Technology Update: Business Management Systems

In today’s retail environment, information is king. The ability to organize, access, and use large amounts of unrelated data is vital to survival, and business management software systems provide that ability.

“It’s critical, regardless of the size of your business,” says consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts. “It’s impossible for anybody to keep all that information in his or her head.”

Abe Sherman of Buyers International Group, which provides merchandising, marketing, and consulting services to independent jewelers, says that these automated systems have evolved to the point where there are quality systems at all price ranges. All do a good job of tracking—among other things—inventory data, point-of-sale information, and bookkeeping services.

“Industry-specific management systems have been available for the past 20 years, and the good news is the systems do so much more for so little money,” he says. “Today, we see software for several thousand dollars that can provide as much data as far more expensive systems.”

The Right Stuff

Most business management systems perform many of the same functions and may even seem similar at first glance, but there are differences. Sherman says it’s important that jewelers understand their needs and whether a particular software system can meet them.

“All 75 of our members are computerized,” Sherman says. “Some tell us they cannot get certain important information from their systems, while others with the same system have no problem. The difference is in how well the jeweler learns the software and what they ask of it. Having the best software available, without knowing what they need to know, is like having a very expensive filing cabinet—not a business management tool.”

Peterson says she believes the best systems are those that allow retailers to view the relationships among the different data streams.

“People tend to look at inventory management, personnel, sales productivity, and client recordkeeping,” she says. “The right program and the right management software helps you pull all of that together so you’re not looking at anything in a vacuum.”

Sherman adds, “A system needs the ability to ‘drill down’ into your data. From high levels of information, such as a ‘department,’ through each category and into individual SKUs, the data should report on GMROI, fast-selling items, aged inventory, and performance by price points. The system should allow for flexibility in how you define your departments and categories, so you can have it conform to your business, rather than your having to conform to it. Reports should be comprehensive. It would be helpful if the data were exportable to an Excel spreadsheet.”

He continues, “I also like to see systems that link the inventory management and POS [customer data captured at the time of sale] with a bookkeeping solution such as QuickBooks. Stores that do a lot of repairs also should run their repair department through the same software.

“At the end of the day, we don’t know what we don’t know, and a good system should provide a lot of new information that we hope the jeweler will know how to access and then act on.”

Comparison Shopping

Many business software systems are available for retail jewelers. JCK took a look at five companies that offer such software.

Abbott Jewelry Systems. One of the newest companies that develop business software for retail jewelers was founded by Dick Abbott, a jewelry-store owner and a creator of another popular jewelry-store management system; and Joe Shapiro, a computer programmer and consultant for 30 years. The company’s product is called “The Edge.”

Like most such systems, The Edge captures point-of-sale, accounting, inventory, and customer relationship information. It also provides reports and allows users to customize the system to meet their specific administrative needs, including pull-down lists for easy access to values that are used often.

One of the features that differentiates this product from others, says company president Abbott, is that the repair module was developed in cooperation with David Geller, whose pricing book is available (for a fee) for download into The Edge. The Edge integrates with QuickBooks for accounting functions and is built to be compatible with the latest technology.

“We are as state-of-art as you can possibly be,” he says. “Other products are getting old and not running well with XP and Pentium 4, and they just are not coping well.”

In addition to technology, another factor that differentiates The Edge, Abbott says, is “how well thought out the program is and how it executes … I’ll throw my work away until I get it right. Therein lies the big difference—the ego and personal fervor.”

Abbott says he sold 100 systems in 2003 and more than 200 systems in 2004, which he says makes The Edge “the best-selling and fastest-growing software package for the independent retail jeweler.”

Applications Systems Corp. We jump from one of the youngest to one of the oldest companies providing business software for retail jewelers: Boston-based ASC is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Kirsten Darrow, ASC sales and marketing manager, says its “Craftsman” product, the company’s main offering, is designed for jewelers who have large operations, have plans to grow, and want a software system that will grow and adapt to changing needs.

“The typical ASC customer is usually a high-end, high-volume, or multistore jeweler looking to upgrade to a sophisticated retail management system that will be the last system they will ever need,” she says.

In addition to the basic functions (inventory management, point of sale, repairs, etc.) of a typical jewelry retail management system, the Craftsman system also offers integrated credit card processing, open-to-buy, gift cards, and target marketing.

“Considering we were around before DOS, we’ve been through a lot of different platforms,” Darrow says. “We’ve got just phenomenal clients. Our software has a lot of functionality that is unique to our program.”

The software also comes with a unique support environment—the ASC User Group, a nonprofit organization made up of and managed by ASC clients to share knowledge, ideas, and solutions concerning the ASC system. Formed in 1988 and now numbering more than 100 members, it is the largest and oldest jewelry software group in the country.

“They jointly fund software projects that the group wants, and they hold a convention every year,” Darrow says. “They organize it themselves and use it to share information and best practices on different aspects of the system. Our company provides training classes [at the conventions].”

Data Concepts Information Technologies. Raffi Minassian, president and senior developer of the Ridgefield, N.J., company says DCIT’s software system, BusinessMind (used by retailers and manufacturers), uses an integrated approach while providing all of the similar software systems. “We try to provide an end-to-end solution so it has everything in it: point-of-sale transactions, inventory control, and back-office bookkeeping and accounting modules,” he says. “It’s like a huge wheel with a lot of spokes, and what we try to do with our system is place it in the middle and tie all of this together.”

Retailing and manufacturing functions can be housed together if needed, Minassian says, adding that this integrated approach is sometimes lacking with other systems that are available to retail jewelers. “The integration is something not everyone gets, because when you look at who is the consumer of [other] products, they don’t need all of that. We have clients that need all of those things.”

The software also works on multiple platforms, Minassian says. “We support more than Windows. We run on Mac and Linux and Apple. We run across platforms,” he says. “You can mix and match with our system. We could have the server running Linux and Apple, and it will all work together with no problem. We’ve been doing this since 1991, and we’ve always committed to cross platforms.”

MPI Systems. This Wilton, Conn.-based company, which provides software solutions for both manufacturers and retailers, focuses on an integrated approach to jewelry-store management, says Richard G. “Rick” Kaye, MPI founder and president.

Its retail software product, “MPI-Retail,” was designed from scratch, says Kaye (“It’s not a worked-over DOS program”), and is totally compatible with Microsoft Office. It comes in three versions: “Solo,” “One Store,” and “Multi-Store.” Like other programs, it keeps track of individual customer information, larger-scale demographic information, appraisals, and imaging functions, and it integrates with any accounting program.

Wise Choice Software. One thing that separates this New York City company from some of the others is its focus on providing graphs, maps, and analytical charts containing information that allows retailers to spot internal and external business trends. The RightClick Velocity product for retailers has more than 150 of these images.

Victoria Bowman, director of marketing for Wise Choice, says it’s often better to use visual guides for analyzing information.

“We’re not just reporting the information, we’re giving you analytical tools,” she says. “Some people find it easier to diagnose their problem [with charts and graphs].”

The company’s latest graphical update, “Dashboard,” allows users to select graphs and maps for business and demographic analysis. The user views the images in a separate window, and the images are updated in real time. Retailers can view daily or weekly sales information; the performance of individual salespersons; inventory and expense breakdowns; and profit trends broken down by geographic region, ZIP code, or customer groupings.

“Geographical analysis is ideal for determining where to invest marketing dollars, such as billboards or local area newspapers, as well as where to open the next store,” Bowman says.

For jewelers who aren’t sure whether they need to buy the product, Wise Software offers a monthly lease program that includes both software and technical support.