May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25
By Lindsay Baillie
A retailer’s quest for the perfect flooring software can be compared to a customer’s journey to finding the right floor. Concerns such as the type of software, the store’s traffic and the software’s maintenance are all things to consider before implementing a specific system.
With tons of enticing choices in the market, it can be difficult to find the best fit. Luckily, software companies in the flooring industry are more than willing to share tips and key questions to ask when looking for flooring software.
Following are some of their considerations and suggestions:
Make sure it’s easy to use
Ease of use and good design are two of the most important things to look for when choosing technology, according to Chad Ogden, CEO and president of QFloors. “If a software system has all the features you want but is hard to use, you won’t be able to use the included features.”
He also warns that most, if not all, software companies will say their software is easy to use, so be sure to ask a host of questions about the software including: Can you play around with the software yourself? How many mouse clicks, screens and drop downs are needed to complete everyday tasks? (The more steps, the more complicated a system can be.) Other questions to ask dealers: How long did it take to convert from their old system? How long does it takes to train new employees on the system? Were there any unexpected charges?
In terms of measuring software, Dr. Steven Wang, president of Measure Square, explained that while the software should be easy to use, “it should also be fully featured so you can measure the details. You should be able to work with a laser to measure an office or residential floor.”
Get other opinions
In addition to talking with the software manufacturers and their current customers, QFloors’ Ogden suggests seeking the advice of other industry members. “Ask fcB2B suppliers that you deal with which software works well with their systems. Ask WFCA which systems it recommends.” (WFCA recently created a technology division that specializes helping dealers in this way.)
Bob Noe Jr., president of Pacific Solutions, also stressed the importance of talking to other software users. “The ability to speak with current users about their experience with a system and the software provider is invaluable.”
Do your research
Before you jump into using one software program, make sure you have done your research—on both your business and the different programs available.
“Gather facts from all of the credible software providers,” Pacific Solutions’ Noe explained. “Don’t get tunnel vision about a single system just because your buying group or a colleague recommends it. Remember, it’s not always what a system accomplishes, it’s how elegantly it accomplishes a task that differentiates one system from another. An inefficiently designed system will increase the total cost of ownership for many years to come.”
Once you have collected enough information about each software company, begin to compare systems, features, prices, etc. Mark Wiltgen, sales and marketing manager, Comp-U-Floor, suggests retailers make a list of everything they want the software to accomplish. This will make it easier to determine which software package is the best fit.
“As the saying goes, you want to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges,” Wiltgen explained. “Too many times we see retailers choose vendor products because of the price or get a trimmed down version of the software to lower the cost. When taking this approach, the retailer will usually end up looking for new software or costly upgrades within a year, because the software has limited functionality to meet the changing requirements as the business grows or changes.”
Determine the cost/time savings
As a business owner, time and money are two very important factors. QFloors’ Ogden suggests retailers ask about any additional costs including demos, adding on features, B2B, training and maintenance fees.
Retailers should also find out whether or not a software company is interested in expanding its features. According to Kelly Oechslin, marketing coordinator for RollMaster, retailers should ask the following: “How expansive is the software with the fcB2B initiative? Is the software company dealing with only a few vendors and a handful of electronic files, or is it up-to-date with everything the industry has to offer and making efforts to continually update and improve? How is the software working to develop other avenues of automation, such as credit card processing, barcoding, electronic document storage, cloud-based access and data storage for 24/7 access from any Internet connected device, etc.”
While concern for immediate costs is important, retailers should also be aware of long-term costs. Comp-U-Floor’s Wiltgen explained that retailers should ask companies if the software will help them grow their business, and will it be able to accommodate that growth without significant costs or upgrades?
Incorporating a software system into your business requires follow through, specialists say. It is a commitment that requires constant upkeep by all members of your team. “Even the best software will not work if it is not correctly implemented— which means it starts with management and works down to each area of the operation entering data every step of the way,” Rollmaster’s Oechslin explained. “That’s when a business will truly see the benefit of a flooring software system.”
Ask for demos
One of the best ways to test if a software program is right for your business is to request a demo from the software company. “After you have narrowed it down to a few finalists, request an online or onsite presentation for all of the key people in your company,” Pacific Solutions’ Noe said. “When the majority of your staff takes ownership of the new system at the onset, it’s less likely that you will need to push or compel them to use the system down the road.”
Focus on flooring-specific programs
For Dave Dumoulin, director of sales, RFMS, finding a software program tailored for the flooring industry is key. “Our industry has many different requirements. For example, when purchasing carpet, we are purchasing by the square yard or by lineal feet. Does the software handle roll calculations? Many of the common, off-the-shelf software systems only handle the unit count of each or box. In our industry, we use a tremendous amount sub-contractor labor. Does the software handle labor properly, including installer purchases and deductions? Or does it treat labor the same as a product vendor through accounts payable?”
Choosing a flooring-specific package helps automate and control key business functions unique to the flooring industry such as sales, purchasing, inventory control, etc. It should also increase productivity by eliminating many manual tasks as well as provide ROI by helping to control costs, track job profitability, report sales trends and improve customer service, experts say.
Beware of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ program
Software that handles front and back end office functions can be broken down into three categories: off the self, flooring specific and completely custom, according to Joseph Flannick, president, American Business Software (ABS). The off-the-shelf software is the least expensive and can accomplish basic functions. However, it has its negatives. “The disadvantages [to using this software] are that these packages don’t handle the unique aspects of flooring such as run numbers, dye lots and square foot/carton conversions. It’s a one-size-fits-all environment and there is little room for customization.”
This type of software might be useful for newer companies, experts say. However, users should expect to upgrade as their company grows.
Look into integrated software
Another point to consider is whether a software program can be integrated throughout your entire business as well as with other types of software. RollMaster’s Oechslin suggests asking the following: “Will the flooring software automate every aspect of your business or will you have to rely on another software for, say, accounting or installation scheduling? If a flooring software is fully automated, will it allow for real-time job costing when you have an opportunity to correct issues, or does it give you that data after the fact, when it’s too late to correct?”
Using an integrated software program makes performing various tasks on a job site easier and can reduce human error, according to Measure Square’s Wang. “The easier your measure solution is integrated with your business management the better; that way you don’t have double entry or have to switch to other software.”
Be realistic with your expectations
After consulting with the software companies, retailers must then determine a list of realistic expectations they want a software program to meet. “It’s possible the software won’t do everything you want it to do—or if it does, it might not be done the way you want to do it,” ABS’ Flannick said. “The bottom line is software should be viewed as a tool to help you. It should not make things more complicated. If it does, it’s the wrong software for you.”