In today’s hyper-paced world of “I need it in half an hour,” jobbers must rely on inventory reports, competitive pricing data, and GPS-enabled parts delivery tracking to remain at the top of their game. Accurate, in-depth data reports are critical to their ability to provide quality service to their customer base. They can stand tall or fall hard based on how quickly and accurately they get the job done. At the heart of each jobber and automotive service provider’s operation beats a comprehensive, user-friendly database management system that provides in-depth inventory and cash flow reports, and provides a myriad of customer analytics that provide vital up-to-the-minute insights into every possible aspect of the business operation. “For us, we have found that Compass is a very strong component of the Epicor Eagle system that we implemented two years ago. Its report building and analytics really give us the ability to build any type of report that we can imagine, to measure specifically what we want to measure. What I have found in the past with other systems is you have to tailor your business to how the computer program functions. But with the Epicor Eagle system, in many regards, and especially with Compass, we can develop for ourselves what we wish to develop, and do things the way we know will work best for us,” explains Steve Van Kessel, who is the co-owner of Parry Automotive with his sister Susan Peacock. “We now have the ability to drill in on so much more of what we need to be measuring and managing. But, like anything, the initial changeover can be a little overwhelming,” says Van Kessel. “It’s a very big step to change a computer system, but we did a significant amount of advanced training by running parallel systems. We kept our old system in place running the business, and had a mock system set up here a few months in advance of the changeover, so we had time to get to know the system. Even though this was a big help, nothing can really prepare you for the morning that you go live,” adds Van Kessel. “For the first few days it was quite overwhelming. It was like learning a whole new language. But now, two years later, if I was to ask my staff to go back and do an invoice on the old system, they would likely be very upset with me.” Parry Automotive is now about to move up to the next-generation Eagle N series when it’s released in the coming weeks. “Once the release is good to go, we will be implementing the N system. The layout design is much cleaner and easier to use. They have implemented a great deal of the Compass analytics right into specific modules of the Eagle system, so now all the information and data that we need quick access to is in the inventory section or in the accounts receivable section of the system, so we no longer have to go to a different location to find it. It just makes it that much more efficient,” explains Van Kessel. Another feature Van Kessel finds handy are the mobile apps Epicor has developed that allow users to check in on the fly. “I can look at high-priority items on my phone or iPad while on the road. There are different reports and applications and certain business analytics that I can go in and check on, right from my phone or iPad. It keeps me connected at all times to real-time data,” adds Van Kessel. With four parts stores and a driveline shop, inventory control and purchase order management are two very key features that Kenton Switzer of Pat’s Auto Parts in Grand Prairie, Alberta, requires in his inventory management system. According to Switzer, the Rinax X4 has this area covered better than anyone else out there. “Inter-branch transfer and multi-branch purchase order are by far the best parts of the Rinax X4 system. If you run as a single branch, I’m sure there are a lot of good, comparable systems out there, but as far as multiple-branch operations go, Rinax is a step ahead,” says Switzer. Rinax also offers the Elite EXTRA GPS (Extreme Tracking and Routing Application) delivery service, which allows jobbers to effectively dispatch deliveries and track them on the Web in real time so they can give customers up-to-the-minute ETAs. The dispatcher can upload documents to the Elite EXTRA for delivery tracking, route management, remote signature capture, and driver tracking. “We live in a point-and-click world now, and it is a lot easier to train people on the Rinax X4 than the older Rinax Legacy version,” says Switzer. “That being said, we still go back to the old character-based system to run a couple of inventory reports now and again, because it is just so much faster and easier and my counterman of 17 years prefers this method. I would train him on the new system, but – hey, old dogs, new tricks, you know the drill,” says Switzer. “We used to spend basically one evening each month here to compile our month-end statements and print them up. Now with the Rinax X4 it takes us about an hour,” explains Joe Elias of Norpine Auto Supply, in La Crete, Alberta. “The X4 inventory tracking system is