Enterprise Software: Software that is increasingly user-friendly but also sophisticated in the range of solutions it offers
November 2nd, 2008

November – December 2008

By William & Patti Feldman

Enterprise software targeted to the tile industry is a crucial and even indispensible tool that can improve daily operations and customer relationships, maximize sales potential, and boost the bottom line.

Solutions can be UNIX-based, Windows-based, or delivered as a Web-based application. An industry specific program is one that is designed especially for the flooring or tile industry and, in addition to the usual complement of business applications, includes the abilities to keep track of inventory by dye lot and make accurate conversions between square feet, pieces, and cartons, enabling tracking of inventory and orders in tile-industry specific units.

The three solutions profiled below all have strong capabilities that will help streamline daily business operations. Prophet 21, by Activant, is a Unix-based solution that features a familiar Windows look and feel and is powered by an SQL Server that can be delivered traditionally through client server technology or via the Web. FloorPro III Enterprise, by American Business Software, is a Windows-based client/server system that operates across the Internet or installs on each customer’s in-house server (customer’s choice). Dancik Distribution, by Dancik International, is Web-based, with all information accessible online from any computer.

Core capabilities of enterprise software for the tile industry include order processing and inventory management, purchasing, pricing, warehouse management, customer relationship management, and e-business.

Full featured inventory management can help a distributor manage inventory effectively to ensure the right minimum and maximum levels on all shelves, with optimal replenishment schedules. A solution with shade tracking as part of order processing enables a distributor to fill an order with all the tiles coming from the same shade.

Warehouse management capabilities often combine RF (radio frequency) scanning and barcoding with such efficiency building capabilities as space-saving pallet building; prioritizing of picking based on truck routes, type of order or type of customer.

Tile industry-specific programs include the ability to convert cartons to square footage or to individual units as needed to fulfill orders, enabling each order to correspond accurately to physical inventory; and the abilities to handle slab tracking, sample tracking, branch transfers of material, and point-of-sale transactions. Solutions that automatically convert metric measurements from overseas manufacturers into inches and feet simplify the process of importing product and reduce the chance of errors in ordering and pricing.

Slab tracking is helpful for tracking large pieces of granite—it assigns each piece a unique serial number and then tracks its dimensions and location from arrival in the warehouse until it leaves (and sometimes beyond) along with associated costs, taking into consideration any cracks or fissures and waste after cuts.

Sample tracking keeps tabs on pieces taken by customers from the showroom in a separate sample inventory account. Even if you charge nothing, you should track what leaves your showroom to better calculate inventory costs, follow up on sales opportunities, and track popularity trends, as well as let staff pursue the pieces you want customers to return. In some solutions, an order can track multiple serial numbers of any type of stone.

With any program with Internet connectivity, such as the solutions below all have, salespeople with Blackberries or other handhelds have access to productivity information remotely from the road as well as in the office.

Aimed specifically at distributors, Activant’s Prophet 21 addresses order entry and inventory management, purchasing, pricing, financial management, customer relationship management, business reporting and analytics, e-business, and wireless warehouse management.

The program allows users to handle stock in units of measure that fit their business environment—pallets, cases, boxes—all the way down to “each,” which may be the smallest unit of measure the distributor wants to sell—for instance, one piece. Each distributor sets up the default unit of measure at the time of creating an item. Once it has been defined it will automatically convert the various quantities available based on the selected unit of measure during the order/quote process. The default unit can be changed at any time.

The order entry module can convert any order into square feet or pieces and the application will properly price the sku based off of the appropriate unit of measure. The ability to break cartons “gives the distributor the flexibility to meet a walk-in customer’s demands, as well as a large contractor’s demands,” points out Frank Heenan, Director of Product Management and Marketing at Activant.

The Inventory Control module sports the ability to differentiate color lots by shade to ensure pickers always pull single orders from the same color lots, reducing the chance of returns. Pick tickets can list the master pallet, carton, and/or piece quantities for the same item. Full shade lot tracking can even include user-defined “lot attributes”—such as ‘country of origin’—for further segmenting of inventory. Groupage capabilities enable the building and tracking of a container that contains purchase orders from multiple vendors.

Other distributor-friendly features of Prophet 21 include real-time transfer of inventory among multiple warehouse locations; the ability to accommodate multiple forms of payment—cash, check and credit card—for a single order, which is helpful for distributors who also have showrooms: and the ability to search each customer’s complete sales histories by self-determined criteria to streamline repeat orders even without the original invoice or knowledge of part numbers.

Prophet 21’s open database facilitates easy uploading of manufacturer price lists and data sheets and automatically converts metric measurements into feet and inches. The solution, which features complete foreign currency support for accounts payable and receivable, can determine the distributor’s true landed cost of an item, after all costs involved in sourcing the product (including manufacturer’s invoice price, freight and broker charges, duties and tariff taxes, if applicable) are factored in. The program will also track containers from point of departure overseas all the way to the distributor’s warehousing facilities.

The program generates user defined workflow e-mail that automatically informs customers of order shipping and other events, saving employees from fielding calls from customers requesting updates on status of orders. The system also offers the option of e-commerce via a web-based storefront which a retailer or contractor can visit to request quotes, order material, check inventory and order status, and also check invoice information and purchase history.

