Counter intelligence

Computer technology has changed, and is continuing to change, the way Australian jewellery retailers do business. Jenny Berich looks at the software options available today…
Computer technology has made the complex task of running a jewellery store significantly easier; so why are so many jewellers still running their stores manually?
Although there are no concrete figures available, it is generally agreed that Australian jewellery retail stores currently fit into one of three roughly equal-sized categories: those using a jewellery industry specific software program; those using a generic program like QuickBooks, MYOB or Excel; and those still operating manually (ie, handwriting receipts, etc)
There may be some advantages to running some jewellery stores manually, particularly very small outlets, but most store owners can only benefit from software that helps make their job a lot easier – unless of course they genuinely enjoy the more mundane tasks of retailing such as stocktaking, invoice writing, repair tracking and financial reporting!
The good news for those wanting to eradicate most of the work associated with such tasks is that the software options available today are much more user-friendly than ever before so there is no need to be tech-savvy to reap the benefits.
Currently, there are four main jewellery industry specific software programs available in Australia: Swim, ARMS, TheEdge and Tower Systems.
Like most products, each has its own merits. Retailers simply have to choose the one that best meets their business’s unique needs.
Octahedron’s Swim software was launched on the market in 2001 after Raeleen Kaesehagen, who was studying computers/IT and law at the time, created a program for her parents’ Brisbane-based jewellery store.
“In around 1997 my father wanted to find a software program to help run his store but couldn’t find anything that was modern, relevant and easy-to-use so he asked me to write one,” recalls Kaesehagen.
“I wrote the program and didn’t think much about it until around 2000 when the GST was coming in and I started getting phone calls from people saying that they had heard that I had a program that was easy to use – the travelling salespeople who used to come into the store had seen the program and had spread the word.”
A year later Kaesehagen launched Swim (Savings with Improved Management) software to help jewellers “take care of their whole business” rather than just POS with features such as inventory control, customer relationship management, manufacturing and repair management and business and intelligence reporting.
Two years on Raeleen transformed Swim from a “traditional” CD-based program into a “unique” web-based program that requires “no installation time”.
“Once store owners have our fully loaded ‘plug and play box’ all they have to do is type in the word ‘swim’ to start the program up on screen,” she says.
Today Octahedron supplies Swim software to “clients from around the world” as well as 250 companies in Australia.
The software is leased on a subscription basis (currently $250 a month per store) with no upfront fees or lock-in period while training is provided online via e-learning so that “staff can learn what they need to know at their own pace”.
Kaesehagen says that the system is so user-friendly that staff can start managing transactions almost immediately: “they just have to turn it on, put in their store details and inventory and start using it”.
“Time saving is Swim’s biggest advantage,” she says.
“For example, if a client comes in to your store with a damaged item you have to work out who the supplier is, where the invoice is, when they bought it, etc but with Swim the whole process only takes about five seconds as you just key in the client’s name and the sale comes up on screen.
“The program also has an RFID scanning feature which uses radio frequency signals to scan multiple tags so staff can do a whole counter in a few minutes as they don’t have to physically handle any items to scan barcodes individually.
“This means that a store that normally takes one to two weeks to stocktake can be done in two hours.”
Despite such obvious timesaving advantages, Kaesehagen readily acknowledges that many jewellery stores can manage without computer software but asks: “Why would they want to?”
“There is no doubt that store owners can manage a store manually but do they really want to work six days a week for eight to 12 hours a day or do you they want to do the same job in four hours a day.”
In a similar vein Mark Fletcher, the managing director of Tower Systems, believes that the majority of Australian jewellery stores would benefit greatly from upgrading to a jewellery industry specific software system.
His company, which also provides software programs for newsagency, convenience, jewellery, gift, and bicycling retailers, has been providing jewellery retailers with a “whole of business management solution” for around 15 years.
Currently used by over 350 jewellers in Australia and New Zealand, Tower System’s desktop-based software system helps retailers “buy well and merchandise well” and therefore “operates from the sales counter, through to the back office, through to the repairs workshop” with a range of facilities including POS, customer management, marketing, repairs, stock management, business reporting and theft management.
He says many retail jewellers often mistakenly think of software in the context of POS facilities only: “While a general POS system will cover some of the needs in a jewellery business, it will not address jewellery specific needs and this is where generic software can let the business down”.
“Our jewellery software is specifically designed to help jewellers improve customer service, to help them run jewellery specific loyalty programs, to help them make decisions that are quite unique to jewellery businesses (eg to identify items that are moving quickly versus items that are moving slowly, to manage secondhand goods, to grade stock by gem type), and which off-the-shelf products like MYOB can’t do.”
According to Fletcher, one of the major advantages of Tower’s jeweller software is that it electronically connects retailers with around 20 suppliers.
He says this can save jewellers both time and money.
“If they choose they can automatically give the supplier sales data which lets the supplier modify the supply chain to more efficiently supply the product to the jeweller – this improved efficiency could mean a better margin for the jeweller or a better price for the consumer but either way the jewellery business is set to benefit.”
