Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2000   by Allen Jones

Soft Money

Modern software lets dealers create business, not just manage it.


It’s hard to argue with the concept that tighter management of your shop activities will give you greater control of income and expenses. And it’s evident that the general design objective of shop management software gives shop owners tighter control than is possible by conventional means.

But we’re talking about a substantial investment here, in the shop management software itself, the hardware to run it, and the time it takes to set it up and learn to use it.

So, what kind of payoff should you expect? You’ll want to recoup your investment, for sure. But can you hope to actually turn a profit from the switch to shop management software? This is the bottom-line question the software suppliers must face with every sale they make.

How do they respond?

Gower Bradshaw, a vice-president for software development, Automotive Retail Manager (ARM), says the key lies in the customer follow-up features of the software. Use them to manage you customer base, and you can generate more business from the clients you’ve already won. The follow-up features can automatically generate thank-you cards, service reminders, postcards, general mailings, incentives, labels, and need-attention reminders.

Bradshaw also sees the software’s facility for tracking technician productivity as a powerful motivator and profitability tool.

John Lett, from CARS, likewise advocates the automatic follow-up systems for regular servicing of vehicles as an ideal and profitable way to entice your customers back.

Lett also points out that because purchase receipts are entered once and automatically update the customer’s invoice, all parts are accounted for. The result: big savings in accounting and bookkeeping fees. This savings alone will pay for the program in less than a year, he says.

Jim Ball, business analyst and trainer with Triad Systems, says the company’s garage management classes teach that if you can get the correct gross profit percentage and dollars each and every day, then your week, month and year just has to be right. So if you can make sure that the GP is right on every invoice on a daily basis and you have enough invoices every day, your business has to do well, as long as you are not expensing yourself to death. So it is that with the company’s software package, Pace, you can check the GP on every part, every invoice before closing, cumulative for the day, and to that point in the month.

“As we have a garage management division to the company, we have the abilitiy to help customers develop a complete business plan for their shops,” says Ball. “This plan can be entered into our software so that the customer can see his progression from his current position to as close to his potential as he wants to get – on an invoice-by-invoice and a day-by day-basis.

Janet Nelson, responding for ProfitWare, says installers can look up parts in the software’s catalog and order them via the Internet in just seconds, feeling confident they’ve ordered the correct part, and thus saving time otherwise spent on the phone with a counterperson, and reducing the likelihood of returns.

She says the pricing service provided with ProfitWare’s catalog helps the installer choose the least expensive correct part for the job.

Art Mathies, vice-president, sales, for Lankar Systems’ software, ABMS, is another advocate of the customer database as a marketing tool. He says you can use the program’s word processor in conjunction with the selectability features of Customer Mailers, to target-market special promotions. Select customers by service dates, postal codes, or customer type. Then use either merge mail, or auto-dial features of the Vehicle Reminders module to follow up on known service needs.

The Deal-Maker and Show-Margins features of ABMS, he says, will ensure that you win competitive jobs, still make a profit, and satisfy the customer.

Robert Martin, vice-president of marketing for InfoCat, says you can expect to make money with the software’s automatic service reminders, and with the help of instant profitability checks you run on every estimate and invoice. You’ll also benefit from a more professional image, and improved planning with InfoCat’s appointment grid.

If you can make money by saving it, look to reduced dead stock through automated inventory control, to strengthened productivity control, and to reduced time checking costs and ordering parts through the program’s supplier’s link.

Says Brian Warfield, Mitchell Management Systems, by using a “canned job” a shop can be sure not to forget to add those parts on the customer invoice that are many times simply overlooked. For example, hose clamps. This is not only an opportunity to charge for something that is often forgotten, but also to provide a mark-up on small items that is otherwise difficult to track.

What suppliers have to offer

Following are brief profiles of eight auto shop management software packages – not the entire current market, but a good cross-section of popular offerings, all from experienced suppliers in the field. The profiles highlight features considered by the suppliers to be most important to shop users. See the accompanying table for a full list of features for each.

Automotive Retail Manager (EKW ARM)

E.K Williams & Co.

Coming as it does from an accounting firm, ARM’s strongest element lies in financial reporting and how seamlessly data gained from the shop service writer’s desk integrates to the financial side. Its financial statements are not limited to P&Ls, but include a full general ledger, flexible balance sheet reporting, comparative income statements (compare to budget or prior periods back to three years), and current and prior year monthly P&L reviews.

ARM is easily networked if you have more than one computer in the shop. With a strong payroll component, it tracks employee classification and other data, including pay rates – flat rate, hourly, salary, commission or draw, weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, or monthly.

