Best Estimates
 
September 1st, 2005

 

By Jeffrey Steele
September-October 2005 In the ceramic tile industry, few functions are more important than estimating. Order too much tile, and you’re left with unused material and needless expense. Order too little, and you’re faced with the chore of reordering and— more important—matching color lots.

Thankfully, technological advancements over the past few years have made estimating far easier and more precise. Today’s ceramic tile dealers and distributors have at their command a range of estimating software products that can not only help them correctly estimate the labor and material costs they’ll require to complete a job, but can integrate with other business functions as well. In this issue of TileDealer, we examine the capabilities and costs of a handful of the leading software systems available to tile dealers and distributors.

The following chart displays a half dozen different estimating software packages, their operating systems, add-ons, cost and contact information:

Name
Platform
Add-Ons
Cost Range
Contact

BVH Gregg Estimating Software for Ceramic Tile

XL based Windows operating system

“We’re fully interfaced with Plus & Minus Accounting Software, and our software displays graphics showing what you’re estimating.”

$4,000 for the first user; $2,000 for each subsequent user.

www.bvhgregginc.com

or 888-665-4300

CommerceCenter

Windows-based platform

“It can link to warehouse automation and it can link to a Web storefront. It’s fully integrated with warehouse automation and Web storefront.”

Call for information

www.p21.com

or 800-PROPHET

Counter Intelligence

Windows-based system written in Microsoft Visual Basic Version 6

“It will interface with accounting programs such as Peachtree and QuickBooks. It minimizes the reentry, so you don’t have to double enter, possibly make mistakes and lose time. It’s a data transfer interface.”

$3,500 is the basic price for a single user. Network starts at a four-user group at $7,500.

www.pinnsoftware.com

or 888-854-5272

Dancik Image Builder and Dancik Image Builder Design Center

Run on any Microsoft based server

None

$10,000+ for Image Builder and $15,000+ for Image Builder Design Center. “And that’s for an unlimited usage license for the software. One price and you can have as many users as you want on it.”

www.dancik.com

and 919-379-3800

PlanPoint Software

Windows

Works in conjunction with other applications as well

Cost for a single user $2,500. For multiple users, cost is based on the number of users. That cost is $2,500 for the first user and $1,250 for each additional user.

www.planpointsoftware.com

or 866-321-BLUE

Virtual Decor, in Online Design Platform and 3-D Estimator versions

Microsoft platform, Windows 95 and up

“We interface with Comp-U-Floor, and are working on an interface with two other products, to be announced this year.”

The Virtual Decor Design Platform price is on a showroom basis, starting at a recommended price of $300 a month. For the 3-D Estimator, a one-user license is priced at a suggested retail price of $800.

www.virtualdecor.com

or 866-86-DÉCOR

BVH GREGG

ESTIMATING SOFTWARE FOR CERAMIC TILE

BVH Gregg Estimating Software for Ceramic Tile is produced by Houston-based BVH Gregg, Inc., an eight-year old company focusing on marketing estimating software and teaching cash flow. The software is marketed to ceramic tile and stone fabricating contractors, as well as both residential and commercial installation contractors, says company president Frank Gregg.

Prior to entering the software field, the company handled installation for 25 years. “My dad was a tile contractor before me, and I was a nine-year union setter,” Gregg says.

“Our software involves estimating off plans. And it does the entire estimate, all the way through proposals for any type of project in the tile world. We specialize in ceramic tile, so our estimating package doesn’t require any other data base building or functionality created by the end user. Our software is pre-set for any kind of ceramic tile application.”

The result is more accurate bids, he adds. Following bids, the software can be utilized to determine what part of the job is most and least profitable for the company.

COMMERCE CENTER

Produced by Yardley, Pa.-based Prophet 21, a 38-year-old company focused on providing technology for distribution and functions like tile and floor covering, CommerceCenter’s capabilities encompass all areas of a dealer or distributor’s business, from customer interaction through general ledger, says company executive vice-president Doug Levin. “We have more tile dealers and distributors using our technology than anyone else,” he adds.

“We also have a Tile Advisory Council, which allows us to meet regularly with our customers, so we can make sure we keep our product up to date with any developments in the tile industry. We’ve always been in distribution, and we’ve always had good success with our tile dealers and distributors.”

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

The company behind Counter Intelligence, Strongsville, Oh.-based Pinnacle Manufacturing, Inc., was originally a countertop manufacturer. Along the way, the company developed an estimating program for its own internal use. Sales personnel from distributors of countertop material saw the program in use and suggested it be marketed.

“We took a booth in 1999 at the National Kitchen and Bath Show, and showed the product for the first time,” recalls president Hardy Forkapa. “And the reaction we got prompted us to come back to Cleveland, close the shop down and start writing the program for external use. In June 2000, we started marketing it as a software product.”

Calling Counter Intelligence “a complete office shop management tool for the countertop fabricator,” Forkapa reports that sums up its primary point of differentiation from other software programs. Others, he says, handle estimating, scheduling, or inventory, but Counter Intelligence does all those functions, as well as producing shop drawings.

