Investing in a new management software system may be the furthest thought from your mind right now.
But consider this: Management software can save a lot of staff time and ultimately boost your bottom line.
While it’s true that implementing new software takes resources, the rewards of doing it right can be great. Pool & Spa News recently spoke with a variety of builders, retailers and service technicians about how management software programs have changed the way they do business.
Builder: Champagne Aquatech Pools
No one knows the value of management software better than Michael Manley, president of Champagne Aquatech Pools , a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Sanford, Fla. In 2004, when hurricane damage from Charley caused the company’s entire computer system to fail, the proprietary scheduling software that Manley’s team had spent years developing was lost — along with data on all 260 jobs under construction at the time.
“Our whole life was built on this system, and it was all gone,” he says.
That’s why Manley decided to implement a Web-based system that safely stores all the company’s data off site. The program went live six months ago, and it supports every customer transaction, including sales, scheduling, warranty and service calls after a pool has been completed. It also handles the accounting side of the business.
“You can be building 25 pools a year, or you can be building 1,000 pools a year, and this system will work for you,” Manley says.
Sales staff, vendors and subcontractors can all access the system remotely if desired. Even customers can check their accounts, view the schedule and receive messages from the company, such as e-mail reminders to select the tile for their projects.
Manley stresses that this system has not replaced direct communication with his customers. But having these details available online has greatly reduced the frequency with which customers call the office.
The system also has dramatically increased staff productivity. Manley notes that even large companies using the software would need to have only one person in charge of scheduling.
“If you’re looking for ways to be more efficient and to bring costs down, automation is definitely one of the ways to do that,” he says.
Builder: Gold Medal Pools
Last year, Gold Medal Pools Inc. in Frisco, Texas, undertook a major software conversion, trading out several smaller programs for one unified system designed to track every aspect of the business. Making real-time information available to all departments was the main goal.
“If a homeowner calls our office, anyone there will be able to give them an answer to their question because they will have the background on the job,” says Josh Sandler, vice president of Gold Medal Pools.
Completing a successful transition to the new software was a group effort and involved a fair amount of training. “It took a lot of patience and a lot of persistence, not only to implement the change, but also to make the change stick,” Sandler says. “If everyone puts in the correct information, you can get very powerful results out of it.”
To make sure all employees were on the same page, the vendor set up phone calls, Web seminars, meetings and video conferences to answer questions, offer tutorials and help work through the transition. Sandler also credits having a tech-savvy employee within the company with helping this effort proceed smoothly.
Once the software program was up and running, it soon became obvious that everyone was benefiting from office efficiencies. For example, employees on a job site now can send work orders directly to the office from their laptops rather than waiting to process them until the end of the day. This means a faster turnaround for the customer, too. For Sandler, these benefits made the software a worthwhile investment.
“At the end of the day, it really helps our employees do their jobs more efficiently, and our customer’s experience is all the better for it,” Sandler says. “When we’re able to do that as a company, the expense is an investment in everyone’s future, and that’s how we see it.”
Retailer: A&M Corson’s AquaValue
When Dallas Boyer, CEO of A&M Corson’s AquaValue in Scottsdale, Ariz., started searching for a better software system, she was quickly disappointed. Having separate reorder points and quantities for each of her five retail stores and two warehouses was a top priority. But none of the software programs she looked into supported this feature.
Just when Boyer was about to give up, she met with a vendor whose software could not only support separate reorder points, but also reflected live transactions that allowed each store to see exactly what is in stock at the other locations throughout the day.
A hardware setback in February delayed plans to go live with the new system, but portions were operating by March. Now that the pool season rush has subsided, Boyer is working to ensure that sales from the beginning of the year also are reflected in the system.
She says the new accounting system is much easier to use. “Instead of having five separate ‘companies’ for five separate stores, we have it all in one ‘company,’” Boyer says. “So we don’t have to jump in and out in between ‘companies’ in our programs for the accounting part.” She can also easily run reports on each separate store.
“The POS programs are as easy to use as a cash register,” Boyer notes. “When you get into the accounting, it gets a little more confusing.” Still, she says the learning curve isn’t too steep on the accounting side, especially for those who have worked with other accounting programs previously.