It calculates vacation pay, sick pay, and tracks advances and deductions as required. It uses updated tables to calculate federal and provincial taxes.

It can give summary reports by individual employee, by labour class, or by period, including performance reports. The company says 90 percent of the data it uses you input at the work order screen. The balance is done through the general ledger for month-end housekeeping.

Its inventory control function records supplier information, cost and selling prices, and allows automatic markup on parts.

It tracks stock levels and gives minimum-level reminders for easier stock balancing. It will generate purchase orders, if desired. You can also ask it for sales history reports by category of inventory.

ARM’s estimating function can check inventory for parts and look back through a job-code history for examples of like jobs. It converts estimates to work orders upon approval, and helps schedule jobs in the shop.

The company provides one day of installation and training with the initial software purchase price. Additional training is provided and billed on an as-needed basis. Telephone support is provided through a Canada-wide toll free number.

Because ARM can convert data from some other software systems, some users save a lot of setup time. Otherwise, the company says, count on 20 to 30 hours to input inventories, customer, vehicle, and supplier data.

ARM runs on IBM compatible computers using either DOS or Windows 95/98/NT or 2000 operating systems. It requires or Pentium or Celeron processor, a 4GB hard drive, and 16MB RAM.

CARS

CAR Systems

CARS is a Windows-based complete system for small-to-medium shops, integrating customers, vehicles, work history, work orders, invoicing, purchasing, inventory control, accounts receivable, accounts payable and accounting summaries.

It exports accounting information to standard accounting software.

Its strong point is integrating customer data, invoices, inventory control and accounting, the company says. You enter data at the customer/vehicle, work order, estimate or invoice s
creen. Because purchase receipts are entered only once and automatically update the customer’s invoice, all parts are accounted for in every transaction.

Although CARS is currently a single-user software package, the company has scheduled a network version for release later this year.

Its inventory function records supplier information, records cost and selling prices and allows for automatic markup. It also keeps and reports sales history, tracks stocks levels and triggers minimum level reminders to help with stock balancing. You can use it to automatically generate purchase orders.

The supplier will provide customized training. The software includes an on-line tutorial with test database and support through a 1-800 number, or via e-mail. Allow three to four hours to go through the tutorial and set up basic information about your business. Then you can enter customer, vehicle and supplier information and start producing invoices.

CAR Systems also suggests you spend some time deciding how detailed you need to be in regards to setting up accounting information. You can save time in the long run if you do. CARS runs on IBM compatible machines with Windows 3.1/95/98/NT, or on the Macintosh platform. It requires 32MB RAM, with 15MB hard disk space.

InfoCat Plus

VL-Communications division of VL Logical Versions Inc.

Electronic parts catalogues and price lists are the mainstay of InfoCat Plus. The idea is that you get the software free from UAP/NAPA, UniSelect, CarQuest and ALTROM jobbers, then pay a monthly subscription fee for electronic updates of integrated catalogues and price lists from them. This will get you updates of the shop-management software as well.

Not surprisingly, InfoCat Plus is very strong in its integration of parts information with estimates and invoicing. It can give you an instant profitability check with each transaction. And it can be networked with other computers in your shop.

It has full-featured inventory control functions: records cost and selling prices, allows you to specify automatic markup, tracks stock levels and issues automatic reminders to re-order, generates purchase orders and orders parts electronically. It keeps sales histories and generates reports.

InfoCat Plus further offers a wide menu of financial functions, tracking work orders, invoices, receipts, payables, receivables, overdue accounts, work in progress, and so on. It can summarize labour reports by technician and service code, and track subcontracted work.

It has general ledger functions and automates bank reconciliations, cheque writing and account history. It does profit and loss statements and tracks profitability. The supplier says installation time is approximately three hours and is done over the telephone. The software is user friendly and only a couple of hours are required to be able to make an estimate and/or invoice, the company says.

The supplier includes on-site training with each copy of its software, and further offers a training program of 18 hours over a three-month period. It has a multi-media training program, manuals and some training by phone. A support line is open Monday through Saturday.

InfoCat Plus requires a computer with Pentium processor and 16MB RAM, using Windows 95 or 98 operating system, 300MB hard disk space, 2X CD-ROM, and 56,000BPS (V-90) modem (except WIN Modem).

Mitchell Management Solutions: Series I/II

Mitchell Repair Information Company (MRIC)

ShopKey Management Systems: Service Writer/Shop Management

Snap-on/Sun Equipment

These are fundamentally parallel full-featured products from two different suppliers. Both are issued in two different levels – Mitchell Management Solutions Series I is the same as Snap-on’s ShopKey Service Writer, and both come without purchase order and inventory control capabilities – Mitchell’s Series II is the same as Snap-on’s ShopKey Shop Management package, and both have purchase order and inventory control capabilities. You pay extra for the additional capabilities in either software package.

