Material Whirl: Analyzing Your Inventory Management Options

Keeping track of your stock can be maddening without the right management tool. We break down the leading systems and software.

Independent jewelers have a tough balancing act between keeping their showcases full and having enough cash flow to ensure that operations run smoothly. The key to handling this is a good inventory management system. But deciding which one is right for your business can be daunting.

Inventory management tools let jewelers monitor stock levels and keep tabs on what sells quickly and what languishes in the display case. There are a handful of big players in the industry. Their offerings might look similar, but the differences are in the details.

Most systems include point-of-sale functionality; some are rolling out the capability to perform sales transactions on iPads or other mobile devices. In general, they also include tools for physical inventory management with bar code printing. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tends to be part of the package, since point of sale is often where a retailer captures data such as contact info, milestone dates (e.g., anniversaries), sales histories, and wish lists.

Some offer more features—and often cost more—and some are sold as a single unit, while others let users choose versions or features. Read on for an overview, as well as what retailers have to say.

Developer: Advanced Retail Management Systems

“One of the things that puts us apart is that we’re a system with software,” says USA sales manager ­Rodney Roberts. “We have development consultants run reports and help them put together a plan.”

The management features and robust suite of tools make ARMS, especially the Ultimate Edition, a good bet for larger retailers. “We wanted a system we could feel comfortable with not just now, but 10 years from now,” says ARMS customer Ryan Blumenthal, president of Corinne Jewelers in Toms River, N.J.

ARMS estimates what you should have in stock based on your sales history, highlighting fast sellers and overstocked departments. “Your goal is to have 90 percent be stock that sells within 18 months,” Roberts says. A recent partnership with GemFind lets retailers link their in-stock inventory to their website.

Learning curve: “We spend a full week on-site doing training,” Roberts says. “We don’t leave until people are happy.” He says after a client’s inventory is installed, it takes a couple weeks for most users to become proficient. Says Blumenthal: “The reports are massive in that there’s so much to derive you need to be religious about really analyzing the information.”

Price: The ARMS Essentials Edition, which includes POS, CRM, a repair tracker, and stock management tools, starts at $8,995 plus training and hardware. The ARMS Ultimate Edition starts at $15,995 plus training and hardware.

Developer: Applications Systems Corporation

“We handle multiple stores very well,” says executive vice president Barry Kraft. “Some software out there, the second and third stores are kind of an afterthought. Our first customer was a 40-store chain.”

Kraft says ASC’s system probably isn’t for the mom-and-pop shops—too overwhelming—but bigger retailers will appreciate all the bells and whistles, like a “diamond grid” that gives a visual overview of stone stock, an “executive dashboard” for getting key inventory metrics at a glance, and a two-pronged numbering system that assigns both a standard stock number and a unique piece number to each item.

“They have a great open-to-buy program,” says user Gary Goodman, co-president of Frederic Goodman Jewelers, headquartered in Verona, N.J. “We run it quarterly and it establishes budgets for buying by vendor,” he says. “It also gives us some idea of anticipated growth,” he says. “It gives you stats that help you make your decisions so you have an educated guess instead of a best guess.”

Learning curve: The system has roughly 1,000 settings that need to be selected based on what the retailer wants, which Kraft says takes about a month. Users should expect to be proficient in two to four months, depending on their comfort level with technology. “I think it’s harder to learn than most out there because there’s much more to it, but once you learn it, it’s easier to use,” Kraft says. Training on a dozen subjects is included with the purchase of relevant modules.

Price: The system is sold by module. Pricing starts at $5,000 and increases based on the number of users and the number of computers, as well as any extra features the retailer wants to add. Kraft says most add-ons are in the $500 range, although an executive dashboard function is $2,000.

Developer: InCom Technical ­
Solutions, Inc.

InCom rolled out one-click uploading to an online catalog earlier this year, and owner Thomas Roethling says DiamondCounter includes more tools for tech-savvy retailers than his competitors.

In addition to POS functionality on iPads, the system’s back end is set up to push inventory data into an online catalog optimized for iPhone viewing, to create QR codes for stock items that can then be incorporated into offline marketing media, and to feed product information directly into a store’s Facebook page.

“The younger generation, the first thing they’re going to do is go online to a website or smartphone to see what you have,” he says. But while ­Roethling understands that consumers are growing increasingly tech-savvy, he realizes that not all ­jewelry retailers are. Last year, InCom added a shortcut for retailers to run a report on their fast sellers. The settings are all predefined, so it only takes the user two clicks to generate a report.