For Boyer, the benefit of investing in software is the sheer amount of information she can have on her business at the touch of a button. For example, the software can instantaneously calculate the average ticket sale whenever it’s needed.
“It gives you data that you could not get otherwise,” she says. “It just gives you so much more information that you can then use to work on your business.”
Retailer: Aqua Palace Spa and Pool
When it became clear that her store’s inventory system was no longer a good fit for her business, Cindy Rolenc knew it was time to make a switch.
The vice president of Aqua Palace Spa and Pool in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was using a program with decent accounting capabilities, but the point-of-sale side couldn’t handle special orders, service calls and warranty-related items.
So in 2005, the firm invested in a POS system that could handle more complicated transactions, including tracking special customer discounts. For example, if a customer purchases a spa and a chemical kit simultaneously, they qualify for a 25 percent discount off their chemical purchases from that point on. Whenever the clerk pulls up the customer’s name, the software will bring up the discount automatically.
“By simply clicking ‘Apply,’ it will take that discount amount off their purchase,” Rolenc says.
The software also is instrumental in the store’s Fun Pass customer-appreciation program. Shoppers bring in Fun Pass ID cards that are swiped at every transaction, and the software automatically tallies the points based on their purchases. “This qualifies them for either additional discounts or a free item once they hit certain levels,” Rolenc says.
The software vendor is active about system updates, and also solicits customer feedback. Currently, Rolenc is working with the vendor to allow kit pricing on customer receipts instead of long lists of line items.
“Then the customer’s receipt would just show a kit with that price, but you’re able to cost it out on a separate screen,” she says.
Ultimately, Rolenc is satisfied with the switch to a new POS system. “It gives us more accurate information and a much easier way of tracking than before,” she says.
Service: PM Pool Service
Before PM Pool Service in Roselle, N.J., switched over to its current software system in early 2007, it was obvious that the company’s old mainframe-based system was no longer meeting its needs.
“We found it was almost impossible to do any type of efficient routing as well as inventory control with that old version,” says Mike Izzo, vice president of operations. “It just wasn’t very flexible.”
After a year-long search, the company opted for a program that also incorporated the advanced billing features they needed, as well as scheduling features that allowed the staff to arrange jobs by geographic area, or even the expertise level of techs.
“We actually saw an efficiency increase when it came to gas and labor hours,” Izzo says. “I’d say it was probably a 10- to 15 percent reduction in direct costs.”
Since implementing the software, Izzo has worked with the vendor on improvements and new features. Last year, he was part of a focus group that helped shape the latest major release of the software.
“All the features that came out of that version were custom-made and tailored based on our feedback,” he says. One of these features is a past-due and credit-alert system that visually notifies users to late payments.
For firms that are researching software options, Izzo recommends getting feedback from data-entry staff, then calling the vendor to see how their software would work in the company’s environment.
“Don’t just go online, download their demo and play with it,” he says. “Call them and let them go through it with you.”
- Purchasing Tips
Consider the following factors to make sure you find a good fitting software program.
Following is a list of some of the leading design, management and service-related software available to pool and spa professionals.
- “PoolDraw” by Constructive Software Solutions
- “Pool Studio” by Structure Studios
- “Pro-Suite” by ESI Corp.
- “The Suite: ImageWorks, SplashWorks,QuoteWerks” by Pool Design Software
- “ActivLogic” by ActivLogic Inc.
- “The Parts Wizard” by Cardol
- “CounterPoint” by Radiant Systems
- “Evosus” by Evosus Inc.
- “EzPOS” by Systems West
- “The JobClock System” by Exaktime
- “Pool Pro Office” by Pool Pro Office Inc.
- “The Pool Program” by Wise Software & Computer Products Inc.
- “RB Control Systems” by RB Control Systems
- “ScheduleViewer” by Schedule Viewer
- “ESC 9.0” by dESCO
- “Pool Watch Software” by Home Port Computer
- “In the Field” by Arrow Storm Corp.
- “PC Pool Pal PROfessional” by Pool Software
- “ServiceCEO” by Insight Direct
- “The Service Program” by Westrom Software