However, if you’re interested in software that can interface with diagnostic hardware, then Snap-on’s ShopKey Shop Management package alone will do that. It can collect data from certain Snap-on/Sun diagnostic equipment – for example, engine analyzers and wheel aligners – and store the information in the customer’s vehicle record.

All four products can be networked with other computers in your shop. And, not surprisingly, given the Mitchell connection here, all four have strong tie-ins with parts catalogues, labour rate guides and technical databases. You can harness these elements to produce quick and accurate estimates, convert estimates to work orders, and convert the work orders to invoices.

You can even produce an estimate that outlines the labour procedure and shows a diagram of the part that needs replacement in the customer’s car. Its “profit wheel” feature helps the shop operator see that an estimate will be profitable before he agrees to do the work.

Its use of “canned jobs” helps you catch and charge for those often-forgotten repair parts that go with any job. Meanwhile the software works in the background to update customer records, parts inventory, labour utilization, and a broad menu of financial functions. Through an interface with QuickBooks it does bank reconciliation’s and in-depth financial reporting, profitability included. It calculates payroll on various pay rates and methods, vacation pay, sick pay and so forth, and uses updated tables to calculate federal and provincial tax deductions and remittances.

Mitchell and Snap-on have a field-tested method for installing, setting up and learning the software, involving seven levels of support: Step 1) Training demo software; 2) Coaching and instruction guide that teaches by using examples from the training demo database; 3) Getting-started workbook for collection of information such as tax rates and mark-up; 4) Context sensitive help (F1); 5) Screen Cam training video that is also context sensitive to the screen being viewed; 6) Comprehensive user’s guide to all documented features; and 7) Mitchell Technical Support.

The software in Windows 95/98/NT 4.0 SP4. Minimum system requirements are a Pentium 200 chip, with 64MB RAM, 400MB hard disk space, a laser or high-grade inkjet printer, IDE CD ROM drive for estimating, DVD for integrated repair data, US Robotics modem, Iomega Zip drive for backups, and APC battery backup.

Pace Business Manager

Triad Systems Canada Ltd.

This software comes from a company that has a garage management training division dedicated to helping its clients build a business plan and training them to market and manage their businesses, and to increase productivity and efficiency in their shops. The software fits neatly with this philosophy.

For example, it tracks customer loyalty, alerts you to lost customers, reports average invoice value and so forth. You use the software for feedback on how you’re doing with your customer base.

The suppliers put great emphasis on the fact that Pace is a single-data-entry system. When you enter parts from a supplier on a work order, for example, the payables and general ledger are updated immediately. Pace does not need a second entry anywhere in the program. Also noteworthy are its custom reporting capabilities, giving key business indicators in a form you want them in.

Included with Pace’s menu of financial features is a full payroll module that tracks employee data and classification and can calculate pay by any period you like. It also calculates vacation pay, sick pay, advances, deductions, federal and provincial taxes. It reports employee performance and cost summaries by individual or by period.

Canadian pricing and application parts software is integrated into the program, and can be customized by individual users. Supplier price lists can be downloaded from an Internet site.

Integrated labor guides help you with appropriate estimating and invoicing. There’s an integrated technical database available as well. This software interfaces with shop scanners, test and d
iagnostic equipment, the supplier says.

A new user could be invoicing within one hour of setup, the company says. To get the full potential from the system could take up to six months, depending upon how fast the shop manager wants to work at it. Inventory takes the longest to set up, but can be expedited by the use of electronic supplier price lists.

Initial training is provided by phone. The supplier holds monthly software training classes at its Toronto headquarters and has a travelling trainer for basic and advanced classes across Canada. There’s a 1-800 number for software support. Pace can be run on older 386 SX computers with 15MB RAM.

ProfitWare Plus

ProfitPro Inc.

Given that you can get this shop management software package free from a long list of parts jobbers, it should come as no surprise that ProfitWare Plus has strongly integrated parts catalogue features. Software and catalogue updates are likewise free. This networkable software also integrates the Mitchell Labour Guide, updated for an annual fee.

You can look up parts in the ProfitPro catalogue and order them via the Internet in just seconds, feeling confident you’ve ordered the correct part, saving time otherwise spent on the phone with a counter person and reducing the likelihood of returns. The pricing service provided with the catalogue helps you to choose the least expensive part for the job. You can set profit levels to ensure that you sell parts/services at a profitable rate.

