Management software: It can pay for itself

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It’s a ‘strategic asset,’ not an expense, say marketers of the marine-specific packages

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It wasn’t all that long ago that the most efficient way for a marine dealer to measure profitability was literally to look at the bottom line — of his or her checkbook.

If there was any cash left after paying the bills, guess what? The business was profitable.

Although skeptics might argue some still measure their success (or lack thereof) the same way today, the fact is more and more of them are turning to business management software systems to improve efficiency, productivity and, yes, the bottom line. That’s especially important today, when dealers are scrambling to reduce costs in the face of a declining market.

Business management software helps an owner track the efficiency of every aspect of the business. Experts say it can pinpoint problem areas in daily operations that are increasing costs and causing customer service issues.

“We wouldn’t be in business today without it,” says one marine retailer who, citing a need for confidentiality, asked not to be named. “We monitor everything from point of sale to product delivery, as well as customer follow-up. It’s an indispensible tool, really.”

There’s no shortage of software providers out there.

Among the major players in marine-specific packages are Dockmaster, WatchCaptain and Paulson Software, but a simple Google search brings up other names. These programs all offer various benefits and advantages. They can cost anywhere from a few thousand to more than $100,000, but the experts say the added efficiency and associated cost savings more than pay for the systems over time.

Don’t think for a minute, however, that the systems are problem solvers on their own. These same experts caution that business management software is a tool and should be treated as such. Like any tool, the results a software package delivers depend on the expertise and dedication of the user, as well as the support offered by the provider.

“You can’t just boot it up and think your problems are solved,” says the anonymous marine dealer. “You have to tailor it to the needs of your business. And make sure you’re dealing with a company that offers training and technical support. That’s a must.”

Clark Beaty, vice president of sales at Dockmaster, agrees.

“Business management software does not manage your business,” he says. “It allows you to monitor and to reconcile the management of your business.”

Dockmaster, based in Palm Beach, Fla., introduced what the company says was the marine industry’s first business management software system in 1983, not long after the introduction of the first DOS-driven personal computer. Like competing products, its software can monitor all aspects of any marine-related business — dealership, marina, boatyard or manufacturing operation.

The software is completely compatible with Microsoft Windows, the dominant operating system. Beaty says it is simple to use and covers 95 percent of daily functions at the typical marine dealership. “There’s only 5 percent of their business we can’t report on, which would be outside the scope of their normal business,” he says.

It’s applicable to dealerships of any size, from single location mom-and-pop operations to multi-outlet retailers, Beaty says. And again, the software monitors every aspect of the business. Available now in its sixth version (version 6.2), it features modules that monitor everything from point of sale, service and inventory to accounts payable, accounts received and sales leads.

“It allows you to monitor the interaction between your various departments, between your various locations and see how products … flow through the business,” Beaty says. “Boat sales might be profitable … but the rigging department might drop the ball, so you’re not profitable.”

Dockmaster and other business management software companies help business operators target and address those issues. “It’s a cost-flow management tool,” says Beaty.

Paulson Computer Systems Inc., based in Fife, Wash., was founded in 1981. It offers business management software systems to a variety of industries, including the marine and recreational vehicle industries. The company has just introduced the latest edition of its InvenTrakk system, according to David Bledsoe, director of marketing.

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“In the past, like a lot of programs out there, you had to be fairly computer-literate to use our software,” Bledsoe says. “InvenTrakk is an easier-to-use, Windows-based system with point-and-click capabilities.”
It requires very little training and is compatible with most accounting software, including the highly popular Quickbooks system, offered by Intuit. Available in four editions, Bledsoe says it’s priced as low as $5,000. Like other systems, it’s designed to help retailers monitor all aspects of their businesses.

The program is used by about 700 marine dealers, says Bledsoe, who says it is adaptable to the needs of small and large dealers.

Another software supplier is Watch Captain, based in Mattapoisett, Mass.

“Business management systems like Watch Captain are the best observers of your company’s  activity,” says chief operating officer Tony Pimentel. “They collect critical data points like who your customers are, what they buy, when they buy it and what kind of problems you may be having — even if you don’t know about them yet.

“If you are using your system properly it is a strategic asset — not a cost of doing business. By giving key employees more data, your company can benefit from better control over projects, budgets and staffing,” Pimentel says.

Watch Captain is available in a variety of editions, including a marina version the company says is being used by more than 300 marinas worldwide.

These three systems are among many business management software programs available for the marine industry. Industry watchers say all have their advantages, but when buying any service or product, it’s best to shop around and talk to current users before buying.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue.

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