“Other programs do a rudimentary drawing, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to ours,” he says. “Ours is much more detailed.”

Evolution of the program will soon allow the shop drawing to attach to the estimate module, Forkapa adds. When the drawing is completed, it will automatically produce a quote, allowing dealers to produce a quotation while the customer is in the showroom, then submit a purchase order to the fabricator producing the work. This is one example of how the software has evolved over the years in response to customer suggestions, Forkapa notes.

He urges those interested in the software to try a free online demonstration, accessible through the Web site of Pinnacle Manufacturing, www.pinnsoftware.com.

DANCIK IMAGE BUILDER AND DANCIK IMAGE BUILDER DESIGN CENTER

Dancik International, the Cary, NC-based maker of Dancik Image Builder, also has an interesting history. The company was founded by Mitch Dancik, who once worked with IBM as an independent consultant. Dancik was hired by U.S. Ceramic, then a large ceramic tile distribution company, to study the best practices and business requirements of the tile industry over the course of a year, and create a software package specifically geared to the field. When his year with U.S. Ceramic was complete, he owned the intellectual property that led to Dancik Image Builder and Dancik Image Builder Design Center, says director of sales Tony Thomas.

Today, Dancik International’s software manages 62 percent of the wholesale level spending for hard surfaces, such as ceramic tile, slate, stone and flooring in North America.

“We sell a completely integrated suite of software, from the sales counter all the way to inventory, warehouse, importing, exporting, purchasing and financials,” Thomas says.

The software is optimized for use in the flooring industry, in contrast to other estimating software programs adapted from fields ranging from fashion to automotive. “Ours will allow you to put in complex product patterns, which is very important in the ceramic tile business,” Thomas reports. “That’s because most people will put in borders, inlays and medallions using complementary products. [The software] will give you a very granular estimate of whole tiles, cut tiles and scrap” to precisely show how much tile is used—and how much is wasted.

PLANPOINT SOFTWARE

Another software program that began life as an internal tool before being reinvented as a commercially marketed product is PlanPoint Software, developed by Raleigh, NC-based Blue Cove Technologies. According to chief operating officer Michael Tucker, the software maintains a sophisticated data base of materials, labor resources and customers, and lets users integrate them in their jobs. “Think of it as a repository for all your information,” Tucker says. “All the inputs and outputs are kept in a data base, allowing users to work off the same information. I can build a job, and you can come in tomorrow and look at that job from your own computer.”

Imagine a potential transaction that involves a tile sale and installation. Materials will be sold to the customer, and the cost of labor will be compensated by the customer. These costs are pulled together to create an estimate.

If the estimate is accepted, the materials have to be acquired. The software will generate purchase orders for all vendors, work orders for all labor resources, invoices to be sent to the customer and an item’s pick list for the warehouse, Tucker explains.

Blue Cove Technologies makes several options available to customers. They can acquire the software, or they arrange a licensing agreement in which Blue Cove maintains the data and data base infrastructure, and they access it via the Internet. This application service provider model costs customers $250 in upfront charges, plus $100 a month, Tucker reports. “It’s an inexpensive way to gain access to the functionality of the application, without incurring a large upfront licensing fee,” he adds. “We sign you to a service agreement.”

VIRTUAL DECOR

Both versions of Virtual Decor are produced by a seven-year-old Washington, D.C. company of the same name, whose speciality is serving the tile and interior design industries with estimating and design software, says company president Marc Gervais.

“Tile is a very sophisticated and very visual product, as well as a very high-end and value-added product,” he observes. “That means it’s paramount to do as much as possible to help customers visualize their tile projects. So what we’ve tried to do is help our clients assist their customers in doing just that. It helps them sell more high-end products by giving them a better image of what their dream project will look like.”

The company first introduced its Design Platform, which is its high-end product. This platform will provide both a visual rendering of a project as well as a material offtake estimate.

More recently, Virtual Decor launched the 3-D Estimator, which focuses primarily on the estimating function. The program offers the complete set of metric and U.S. tile sizes in a dozen standard colors, allowing users to create complex designs.

“If you’re doing a six-piece pattern, you would want different colors, so you can see the pattern as well as the pieces,” Gervais reports. “The key to what we offer is the ability to design complete projects as quickly and accurately as possible.”

COMP-U-FLOOR BY AYA ASSOCIATES

While not itself an estimating software system, Comp-U-Floor by Aya Associates merits inclusion here because of its ability to incorporate other programs that do perform estimating.

Comp-U-Floor can be configured to accommodate the unique requirements of various segments of the floor covering industry, says the Orlando-based company’s president Edgar Aya. It’s a totally integrated system that addresses each of the computer processing needs of the ceramic tile retailer, importer, distributor or installer. “We do not have estimating capabilities within our system, so what we have done is develop the ability to integrate with some of the popular estimating software systems, such as Floor Coverings Soft,” Aya says.

“These packages have the ability to allow you to estimate and then upload their raw data into Comp-U-Floor, which is a complete system allowing you to issue a quote, convert the quote into an order, then process the order through shipping and receiving.”

For more information, visit www.comp-u-floor.com or call 800-766-0330.

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