Managing a business can sometimes seem chaotic! Many retail jewelers know there has to be a better way to manage their business to increase profits and free up their time but simply don’t have the time or knowledge to look for the solution. In today’s competitive retail market, business management software is vital to the success of a business. But with so many choices, how do you see past the jumble of data and pinpoint the essential information you need to make the best decision for your business?
Every software salesperson will tell you their software is the best so this does not help you too much in your decision making. This article was written to help you better understand what you need to be looking for when making a decision. The great news as you read on is there is limited technical jargon as this written for jewelers.
Before I begin on the what to look for, I want to advise I have spent the last 35 years designing and producing the jewelry industry-specific software which is now installed in quality jewelers spanning eleven countries so it could be said by detractors I have a conflict of interest in writing this article. To this, I would reply that no one internationally has designed anywhere as many jewelry industry software modules as I have. It is this real-life experience that qualifies me to impart the following advice without bias. I am passionate about the jewelry industry and ensuring jewelers remain a strong presence and profitable in a competitive retail market. One of the best ways I can do that is by educating you to make the best decision for your business. Here are some tips to help you create a plan to save you time and money when making this life-changing business investment.
If you are considering installing software in your Jewellery business, you will fall into one of two categories.
1 - First-time jewelry industry software buyer
Be aware you may be at risk of making a decision based on price rather than a benefit. Whatever software you implement will for sure be better than a paper system, however, this very fact can lead to a costly mistake. Every day sees jewelers spending money replacing a software system they bought on price. This makes the original software very expensive as it's being thrown out. Don’t go settle for something that is better than what you have… choose the best that you can afford. I say this because all systems will require around the same work putting in stock and sales etc. but what you need in return for all your work is meaningful information that will help you make sales and profit.
Compare yourself to a customer who knows very little about jewelry. To the uninitiated, a gold plated ring, a 9k and an 18k ring all look the same. A Silver ring, a white gold ring, and a Platinum ring look the same. A CZ and a diamond look the same. Software is much the same, you see the skin but you don't see what’s under the skin. It's what you cannot see that makes a difference to how it performs and its ability to maintain the integrity of your data.
Further in this article, you will learn the importance of databases, operating systems, and good software design (boring but necessary stuff).
2 -Upgrading your software
Having an existing software system gives you the advantage of knowing what you like and dislike about your existing software.
What is important to you?
When researching software, you not only need to compile a list of questions to ask but determine exactly what you want and need from the software. This is typically business-related, for example, are you looking for better stock control, increased profitability, increased cash flow, better customer relationships, etc.
Insist on a demonstration and enough time is given to you to have all your questions answered.
There are two sets of considerations when looking at software systems:
Whichever software system you settle on, you will need hardware. Hardware includes computers, network components, Internet connection speed (between multi-sites from store to store, home to store, etc.), plus peripherals such as printers, cameras, cash draws, handheld stock-taking devices, tablets, etc.
Computers are getting faster and providing larger storage by the day. What is important is you take advice from the software supplier as to the minimum specifications required for the server, workstations, and POS. Often existing computers can be used. Part of the service a software supplier should offer is to do a hardware audit of all your existing hardware and make recommendations as to what existing hardware can be used.
2 - Operating System
Just like cars need fuel and can run on petrol, diesel, batteries, and LPG, computers need an operating system. These operating systems are Microsoft Windows and Apple plus a few less used such as Linux etc.
Microsoft Windows is by far the most commonly used operating system for small business computers. Due to this, most software developers have developed their software to run on Windows operating systems. Some software developers have also ensured their software will run on Apple computers running Parallels. This allows dedicated Apple followers to still run software developed for Windows on their Apple computers.
You have choices ranging from under $1000 to systems costing ten times this amount, so why pay thousands when you can buy off-the-shelf shrink-wrapped software for less than $1,000.
Rule number 1 - Unless you buy Jewelry industry-specific software, it will only be a matter of time before your revisit this purchase yet again. Don’t be tempted to purchase generic retail software.
Rule number 2. It's not what you pay for something that counts, it’s what you get in return that counts.
Software has come a long way over the past few years. Today's software needs to integrate with various devices such a RFID printers and scanners, remote Stocktake devices, tablets, scanners, cameras, Web interface, E-invoicing, exporting and importing data.
But more importantly it needs to be designed specifically for the jewelry industry (see rule 1 above), it needs to be well designed and secure to protect your important data and scalable (have the ability to grow with your business).
There are three parts to software:
1- Screen design (the face of the software)
2- Business logic behind the screens (the brains and the single most important part)
3 – Database (the heart) where your data is stored.
Screens are the face of the software, and screens alone can make the difference between the operators being frustrated or not.
Modern software screens should give you the ability to customize your color schemes (called eye candy). Plain old grey and white screens have become old and outdated. The screen must be easy to read, use and data input flow intuitive.
There are two approaches to screen use. Either the use of 1- icons or 2 - menu-driven. Icon use is good for touch screens (such as ipads) but slower to use than menu-driven screens for back-office systems.
Some more sophisticated software developers give operators choices in navigating around the system. These include drop-down Microsoft menus, system-developed menus, and jump to functions. For a front-of-store POS, touch screen icons speed up the sales process.
In short, screens must be attractive, plus easy and intuitive to use.
Not only should data from your business transactions such a stock and sales details, suppliers details, customer details, ledger details such as Layby, Special Orders, Repair Deposits, Receivables, and Customer Credits, give you function reports (Stock, Sales, Layby reports, etc.) but also provide you with data for analytical reports to able you to make better business management decisions. In short, it needs to be intelligent software.
Your data integrity is absolutely critical. We have all heard horror stories about data crashes causing loss of vital information. Even worse is a lack of integrity meaning you cannot trust the information coming out of your software.
