Software Expressly Designed for Tile Retailers
 
September 1st, 2006

By Jeffrey Steele

September-October 2006

It was only a year ago that TileDealer launched an exhaustive look at software programs created to help dealers operate their businesses more productively and profitably. But in the fast-paced world of software, where new products and upgrades to existing ones are never ending, that investigation is already yesterday’s news.

In the past, manufacturers of software serving the tile industry have been criticized for gearing programs solely to larger customers. But today, an increasing number of programs target small and intermediate sized firms as well as big ones.

American Business Computers, Inc. and its predecessor firm, Worlco Data Systems, Inc., have been handling flooring and ceramic tile inventory management since 1975. In explaining the need for his product, company president Joe Flannick says if a dealer has very little inventory, off-the-shelf accounting software like QuickBooks works just fine. But the minute the company reaches a significant inventory investment of $50,000 to $100,000, “You want to get vertical market software like ours,” he says.

Vertical market software is another term for “industry specific,” an essential quality of a good inventory software management program, Flannick explains. While there are a lot of software companies out there, if they don’t know the flooring industry, 30 years of computer experience won’t do them much good, he says.

ABC’s product is FloorPro III ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning. Unlike most general inventory control software, which cannot handle the unique inventory requirements of the flooring industry, FloorPro III can track dye lot; cut individual pieces of stone, laminates and sheet vinyl; can round up to the correct quantity; and can convert between different units of measure, among other capabilities. QuickBooks and other off-the-shelf programs, by contrast, assume tile comes in in cartons and goes out in cartons. “That’s not the reality of the flooring industry,” Flannick says.

Affordability is another key advantage of FloorPro III. ABC offers a product called Software As A Service, or SAAS, which allows users to access FloorPro III over the Internet. “That eliminates the need for a server, in-house networks and in-house personnel,” Flannick says. “All the labor, and the IT professional who would upgrade your software, you don’t need any of that. All you need is a connection to the Internet.”

SAAS is expressly designed to serve smaller businesses with tighter budgets. At a cost of $200 a month for up to three users, companies with an Internet connection, computer and printer can access the service. The service works on any Windows platform, although Windows 98 Second Edition and above are recommended.

“This is ideal for smaller guys without multiple locations, and maybe one or two users,“ Flannick reports. “It does all the things this guy wants to do, but he doesn’t have to invest a lot of money. If he starts growing, and grows into multiple locations, he can then buy the software. And there are some guys who want to sit on their boats on their vacations and still look at their sales numbers. You can do that with this product.”

Earnest & Associates was launched in 1978 as a value-added reseller of computer systems solutions to the wholesale, distribution and manufacturing industries. It is now the nation’s leading representative of Infor Global Solutions, the world’s third largest developer of enterprise resource planning software, according to marketing manager Tom Birdwell.

Earnest & Associates targets the tile industry with a product called FACTSTile. The core part of the program, FACTS, is written by Infor Global Solutions and enables users to handle purchasing, sales orders, past sales inquiries, sales analysis of current and past transactions, accounts payable and receivable and general ledger.

In the Tile part of the program, Earnest & Associates leveraged its years in the tile industry to create rich functionality for industry professionals, Birdwell says. Users can facilitate stock transfers across multiple locations, determine lowest and highest square feet when selling by boxes of tile, handle recalculations based on particular lot quantities and display shade, number of boxes and square feet on the pick ticket. The program can also handle conversions from one weight or size measure to another.

“It’s a very popular package,” Birdwell adds. “There are more than 2,000 installations of FACTS across the country, in all kinds of industries.”

Several software companies provide products expressly designed for tile dealers. Dancik International of Cary, N.C. offers the Dancik Enterprise System, which handles everything from order processing to inventory management, warehouse management, purchasing, claims management, routing and logistics, receivables, payables and general ledger, says director of sales Tony Thomas. Dancik Enterprise System is the company’s “core product,” and is supplemented by other products that help extend its functionality. The IWMS Integrated Warehouse Management System add-on provides a paperless, directed workflow warehouse environment and includes interfaces with two of the more popular third-party software systems for managing truck fleets and maximizing truck routes, Thomas says.