Its inventory function records supplier information, cost and selling prices and allows for automatic markup. It tracks stock levels and issues automatic reminders for reordering at low levels. It can generate purchase orders and facilitate electronic ordering. It can also generate sales history reports.

The software records customer and vehicle information it a database and can generate service reminders, mailings, labels and attention reminders according to maintenance schedules, vehicle type, age, mileage and so forth.

It has a menu of financial functions including receivables, overdue accounts, daily totals, work in progress reports, and tracking of subcontracted work. It leaves the likes of payables, bank accounts, general ledger functions and payroll to its interface with accounting software.

The supplier offers free installation support and what it calls affordable tele-support packages. Tele-training is available for $50 per half-hour session. ProfitWare Plus is a DOS-based product that will run on older 486 computers, with 4MB RAM, CD ROM drive, and 20MB of free hard disk space. Allow a further 50MB disk space for each year of data stored.

The company plans to release a Windows-based touch-screen software package called Wrenchead Pro Manager.

The Automotive Business Management System (ABMS)

Lankar Systems Inc.

As you write a work order, or an estimate which ABMS will convert to a work order, you can: access inventory/parts; order and record receiving parts; create and access pre-set (canned) jobs; access vehicle history; return cores for supplier credits; view profit margins; take payments in advance; assign or modify technician costs, special discounts, varying labour rates or alternate tax structure on a line-by-line basis, if and as required; record special notes to the customer; access or update customer and vehicle records; and much more.

In other words, ABMS is a complete, integrated shop management package that learns your business while you learn to be more productive and more profitable by using it.

A built-in word processor links with a Custom Mailers feature to help you target-market special promotions, selecting customers from the database by service dates, postal codes, customer type and more.

An Auto-Dial feature in the Vehicle Reminders module gives quick and easy follow-ups on known service needs.

Its Deal-Maker and Show-Margins features are designed to help you win competitive jobs at a price that will make you a profit and satisfy your customer at the same time.

You can upgrade from the single-station version to a network version of ABMS by a simple phone call to the supplier.

ABMS can do your bank deposits, withdraws, cheque writing, track bank charges, account reconciliation and history. Its general-ledger features include current and previous-period totals, summaries, profit-and-loss statements and profitability reports.

A payroll module tracks employee data, pay rates by flat rate, hourly, salary, commission or draw. It reports summaries by individual, by class or by period, and tracks employee performance.

Inventory control records supplier information, cost and selling prices, reports sales history and generates ordering reminders when stock reaches minimum levels.

You can use it for electronic ordering as well. Rather than using parts catalogues and labour guides from outside suppliers, ABMS prompts you to build your own.

To get the system up and running in your shop, the supplier says to allow 15 minutes to establish all preferred general system and order-writing default settings, then five minutes per employee to set up user IDs, user privileges and mechanic cost profiles, one minute per parts supplier to establish account profiles and tax rules, plus two minutes for each unique part you currently have in inventory. It takes three to four hours to learn how to use ABMS with confidence.

Lankar offers on-site user training at $300 per four-hour session.

A technical support option costs $250 per year for a single-station system and provides toll-free telephone support, plus software updates.

ABMS runs on PCs with Windows 95/98/NT/2000 operating systems.

The supplier recommends a 450 MHz PC with 64MB RAM, 1/2 GB hard disk space, CD ROM drive, 56 KB modem, 100 MB ZIP drive for backup, battery power backup with telephone jacks, and an inkjet or sheet-fed laser printer.

How much do they cost?

Automotive Retail Manager (EKW ARM)

E.K Williams & Co.

The full price of $2,995 gets everything except ARM’s optional payroll module. Add $300 for that. The company supplies software updates twice a year, for which you pay an annual subscription fee of $450. Add $125 a year if you want updates to the payroll module.

CARS

CAR Systems

For $1095 you get the software, plus support and updates/enhancements for one year. The updates currently come at three to four per year. After year one, ongoing support and updates/enhancements are available for $175 a year. AARO members receive AARO dollar points with purchase of program.

InfoCat Plus

VL-Communications division of VL Logical Versions Inc.

The software is free. But to get updates, the shop has to register with InfoCat and pay a one-time installation and account-opening fee of $300. Then InfoCat charges a monthly subscription fee of $100 for access to all updates of catalogues, price lists, software and the use of its toll-free help line. There’s no contract, so a shop can cancel upon notification by fax or mail.

Mitchell Management Solutions

Mitchell Repair Information Company (MRIC)

Series I costs $2299. Add purchase order and inventory capabilities and the Series II version costs $3699. You get one year of software updates and support. There is at least one maintenance update and one major enhancement update (sometimes these are combined).After the initial year, updates cost between $299 and $499

Pace Business Manager

Triad Systems Canada Ltd.