The database is the most important component under the skin, and yet it is the least discussed or understood.
There are two types of databases. Those created and maintained by individual software developers, then there are mainstream databases created by Microsoft, Oracle etc. Older generation software often relied on these self-developed databases, which served their purposes 20 years ago, but these older generation databases are outdated and often have trouble working with the latest operating systems.
Then there is the ability of the database to grow with your business. Typically your database size will increase each year by 1.5 to 2 times, year on year.
Many software developers elect to use an Access database. It is fast to develop but has many limitations, while better quality software will be using Microsoft SQL.
I liken Access to using a half-ton pickup truck to move 100 tons of gravel compared to SQL being a 20-ton truck. The pickup truck will do the job, BUT it will creak under the load. As a pointed example, I recently looked at a jewelers database which was huge. To give you an idea of the size. If you had one Excel spreadsheet that had 749 tabs and each tab had between 2 and 136 columns with up to 100,000 lines on some, you would have a large database for a jeweler. It was an SQL database which according to the jeweler run without any issues. In the same week, I looked at another jewelers database which was Access. It had 241 tabs with each tab having less than 20 columns (approx. one quarter the size of the above SQL database) and according to the jeweler, was experiencing ongoing data corruptions.
Google Access vs SQL to get a better understanding of the reason why you should not settle for less than SQL. The following is an excerpt from one such website.
Microsoft Access cannot match the security, performance, and extensibility that Microsoft SQL Server offers. SQL Server has many advanced features that are beyond any power Access user. So if we are looking for a database platform that can grow with our needs, then we should have every reason to use SQL Server rather than Access. We can start using SQL Server Express Edition; it is free.
To summarise, ensure you select a jewelry-specific software system that uses SQL database, and in preference, Microsoft SQL database. SQL will go a long way to providing data integrity. Good Software design will also go a long way.
Compare software design to say a house design. If the house has a bedroom at the opposite end of the house to the toilet, the kitchen well away from the dining room, etc. the house will still function as a house, but it will not function smoothly. Software design is much the same. It has to be designed to function smoothly and to be able to be added to as technology changes. How do you know if it has been well designed? You don’t but if the company has been developing software for decades there is a fair chance they have good design. If the software is not user-friendly, people will look for something easier to navigate and the software company will go out of business.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is important. For example, all your sales staff members should not have to learn all aspects of the software just to manage say operating a Point of Sale. It should be modular so your team only needs to learn the areas they will be using.
Modules Versus One Size Fits All
The software should be modular and customizable because not everyone uses a computer the same way. For example, it's a fact many good salespeople who are not fast on keyboards prefer touch screens to enter sales rather than hold customers up with find and peck sales entry. Back office people on the other hand want to speed through the keyboard and mouse.
Every store is different so one size does not fit all. A low-price volume store has different needs to high-end custom makes store. Make sure the software will handle your specific business.
The very best software in the world is of no use if the operators do not know how to use it. This applies to a new system and also when key people leave. Only select software will come with extensive and complete operator training. Cupboards are full of disks containing software that was never used. Don’t let a software salesperson say “our software is so easy to use, you don’t need training. Just read the manual.” I know every jewelry industry-specific software being offered in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, and Canada, and I can tell you, there is not one that can do the job effectively without onsite training.
Every day you make business management decisions, what to buy, how to better serve your customers, how to increase sales and profit. Reporting from your software is the key to a more profitable business. The software needs to be able to provide on-demand Management Reports.
This is typically one of the most frustrating things about many software companies. Nothing is as bad as calling a company for support to get a message press 1 for this and 2 for that than being on hold for 40 minutes. You need to have an 800 number that gets picked up by a human. Make that a condition of any management software you buy.
In this rapidly changing technical world, you don't want to be left behind in both software and being able to use technology to your benefit. The software you choose must be from a progressive company that makes changes to the software to keep up with the latest technology advancements and management practices.
Cost Versus Benefit
While Cost is an important factor, even more, important is what you get for your money. The most expensive system is a low-cost system that gives you little to no business benefit. Typically software can be considered as a cost, however, business management software is considered as an investment from which you can rightly expect a return from. Good software should give you essential management reports that enable you to know what you are doing well and identify areas that you can improve to make more profit.
Software companies start up every day. Unfortunately, they also close down at the same rate. Look for a company that has been around for at least 20 years and has reinvested in total rewrites (rather than patching up existing versions to breathe life into old software). Ask the question, “how long have you been in business selling this software” and “how many ground-up rewrites have you invested in since your first version” (the answer should be one at least every 10 years).
Suppliers need to release updates in this fast-moving world, either they will send you updates relying on you to install them or make updates available on their website allowing you to automatically install the upgrades. Software developed ten years ago struggles to run on current computers and operating systems without updates.
Looking at the Software Providers
Have they written their own software or do they just resell other developer software? If they have developed their own software and its jewelry specific software, been around 20 or more years, and have reinvested in rewrites to keep up with rapidly changing technology, then you are more likely to have found a company that due to track record has a proven investment in the jewelry industry. This is important because you want to know that they will be around to support you in years to come.
Are they too small to support you (a one or two-person company will have trouble developing the software, selling, and supporting it)? There have been many examples of these businesses failing.
Big enough to provide support in a timely manner but small enough that you are not just a number.
You will be just a number. This you will need to accept.
So now you know what to look for when choosing jewelry-specific management software for your business. Use this article to make a list of things that are important to you and then ask software providers about them. Some things will be a deal-breaker and you should not compromise on these. Choose the software that is the best fit for your business, even if it is more than you originally intended investing, because in the end, it will help you generate more profit… and that is priceless.
Good luck with your search.