Décor 24 is an Internet-based B2B selling system that allows customers to place orders without needing to deal with CSR staff. Another product is a B2B industry standard product called CMS, which automates the exchange of automated documents between trading partners. And other add-ons include data mining and warehousing tools and design and productivity tools for the showroom level enterprise.

Thomas believes the market for software designed for flooring customers is large and growing. “Our biggest customers, who have been with us for years, continue to grow and continue to buy add-ons, so there’s a lot of market opportunity, dispersed geographically throughout the country, and economically throughout the market. We are not seeing anything suggesting big companies are gobbling smaller companies to grab market share. We’re seeing a market that has a lot of room for a lot of players.”

Blue Cove Technologies is a Raleigh, N.C. company that allows users to “templatize” their best practices, says chief operating officer Michael Tucker. “Users of our software can set up templates that are representations of the type of work they’re about to perform, save them in their systems, and then administrative assistants can build out jobs using these templates, picking the crews to do the installation, and the types of products.”

PlanPoint will cost out jobs, apply an appropriate profit margin chosen by users and generate with one click all paperwork associated with each job, Tucker says. The user can provide a detailed or a shorter estimate to the customer, as well as all crew work orders. He can create purchase orders, financial analyses and an integrated work calendar to schedule jobs, Tucker explains.

The software also allows for easy change orders. And once users are satisfied, they can click another button and have everything they’ve done loaded into QuickBooks, eliminating secondary data entry.

Looking at the market for software in the flooring industry, Tucker reports many people are not satisfied with QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel. “People are looking for something more specific,” he notes. “In the software business, it never made much sense to go after the sole proprietor, because even though there are millions of them, they tend not to be technology friendly. It made more sense to develop software for big distributors, who are looking to gain efficiencies and to automate. We’re after nothing less than unseating Excel.”

Orlando-based Comp-U-Floor produces a product of the same name that is an integrated point-of-sale, retailing and distribution software system exclusively designed for the floor covering industry. According to president Edgar Aya, the product encompasses many different and important niches, including importers, residential installers, commercial installers, multi-family apartment floor covering companies, and companies that exclusively work with new construction builders. Each of these niches requires a specialized set of tools, and those tools are included in the Comp-U-Floor software, Aya reports.

The market for software for the flooring industry continues to be robust, he adds. “Even large companies realize the investment required to produce a software product comparable to Comp-U-Floor would require millions of dollars and years of development. They’ve finally seen the light, and have come to the realization that even at their size and with their considerable resources, it makes more sense to purchase a developed, mature product than to try to develop software on their own.”

Moreover, smaller but growing companies are recognizing they need to purchase an industry-specific system if they are to remain competitive, Aya believes.

At Yardley, Pa.-based Activant Solutions, Inc., Steve McLaughlin, senior vice-president and general manager of Activant’s Wholesale Distribution Group, reports that in today’s margin-squeezed tile distribution market, distributors require strong inventory management functionality able to track shades, lots and slabs. They also require the ability to monitor costs when importing product, and the power to effectively manage relationships with all their business partners, including vendors, homeowners, contractors, architects and specifiers.

Tile distributors buy product by the carton or pallet and sell it by the piece or square foot, McLaughlin notes. They must have a technology solution that can convert pallets and cartons into square feet and pieces prior to price extensions to ensure they always maintain adequate profit margins.

Additionally, because many of the products distributors sell are natural, color lots often vary greatly. They require a solution that controls color lots by shade to ensure pickers always pull single orders from the same color lots, improving customer service and inventory management, while simultaneously reducing likelihood of returns.

“Many contractors and end users want to take a few pieces of tile to see what fits best in their kitchen, bathroom or foyer,” McLaughlin says. “While most distributors charge nothing for these samples, they should track what leaves their showroom to better calculate inventory costs. Software exists that can make it easy to create sample invoices within order entry. In addition to better understanding inventory costs, this allows distributors to follow up on sales opportunities, track popularity trends, and pursue the pieces they want customers to return.”

Customers often call to request the same item they ordered previously, whether a week, a month or a year earlier. However, they can’t provide the original invoice or knowledge of the item’s part number. For that reason, distributors need a technology solution that enables them to search through complete sales histories by self-determined criteria.

