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Installing a New Computer System

Time For a new computer

Perhaps you installed your first computer as we did back in the 1980's. It was a traumatic experience as it was a time there were few people who had already installed one, and few experiences - good and bad - that we could learn from.

As we performed update after update over the next 12 years, the installation of software and hardware became easier and easier. The questions we asked of the computer sales people, installers and technicians became more precise. And as we learned from their answers, we were able to better utilize and benefit from our system.

If you are still operating on a computer system that came out before the Pentium series, with an operating system that predated the original Windows, and printers that were of the original dot matrix variety, it is probably time for you to revisit the question of your computer needs.

Purchasing a new computer system today can be overwhelming. Let's start with a look at the software options. You can purchase a system that is generic to the retail industry as well as systems that are unique to the power equipment trade - offering features such as serial tracking, warranty billing, and even reminders for servicing. You can also find systems, both general retail and power equipment specific, that offer a total package including inventory, point of sale (POS), accounts receivable and payable, general ledger, as well as being able to transmit orders and receive pricing updates.

If you choose to purchase a software package that is not integrated, determine how you are going to get the information from one software package to another. For example, if your system is POS and inventory exclusively, look to see what format you receive information about inventory on hand. Are you going to have to take a printout from the inventory software and then manually enter it into the accounts payable software, and then again into the general ledger software?

Of course, the sales representative for a software program will tell you why the system you purchase from them should or should not have all of the parts - depending on how their system is configured. The correct answer to the question remains with you as only you can determine what components you will utilize. Notice that I said utilize as compared to need. For many businesses that need the various components will purchase them only to fail to utilize them. If you are utilizing an accountant to prepare your monthly financials, there probably is little need for you to have a software package that includes general ledger.

Two questions of concern will be, support in the event you experience a problem, as well as what hardware configurations their software package operate on. Many software providers offer a software support package, for a fee, in which they offer technicians by phone and on line. You will want to verify the hours of support they offer and the response time, as well as ask several of their current users how well their support people work with non-technical people such as yourself. (Hint, try to find some dealers that are not on the list they offer, just to make sure you are getting all types of opinions of their software and software support.)

Some dealers that are computer savvy will not need to utilize their support services and will do well by investing that monthly expense elsewhere in their business. Others will need to be able to grab a phone and make a call to get help in correcting a problem, especially when your entire system crashes and you are grabbing for the pencil and paper just to hand write transactions.

As for the hardware compatibility, checking with several of the software providers they report that 70% of the purchasers of their systems need to purchase new hardware. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that many dealers wait much too late to update their hardware and software. Hardware and software are very rapidly being updated with faster and more reliable versions.

As an example, while Windows XP is sold as being compatible with most computers, many computer technicians will advise against installing XP into what was the newest computer of only four years ago.

A concern with any combination of hardware and software will be reliability and speed. If you experience problems with either, it can be very frustrating for you and your customers.

Looking at the hardware side of the equation, ask other dealers using the system what hardware they are using. Many shop owners in deciding to add POS to their system are overwhelmed by what they see in a business. Actually, most POS units are nothing more than a PC that has several "plug and play" items added to it. These items include, cash receipt printer, invoice printer, scanner, cash drawer and LED display to show the customer the amount of purchase.

"Plug and play" items do exactly what their name implies. When you plug them into the PC, and then power each of them, the PC quickly detects their presence and knows what to do. For example with a "plug and play" cash drawer, the PC will know to trigger the drawer to open when the enter key is pressed.

Looking further at the hardware you will want to ask if each of the units you purchase are networked together. This indicates that the units are sharing the information about each of the items you stock. When one is sold over the counter to a customer, or when a service technician takes the item to use in a repair, the inventory file which is shared by all of the units is updated so that one POS is not trying to sell the item that just went off the shelf into a repair.

With any of the hardware components that are not the traditional "over the counter" variety, you will want to be sure of how quickly, easily and affordably, you can get a replacement.

If your business is using a traditional PC system and one of the machines goes down, you could go to a local computer store to purchase a replacement with the necessary configuration. However, if the company that you purchase the hardware system from tells you they build their own systems, you will definitely want to know how quickly, and at what expense they can get you a replacement part or unit.

There is also the question of what you can do with your system if the hardware and software vendor goes out of business. Will you be able to get help by locating another company? Or will you be forced to start all over?

Answering these questions to your satisfaction can go a long way toward allowing you to concentrate on the true reason you purchased a computer which is to manage your business and increase profits. Businesses that have the highest sales per square foot, the highest average sales ticket, and the greatest return on their investment do not do so by accident.

They have accomplished this because that have learned how to maximize the profitability by way of the information they receive from their computers. Is it time for a new computer for your business?

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179