The use of the software program varies greatly between stores but the “typical jeweller” would lease the system, “which includes everything they need including the computer, the scanner, printers, the software, on-site training and a year of software support” for $85 a week.
Fletcher stresses however that training and follow-up telephone support is key to the program’s success.
“Personal face-to-face training with an installation and training specialist is provided to all clients,” he says.
“This ensures that they get the most out of the system from the day it is installed.”
Similarly Mike Dyer, sales manager from Retail Edge Consultants, also argues that non-jewellery specific software is largely inadequate for jewellery retailers’ special needs.
He says the company’s software program, TheEdge, which was introduced into Australia in 2005, is the “biggest jewellery software package in the world” and the only “jewellery software available in Australia written in .Net, Microsoft’s latest language and development platform.”
Currently used by around 250 jewellers in Australia and New Zealand and more than 2500 internationally, the software boasts “feature-rich functionality that covers the full spectrum of requirements for the jewellery market” so that “the client can use the system to the depth required, in the areas required”.
The software has “many benefits not available in general purpose accounting software” such as special orders, full stone details, extensive repair tracking, custom job and manufacturing module, staff evaluation and staff performance tracking, loyalty card and points system, gift certificate tracking, time card system, wish lists and lost sales.
In addition it is interfaced to JewelLover (stock clearance website), Jewel Matrix (professional valuation software) and Jewelsure (Insurance tracking).
The “full version” of TheEdge software plus on-site costs (including support, upgrades and business development days) is priced at $11,000.
The company “prefers” to provide two and a half days onsite training followed by a “12-step training program at the client’s own pace”.
According to Dyer the “typical store” is entering sales/refunds, laybys and special orders in the first day after conversion from previous system while some stores are “using in-depth features” in the first week.
He too emphasises the importance of adequate training in maximising the benefits of a software program.
“Computer systems without ongoing training would be a ‘cost’ to a business rather than a business asset to generate extra income/profit business, he says.
“Retail Edge not only provides ongoing training on how to use TheEdge but also business management training.”
Meanwhile ARMS promises to provide jewellers with “the total solution” to a more profitable business by “combining jewellery specific software with friendly technical support staff and experienced management coaches”. 
Company marketing manager Carolyn Line says ARMS (Advanced Retail Management Systems) has provided simple to use software and specialised business development to jewellers around the globe for almost 30 years.
“The innovative Windows based Signature Series software was designed by a jewellery retailer to not only meet, but exceed the current needs of jewellery retailers to allow for their future business growth,” she explains.
The comprehensive suite of programs includes POS, Supergem stock control and reorder system, general ledger, customer accounts and supplier accounts, financial control, sales forecasting, repair tracker, valuations, stocktake, customer relationship manager and Open to Buy budgeting
According to Line, Supergem stock control is the heart beat of the Signature Series software.
“Stock is without question the major investment for retailers and wholesalers and how well a business performs is determined by how well stock is managed..
“Performance is determined by the level of essential information and tools available because ‘you cannot improve what you cannot measure’.
“Supergem’s first version was written in the early 1980s and since then the program has been rewritten four times to advance from a simple one store stock control program to a sophisticated 1 to 1000 sites stock management system, and it will continue to develop to handle changing trading conditions.”
Line believes ARMS innovative software stands outs from its competitors because “it was created by a jewellery retailer for jewellery retailers”.
Malcolm Alderton. created the specifications for the original software design three decades ago and continues to be involved in all aspects of program enhancement.
“Mr Alderton spends a lot time in stores listening to clients and understanding the changes in trading trends.It is from this close interaction with clients that ARMS plans changes and improvements to the range of programs available to ensure the needs of retailers and wholesalers are met as trading conditions change.”
Line adds that other important attributes of the jewellery specific software include the fact that it is modular (this enables retailers to start with its foundation programs and then add modules as their business grows) and world class technical support (“every call to ARMS Client Services worldwide in business hours is answered by a human, not a machine”).
ARMS, which is currently used in 415 stores in Australian and another 900 stores overseas, has a starting price of $5995 “depending on the number of stores and modules chosen”. 
Line says the average store owner requires four days training to maximise the software’s full potential.
“Experience shows that when any software is installed, if people are not fully trained on it, the software can become frustrating and is not used to its full potential,” she says.
“Therefore ARMS puts emphasis on comprehensive operator training either onsite at the store or in the ARMS offices.
“After the training is completed, ARMS’ technical support team takes over the hand- holding by answering questions on ‘how to’ to ensure the client is comfortable using the software.”
Indeed despite the functional and operational differences between the software systems on offer, all of the wholesalers are unanimous in their belief that training is essential for the successful implementation of software into a jewellery store.
It seems that even with the most modern computing technology on hand the old adage still applies: a poor tradesman blames his tools.
Hence the best software program in the world won’t improve your business’s bottom-line – unless you know how to use it!