Such functionality should be capable in a few simple steps of narrowing down sales history searches by data range or keywords, such as “6-by-6 stone brown.” That item can then be added to the customer’s current order. This saves time and eliminates trips to the file cabinet to thumb through customer invoices.”

Programs with graphic functionality

Construction Software in West Palm Beach markets two products, a hardware digitizer product manufactured by GTCO/Calcomp, and compatible software called QuickMeasure. The two products combine to deliver a digital blueprint measuring system.

According to owner Trevor Hadley, the system works like this. A tile contractor using the system places his blueprints on the digitizer—a tabletop pad about the size of the plans—sets the scale, and then traces with a pen the rooms being measured.

The system provides the square footage as well as the perimeter, Hadley says. The software interfaces back into the contractor’s Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, allowing him to import the information he’s just obtained into the spreadsheet. He then puts together his pricing and bid on the spreadsheet, Hadley explains.

While the system is performing this task, “It’s also saving a picture of what’s been measured, so it can be viewed later,” he adds. “You can see what you’ve done, and make sure you haven’t missed anything. Or if you have someone else reviewing your work, that person can look at the picture. And some of my customers will print the picture and actually include that in the bids they submit.”

The system saves users 75% of the time it would take them to measure a job off blueprints. Moreover, most users are up and running within an hour of beginning to learn the system. Construction Software offers free technical support as well.

Because the system is offered for an investment of just $3,700, Construction Software markets to firms of all sizes. Some of Hadley’s customers are contractors who use it on their dining room tables; others are large companies with multiple systems being used by a variety of estimators, he says.

But the product is not for everyone, Hadley says. Companies that use the system are involved in new construction and have sets of building plans. The system obviously doesn’t work for contractors handling projects involving existing buildings, who have to measure the buildings in the field.

RFMS is based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. National sales manager for Measure Estimating System, Ron McConnell says RFMS was begun 21 years ago by Tuscaloosa carpet store owner Terry Wheat, who developed software that could completely control the floor-covering business, from order writing and entry to inventory control and accounting.

“Measure Estimating System is a portion of the software,” McConnell says. “It does the complete estimate, and its relationship to RFMS is you can import your products and pricing from RMFS, and export the entire order back into the business system, and it installs the entire order into the RFMS system. You can also export it to Excel and QuickBooks. Once you get it out into Excel, you can export it to other software.”

Utilizing the software, tile dealers have the ability to mix sizes together, create designs and instantly apply them to any room, McConnell says. The software provides an instant tile count, indicates how much tile must be ordered and can include any waste factor users choose. Set it up properly, and the software even determines how much thin set and grout will be needed for the job. It can calculate a job on the basis of square footage, add an extra weight factor determined by the user, and—if told how much tile is in each carton—round up to the next carton.

The benefit? You not only have the right bid, but you’ve covered your cost factor if you have to buy tile by full cartons, McConnell says. “So when you bid the job and, for instance, want a margin of 29 percent, it will make sure you get that margin.”

An added bonus is that two versions back, RFMS added QuickTile to the software’s capability. QuickTile uses DalTile’s Tile Book, incorporating 40 patterns from that assortment. Click on the QuickTile button, and it will bring up those patterns, from basketweave to checkerboard, cobblestone, diamond insets and alternating horizontal, McConnelll says.

Meeting the needs of the Stone Market

Stone Profit Systems in Chicago markets two kinds of software systems, one for distributors/suppliers, and one for fabricators/installers, says sales manager Ravi Rudraju. The system targeted at distributors/suppliers permits inventory, container and sheet management, and also offers a bar coding module that permits bar coding of all slab and tile. A Web site module enables users to connect their inventory and customer relationship management to their Web site.

“Another feature allows your suppliers to do your ordering when supplies run low,” Rudraju says. “You can give that access to suppliers you trust. It also allows them to do the bar coding of pallets before they even send the material to you.”

The program for fabrication/installers allows them to undertake all the estimation and job costing, as well as job scheduling. It enables them to produce job budgets and set up shop calendars to manage projects based on timelines and deadlines. Another module allows customers to log on and check out the job from their end.

According to Rudraju, the edge Stone Profit Systems can offer is that, unlike other software, this is a Web-based system, not an installed system.