American Business Software’s FloorPro III is a modular Windows-based solution capable of handling the full range of tile distributor functions, from order entry, invoices, inventory tracking to point-of-sales, sales analysis, and accounting, and including conversion between feet, prices and carton and ability to keep track of inventory by dye lot. The software is customized to each business.

Among specialized features of the program are automated reorder, which can minimize the amount of inventory you need in stock as well as semi-automated reorder, which enables keeping the lowest possible inventory. These are potentially valuable cost-saving mechanisms that the software developer suggests can save a distributor up to half the cost of inventory sitting on a shelf for a year.

“We did a study on the total cost of carrying inventory over a year and found that it costs about 1/3 the value of the inventory to leave it sitting on the shelf,” explains Joe Flannick, company president. “Every $1 million of ‘excess’ inventory costs distributors money in interest, warehouse space and insurance, tying up funds unnecessarily.”

By taking advantage of various efficient mechanisms to automate or semi-automate re-orders, the program can calculate the optimal inventory for every single SKU, saving shelf space on low-turn products while also minimizing risk of items having to be backordered, potentially jeopardizing a sale.

Because the software can calculate and report on inventory turn for each SKU—keeping track of which are low-turn excess and which are no-turn obsolete, a distributor can make informed decisions when to tag overstocks for specials or even package together a full skid of a particular run that hasn’t sold over a long period to sell off as a remnants package, Flannick points out.

The program allows the user to enter the currency conversion rates in the morning, and once the distributor’s prices and costs are established, the distributor can select the currency for the order, convert the local currency based on the current exchange rate, and add a margin on top of the quote.

The “Optical Disk Invoice Storage and Retrieval System” module eliminates the need to print and file invoices.

A recently introduced fully integrated “wireless warehouse” module supports RFID (radio frequency identification which can find inventory regardless of where it is stored), bar coding, truck routing and manifests.

ABS’s e-commerce program, COLA (Customer Online Access Software) gives customers with online access the ability to check stock and pricing, place an order, and print confirmation through the Internet.

Dancik Distribution, by Dancik International, is targeted to all parties in the tile, natural stone or general flooring industry including retailers, distributors, and manufacturers. Because it features a Web-based interface, there is no maintenance on the desktop and the desktops can be basic, even low-powered computers.

The software features several unique characteristics and capabilities that, according to the developer, address concerns of interest to distributor/dealers—both wholesalers with showrooms that sell retail and retailers who have branched into importing and buy wholesale.

The software, which is fully web-based, features both a UNIX-style “industrial” interface for high speed transactions and a Web-based interface for sleekness, points out Mitch Dancik, President of Dancik International.

The solution addresses inventory and warehouse management issues for the tile business in depth, including management of shades and dye lots, efficient space-saving building of palettes of tile (larger on bottom, smaller on top), and navigation of the nuances of importing, including currencies, duty, and freight. Also, the program, which supports conversions between square feet, pieces and carton, allows multiple users to work in their own choice of units of measure simultaneously—e.g. one user working in cartons, another in meters, yet a third in square feet.

Even when accessed via the Web, the system is highly secure. Users with a recognized name, user ID, and password can access the site only from an authorized computer with a registered IP address.

The program’s warehouse management system was built from the ground up for tile and flooring, so the system understands and fully accommodates how tile needs to be picked and packed—i.e. often from more than one warehouse or from one or more transfer trucks. The software “sees outside the walls of the warehouse,” Mitch notes. Automated inventory selection manages and optimizes the use of shades, warehouse location, use of bulk storage, and use of transfers.

The solution features different interfaces optimized for the task. For example, Dancik says, sales people working in a ceramic showroom have more design and estimating tools on screen to guide customers in selecting tile, while a counter clerk has easy access to tools specific to order taking and generating of picklists. And the software is very flexible in handling various types of counter sales, equally competent to handle an order from a tile contractor who has an account as one from a consumer wishing to buy tile as a retail sale.

Other features targeted to tile distributors: an integrated visualizer—a photo manipulation program—that gives the ability to see what any tile will look like inside any room by combining photos of the tile with photos of any room, and Dancik RADAR, a user customizable dashboard for use by the sales force and management that shows the information on an iPhone, Blackberry or Treo device as well as on a computer.

Dancik also offer an e-commerce module, Decor 24, which provides round the clock web access to customers with passwords for placing orders, checking stock, checking order status, and getting pricing.

According to Dancik, the distinction among tile merchants as to whether they are wholesaler, retailers, or manufacturers, will matter less and less as more and more of the industry connects through the Web through their entire supply chain and their entire customer base. “They have to be connected for marketing, for transactions, for general communications, and therefore software has to embrace that.”

Down the line, the Floor Covering Business to Business Association (www.fcb2b.com) is promoting a B2B standard that would bring information exchange between distributors and vendors fully into the 21st century. The standard would enable a tile distributor to quickly and accurately exchange business transactions with a vendor electronically across the Internet. Distributors would take advantage of current electronic catalogs with updated pricing and have the ability to place orders, receive real-time status updates and notification of incoming vendor shipments, receive invoices electronically, all of which is potentially less error-prone and faster than similar communications by technologies once themselves considered cutting edge (mail, phone, or fax). Progress marches on.

For further information:

Activant (Prophet 21)




American Business Software (FloorPro III)




Dancik International, Ltd. (Dancik Distribution)




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