The software starts at $4995. From that point there can be add-ons based on different modules and services.

It could run as high as $8200 with all modules, services, training, 1-800 support, and on-site installation included.

ProfitWare Plus

ProfitPro Inc.

Currently 330 to 350 suppliers participate in the ProfitWare Everywhere program. Participating suppliers provide to their installers, free of charge, the full management software package, with electronic parts cataloguing.

Software and catalogue updates are sent to registered ProfitWare Plus users quarterly at no charge.

ProfitWare’s sales department directs installers to particip
ating suppliers in their area – phone 1-888-879-9996 or 1-800-879-9996. Mitchell Labor Guide is available to registered users of ProfitWare Plus for $195 a year.

Alternatively, you can buy ProfitWare Plus directly from ProfitPro. For $50 you get the software and current catalogue release.

ShopKey

Snap-on/Sun Equipment

ShopKey Service Writer costs $2299. Add purchase order and inventory capabilities and the Shop Management version costs $3699. You get one year of software updates and support. There is at least one maintenance update and one major enhancement update (sometimes these are combined). After the initial year, updates cost between $299 and $499

The Automotive Business Management System (ABMS)

Lankar Systems Inc.

Full price for a single-station system is $1,299 and includes a life-time license to the complete system – order-writing, inventory control, accounts receivable, accounts payable, tax reports, cash drawer management, banking, word processor, shop scheduler and so forth.

Updates are released as required by customer demand and competitive spirit – usually two or three times per year. All updates are provided at no additional charge to all then currently supported customers.

Business Software 2000

Features and Benefits

ARM InfoCat CARS Mitchell Pace ProfitWare ShopKey ABMS
Plus Management Business Plus Management
Solutions Manager Systems
Management Functions
Write work orders YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Write invoices YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Write receipts YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Daily income totals YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Daily drawer report YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Accounts receivable YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Overdue accounts YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Accounts payable YES YES YES YES YES NO YES YES
Inventory activity YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Parts utilized summary YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Completed work YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Work in progress YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Pending work orders YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Labour rendered YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Summarizes subcontracted work YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Bank accounts
Deposits YES YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Withdrawls YES YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Cheque writing NO YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Bank charge tracking YES YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Account reconciliation NO YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Account history YES YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
General ledger
Current totals – previous period totals YES YES YES YES YES NO YES YES
Summaries YES YES YES YES YES NO YES YES
Trial balance YES YES NO YES YES NO YES NO
Profit & loss statements YES YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Profitability reports YES YES NO YES YES NO YES YES
Balance sheet YES YES NO YES YES NO YES NO
Payroll
Tracks employee data YES NO NO YES YES NO YES YES
Employee classification YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Pay rates – flat rate – hourly rate – salary – commission – draw YES NO NO YES YES NO YES YES
Pay – weekly – biweekly – semi-monthly – monthly YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Vacation pay YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Sick pay YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Advances YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Deductions YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Federal & provincial taxes YES NO NO YES YES NO YES NO
Tax tables – updates YES NO NO YES NO NO YES NO
Reports – summarized by individual, by class, by period YES NO NO YES YES NO YES YES
Employee performance reports YES NO NO YES YES NO YES YES
Inventory control
Records cost prices YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Records selling prices YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Automates markup YES YES YES YES YES YES YES NO
Sales history YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Sales reporting YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Tracks stock levels – minimum reminders – stock balancing YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Generates purchase orders YES YES YES YES YES YES YES NO
Allows electronic ordering YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Records supplier information YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Estimating
Checks inventory YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Checks job code history (vehicle history) YES YES NO YES YES YES YES
Work orders
Converts estimates to work orders YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Work scheduling YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Customer database
Records vehicle history YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Records maintenance history YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Type of account YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Selects accounts or groups by mileage – age – service date – service type – maintenance schedule – vehicle type YES YES NO YES YES YES
Customer follow-up
Generates thank-you cards, service reminders, postcards, general mailings, incentives, labels, needs-attention reminders YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Groups by mileage, age service data, service type, maintenance schedule, vehicle type YES YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Options, add-ons
Parts catalogues NO YES NO YES YES YES YES YES
Labour guides, rages NO NO NO YES YES YES YES YES
Technical database NO NO NO YES YES YES YES NO
Interfaces with scanners, test equipment, diagnostic tools NO NO NO NO YES NO NO NO
Exports data to major-league accounting software YES NO YES YES NO YES YES NO

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