Pam Fitterer, an administrative professional at Earth Treasures in Eatontown, N.J., says the company began using DiamondCounter after outgrowing another inventory tool. “The entire program is adapted to our store,” she says. “It basically came in such a user-friendly way that we’ve only had to make minor changes.” When she suggests changes, Fitterer adds, InCom is quick to implement them.

Roethling says most of his customers have a single store with two to five computers, although he says the software is scalable for multiple machines and locations.

Learning curve: “We had a one-day training and everyone understood it,” Fitterer says. “It took me a couple of days to introduce myself and I had proficiency in about a week.” Even salespeople who weren’t as familiar with computers picked it up in a matter of days, she says.

Price: A license for one computer is $3,000, which includes a year of support, training and upgrades. A network license for up to six machines is $4,000, and larger retailers can get more stations on a sliding scale. Depending on the initial license, retailers can renew their access to upgrades and training in future years for $550 or $600.

The Edge
Developer: Abbott & Shapiro, LLC

When retailers determine their gross margin return on investment, or GMROI, they usually use retail prices, says company cofounder Dick Abbott. The Edge calculates GMROI based on wholesale prices instead, a metric Abbott says is more accurate.

A new feature called MaxiTurn connects stores with about three dozen manufacturers, allowing them to directly reorder from an inventory of some 50,000 items. “They’re always trying to stay on top of what’s new,” says Scott Stambaugh, owner of ­Stambaugh Jewelers in Defiance, Ohio. He touts The Edge’s rapid reordering tool, which lets a retailer run a report to find out what needs to be restocked, then submit orders automatically with one click.

Learning curve: Abbott says most users are proficient within a month. The Edge is sold with training—either two days on-site or 16 hours via webinar. It offers a 201 and 301 series of training seminars, and a sister company, the Edge Retail Academy, provides even more in-depth training. Its mentors/consultants help jewelers implement plans of action based on reports produced in The Edge at the store level and from reports using data gathered from its membership.

Price: $3,500 for one station. Additional stations (up to six) cost $500 more each; extra stations are priced on a sliding scale. This includes six months of support and program upgrades. Afterward, the retailer has the option of continuing that upgrade and service package for 15 percent of its original purchase price. (Edge Retail Academy services are priced separately.)

We all need a system for keeping our cases in check.

Jewelry Shopkeeper
Developer: Compulink

Shopkeeper’s core version includes inventory control, tag printing, photo­graphing, sales and receipt printing, repair tracking, and CRM. Compulink also sells these functions as standalone modules for smaller stores that want a more stripped-down model.

Tony Aalund, partner at Jewelers Bench in Kingwood, Texas, has used Shopkeeper since 1996. “We use bar codes, and when we scan an item the picture comes up and we get all the information: how long it’s been in stock, how many there are. They have a tremendous amount of information,” says Aalund. User Steve Pizzolato, manager of Frank ­Jewelers in Freeport, Ill., appreciated the ability to sync new pictures and prices for Pandora when the brand made changes: “It’s not like I had to pull up each SKU and change the retail price. That was huge.” It would’ve taken “weeks, easily,” he says, to input those changes manually.

Learning curve: Pizzolato says most of his employees picked up the Windows version in a week or less. Aalund’s store has a training module that lets new salespeople play around with the tool without actually being in the live database, which prevents any mistakes from affecting operations.

Price: The core version of Shopkeeper is $2,000, but retailers can buy the inventory and tag-printing module for $600, and add the sales module for another $400 if they want to keep costs at a minimum.

Developer: WinJewel Software

“WinJewel was written from the ground up,” says head programmer and president Larry Stevens, who says the program offers more than 500 different reports. “The reason there are so many is if a report isn’t what a client wants, we add it at no charge.”

WinJewel’s sweet spot is smaller retailers who want a customized system but might be priced out of other options. “The owner decided on it in part because of its price tag,” says user Megan Cooper, manager of Blue Heron Jewelers in Poulsbo, Wash.

The trade-off to this flexibility and high degree of customization: Clients need a bit more handholding, plus a longer time frame for implementation. (WinJewel provides four months of setup support.)

Stevens says a distinctive WinJewel feature is that it provides a separate bar code for each item, even if a store has multiple copies in stock. “When it’s sold, we know who it was sold to, the complete history of that exact item and details about how it was customized for the end user,” he says.

Learning curve: While installation is somewhat time-consuming, Stevens says clients find the program easy to master. “Most people can be taught the basics in a day. If you’re familiar with Windows, you should have no problem.”

Price: $2,800 for a single-machine license and $3,995 for clients with multiple desktops.

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