Stone Profit Systems doesn’t leave out the little guy, either. The first of its three versions, the Lite Edition, is designed for small companies with three to five users, and costs less than $10,000. The Standard Edition is an intermediate version for medium-sized firms with two or three locations and 10 to 20 users, and costs from $20,000 into the upper $20,000 range. Upper-end users can purchase the Enterprise Edition, which allows for extensive customization and ranges from $60,000 to $200,000, Rudraju says.

St. Paul, Minnesota-based Fabricator’s Choice is a seven-year-old company born out of a distribution business that provided quartz, granite and solid surface countertop materials to fabricators, says president Tom Harms.

“We basically started to train the companies to which we sold product, in order to raise their level of efficiency and proficiency in fabrication,” he recalls.

“Along with that was the need for equipment improvements and software to make it quicker. We were able to allow them to produce more square footage with less people, or grow at a more rapid rate without adding more people.”

The product that resulted from that experience is PhotoTop, which enables users to take photos with a digital camera of a countertop, cabinet area, wall or other space, and create digital drawings of that area.

Countertop manufacturers, for instance, can export the resulting file into their cutting equipment and cut the shape to fit the area. In a residence where the walls aren’t perfectly straight, PhotoTop can produce a photo that provides the actual rather than right-angled shape and allow material to be cut to the specific shape.

This in essence is templating, in which templates of physical spaces are created in a digital format, Harms says. “Once you have that, you have square area, lineal footage, whatever you need, and you can store the file, as well as transfer it to other people to output it and cut it. It’s a very convenient way of transferring information that formerly was transferred on paper, or through use of a wooden or plastic template.”

The fact that the templates are created in a digital file is the big benefit. Any other form of template would require the individual receiving the template to interpret it and then translate it into something else, or transfer it to a finished shape of some sort, Harms says. With the digital file, on the other hand, there’s no need for interpretation.

The initial expense of PhotoTop is $15,000, and includes everything needed to get up and running quickly and efficiently, including the system itself, two days of hands-on training and a year of free maintenance and support. The system is fully expandable, and can allow customers to add multiple digital cameras, Harms says.

QFloors is headquartered in Midvale, Utah. Company

President Chad Ogden and his brother Trent founded QFloors 1999. The Ogden brothers grew up in the flooring business as sons of Steve Ogden, a well-known name in the industry.

QFloors is the core product in a suite of software programs that includes QSketch, QEstimator and QReporter. QFloors is the business management product that runs the day-to-day functions and tasks of the business, Chad Ogden says.

“A lot of small companies will use QuickBooks, Peachtree and other generic accounting programs,” he adds. “Those programs are tailored to accountants. This program is a business management program tailored to business owners, sales reps and bookkeepers who run these flooring companies—not accountants. More than half of our current customers are coming from one of these generic programs. So they’ve already tried them and found they’re not working for them.”

In the floor covering industry, B2B Industry Standard is a uniform industry standard developed in the past four years as a means of transferring data electronically between manufacturers and floor-covering dealers to save time and money, Ogden says. QFloors has been one of the leaders in allowing its users to transfer information such as pricing updates, vendor invoicing and online ordering electronically back and forth between distributors and manufacturers.

“The other thing we offer is ease of use,” he says. “We have come to be known as the most user-friendly software on the market. In the past, the software offered in this industry has been notoriously complex, hard to use and not intuitive.

“When people think of ease of use in this industry, they think of QFloors.”

QFloors offers products for small, intermediate and large companies, with its most basic package for smaller firms starting at $2,900, Ogden adds.

Activant Solutions, Inc.

http://www.distribution.activant.com

or 800-776-7438

American Business Computers

www.americanbusinesscomputers.com

Blue Cove Technologies

www.planpointsoftware.com or 866-321-2583

Comp-U-Floor

www.comp-u-floor.com or 800-766-0330

Dancik

www.dancik.com or sales@dancik.com

Earnest & Associates

www.earnestassoc.com

Construction Software

www.consw.com

RFMS

www.rfmsmeasure.com

QFloors

www.qfloors.com

Stone Profit Systems

www.stoneprofits.com

Fabricator’s Choice

www.fabchoice.com

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