pretty darn accurate – and it gives us the ability to sell a dirty core, which we couldn’t do before. “One other thing I have to give Rinax credit for is their customer service. If I have an issue that is a high priority, it gets looked after pretty quick. A lot of other services are just too big and impersonal to offer this kind of support. I have the cell number of most of the guys that work at Rinax so if I get stuck I can text one of them,” adds Switzer. Dynamic inventory management systems that are integrated with local jobber systems and offer online customer communications and numerous shop efficiencies are now becoming standard equipment for automotive service providers. Rob Ingram of Eldon Ingram Ltd., a NAPA Autopro in Stratford, Ontario, has done a lot of his business training through TACT (Total Automotive Consulting and Training Inc.), and he has incorporated a lot of the TACT systems and procedures, which are Windows-based, into his operations. So when he decided to switch over to the Gem-Car system, which is also Windows-based, it was a very smooth transition. Ingram learned about Gem-Car after a salesman dropped off a demo copy one day. “I started playing around with it, and once I began to see just how much was in the program it was pretty much a no-brainer. We switched over and haven’t looked back,” explains Ingram. Explaining the versatility of the Gem-Car shop management program, Ingram gives an example. “There is a document section on the main page and you can actually attach documents to the work order. So, for example, if we have a customer with metal on metal for brakes and an exhaust system with a corrosion situation on a flange, we can take a picture of it and send it to our common drop box in the shop, then pick that file up and paste it directly to the document section of their invoice. So we now have a PDF of the pictures that we can send as an email to the customer, along with the estimate for the job.” Ingram has actually taken this feature a step further and eliminated his paper-based customer files. “Even though we print work orders to write on and have the customer sign, we actually scan the documents with the customer’s work order number and name on it and we retrieve the document in our scan section and store it in their electronic file. Then we shred the paper documents so we no longer need paper files. It’s all online,” adds Ingram. His next step is to add digital signature pads to eliminate the need for paper copies at all. Steve Vieria, owner of Traditions Automotive, a NAPA Autopro in Scarborough, Ontario, switched over to the Gem-Car system after his existing software management system crashed and he was told the data could not be retrieved. “One of the reasons why I was looking to switch programs wa s that my previous software company was unable to retrieve my data after the system crashed. That meant we would have to start over. But when we signed on with Gem-Car, we gave them our data file and they were able to extract our missing data, which was phenomenal, so we were pretty much sold on them from that point on,” explains Vieria. “I have never met a software company that can take care of problems as quickly and efficiently as they do. “For me as an owner, one of the biggest challenges we have is making sure our pricing is consistent. With Gem-Car, you input the pricing and you are able to carry parts over from your suppliers and there is no guesswork involved. So for anybody who is able to use a computer, you can hire someone and plug them in, and they get on to it quickly because it takes all the guesswork out of it. There is also a punch clock system, which is phenomenal. Most of our package pricing is input into the program so there is a lot less work for me, and we are able to be consistent on what we are charging, whether it’s me or my wife or a service advisor,” adds Vieria. Gem-Car offers customers training with the program, and users can opt to buy more training if they feel they need to. But customers are also automatically enrolled in Gem University, their online training system, to learn the program. “It gives you a step-by-step understanding of the program. It starts off with the basics and currently goes up eight levels, and they will continue to add more levels as the program continues to evolve,” explains Ingram. “On my desktop I have a help button that goes directly to the FAQ section on the website, so if I have an issue with, say, parts return, I would go in and select the window with parts return, and all the files associated are there: how to return a part, how to reverse a transaction – it’s all in there, with pictures.” Ingram also likes Gem-Car’s convenient texting option. “I have customers like schoolteachers, who can’t come to the phone, so they would rather I text them when their vehicle is done; and we can text them right on the program. You just click on the cellphone icon and activate it, so my service advisors don’t need a cellphone to contact these clients,” adds Ingram.