In the cover letter being sent with the brochure we continue our theme around the newsagency of the future – our mission to help our customers cultivate good data to drive better business decisions which, of themselves, help our customers find their own newsagency of the future.

EDI compliance for newsagents

We have revised our EDI compliance documentation for newsagents and will release of new 30+ page package to our customers later this week. For those not keen on reading the comprehensive document, we have a one page outline covering the key points. Accompanying our revised EDI compliance material is a suite of new advice sheets loaded at our website – these are available for anyone to see including people considering our software and our competitors.

EDI compliance appears to be a challenging hurdle to overcome for many newsagents. Central to the achievement is discipline in how the software is used and data managed. With 82% of the close to 500 newsagents who are compliant being Tower Systems Newsagents we’re confident that our approach is right.

Once we release the revised EDI compliance document we will announce free EDI compliance training sessions to help those yet to achieve compliances – and thereby unlock time and financial rewards – hit the mark.

Helping newsagents switch systems

To help the many newsagents looking to switch to our software we have brought some additional structure to assessing the data conversion process. We have developed a free in-store assessment service whereby we look at the state of the system the newsagent would be moving from and comparing this with our own data requirements. The result of the assessment is a recommendation as to the best course of action for the business should they decide to make the move.

Some systems we see were poorly setup from the outset so there is no point on bringing bad data over to a new environment. Other systems were setup well and maintained. In these situations it is easier to bring across the good data.

What is different about our approach now is the consistency we have brought to our teams in various states – now that we have switched so many from two other systems it is easier for us to streamline the advice and therefore provide better outcomes to our new customers.

It can be an unhappy business switching customers from one system to ours as there us unlearning to take care of before starting new learning. There are also loyalties to manage as well as trust to build. This all begins with the free assessment we provide – it is our opportunity to demonstrate professionalism without pressure.

Choosing the right retail newsagency software

How to choose the right POS software for your newsagency is a new plain English guide published at our website for people looking for help in navigating what is often a tough decision. We created the guide following suggestion from some newsagents who have recently switched to Tower Systems. Some of the suggestions in the document are theirs – based on their second crack at choosing retail newsagency software.

Mobile phone recharge innovation

For well over a year now our point of sale software for newsagents has facilitated the sale of mobile phone recharge from any point of sale screen. It was straightforward for us to implement thanks to the wide use of touch screens across our 1,400 newsagent customers. The benefit for them is that they can sell these recharge vouchers from any register while others without the facility have to use a purpose built terminal which is somewhat slow. On a busy day there can be a queue.

This is on my mind today because I was talking with a newsagent who does not use our software and he was surprised to discover that we had this facility. It’s the type of feature which will bring him across to our software and while that is good, I am more concerned at the ineffectiveness of our marketing campaign around the launch of this facility last year. We clearly did not cut through on what is a major differentiator between our software and the others in the newsagency marketplace.

Newsagents using our integrated mobile phone recharge facilities will sell more vouchers than those without it. This is because of better customer service and greater employee confidence – the up sell is easier and therefore more likely to be offered.

So, for our marketing team, it’s back to the drawing board on what is a valuable point of difference which we delivered to our customers without cost.

The newsagency is our killer app

fhn_news.JPG

As I blogged at my Newsagency Blog, this past week has been a reminder of the value to us of owning a newsagency. We serve over 1,400 newsagents with point of sale (POS) and home delivery software. I’ve owned a newsagency for 11 years and over time have become a bit blasé about this. Daniel Kenny joined Tower Systems on Monday of this week to work out of our Brisbane office. He spent much of his first week behind the counter at our newsXpress Forest Hill store. There is no better way for a Help Desk team member to understand the needs of our clients than to use our software in a live situation. It helps us contextualize support calls and humanise the relationship we have with our customers.

Software companies often talk about the killer app – the killer program which will make their business. In my case, it’s the ownership of my newsagency. For eleven years it has provided the point of difference which ensures better software and better service. Daniel’s experience is a good reminder of the value of having the newsagency.

Free school books software

booklist.JPG

We’ve offered school booklist software free for several years now. It’s a web based application which allows newsagents to collate school booklist orders across schools, classes and students. It uses traditional booklists as well as ad hoc ordering to enable the small business owner to collate all orders into one for bulk purchase.

As we have done in other parts of our business we made the software available free of charge. This open approach ensured use and provided some excellent feedback.

Having worked with newsagents for many years and seen all manner of approaches to managing school books, we felt that a free software model was best if we were to encourage more newsagents to get involved.

The Booklist site is live today. It’s still free. Newsagents maintain their own data under their own password. We never access their data.

Competitors help drive sales

We have analysed sales for the last ten months to assess the source of new users of our newsagency software. While we continue to attract many greenfield locations, we are also attracting many customers from existing software providers. The graph of this data is telling:

switching.JPG

To support these business switching software systems we take extra care during the settling-in period. We want to ensure they don’t bring frustration with their old software provider to us. Plus we want to ensure that we are on top of conversion and re-learning challenges.

Switching systems is not easy for any of the stakeholders and we’ve found that paying extra attention early on creates better outcomes.