Furniture Command Center: Enterprise Software for the mid-size dealer

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The words “Enterprise software” and the acronym ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) can strike fear in the hearts of business owners large and small. Horror stories abound of huge cost over-runs and even total business shutdowns due to lengthy and botched system implementations. As the name implies an enterprise software system, runs all the important functions of a business from customer management to producing quotes, handling order entry, scheduling, production, shipping, installation, etc., including accounting and finance. Good ones are flexible and provide a comprehensive business infrastructure.

In our industry the large “aligned” dealers mostly run their business on sophisticated enterprise software that was developed by or specifically for their main manufacturer. But smaller, unaligned dealers are not so lucky (or unlucky…depending on who you talk to and on which day). Probably the best-known small business accounting system is Quickbooks and many small companies start out using it. It is an excellent, very robust system but it is not designed specifically for our industry and therefore it comes up short on many fronts when applied to a growing dealership’s business. That notwithstanding, as they grow, many small – now mid-sized – dealers try to expand Quickbooks or whatever system they started out with, into and enterprise system.

Among the many reasons for sticking with what they know are the general fear of enterprise software alluded to above, the resistance to change among their staff and a lack of knowledge of what might be available to replace what’s familiar.

In January a software development company, Furniture Command Center (FCC) ran a series of ads in officeinsight touting “100% Dealer Retention.” I thought it an odd claim and I wasn’t really sure what it meant, so I called founder Mike Greider to find out. He told me it means exactly what it says, that no dealer that has ever implemented FCC has moved on to another system. Asked how that could be, he said that it had been developed specifically for and in conjunction with an office furniture dealer and his team had worked tirelessly to build in the functions required to efficiently run a dealership. But…and this is a big but, they also designed the system to be a sort of hub that integrates with other software systems, so if a dealership already has a specification tool, for example, it can keep that tool and just use the parts of FCC that it needs; same with accounting software or other infrastructure already in place such as customer relations management.

So I thought this would be an important story to tell to all the dealers in our universe who are still running their businesses on their founding accounting/operating system.

In 2008 Mr. Greider was running a high tech northern Virginia consulting company that developed large complex web applications for the Air Force and the Department of Defense. Then he met John Murphy of Washington Workplace, a large “unaligned” contract furniture dealer in the Washington DC market and they undertook the development of a system for Mr. Murphy.

In a recent interview Mr. Greider said, “As we began to understand the complex issues of the commercial furniture dealer business we could see that there was a large and important market opportunity for us if we approached it correctly. So we’ve grown slowly by some standards, but as we’ve grown we’ve become more enmeshed in the intricacies of how dealers go to market and what they need to function efficiently. At the same time we’ve worked very hard to keep our system simple and intuitive so that a dealership can configure it in a way that integrates naturally with its business processes rather than making the dealership change how it works in order to fit the software.”

The sales process for FCC includes getting very familiar with the typical sales process of the dealer, including some of the important characteristics of its customers, for example what we’d normally describe as vertical markets served: government, commercial, higher ed. Hospitality, healthcare, etc. That allows FCC to configure the client’s software in such a way that it looks and feels like it fits the client’s business and is completely unique to it.

As an example of this customization Mr. Greider said, “We once had two dealerships that were literally right across the street from each other. Yet when each of those company’s users log in they really have a completely different experience, because the software is tailored to how each one is trying to do business. Now the only way that can work is if we continue to work with the dealership to really understand how it’s doing business. So as the process moves forward we end up as more of a partner than just a software vendor. And we have the programing talent to be able to tweak and modify our system as we go. So we do monthly software updates and at least 80% of our changes are dealer driven.”

I asked Mr. Greider how FCC handles the complexity dealers face from carrying 100+ different manufacturers all of whom have slightly different requirements for specification order entry and so forth. He said, “Of course we have access to all the various manufacturers’ electronic catalogs for use in specifications and quotation. When it comes to electronic order entry we work directly with the manufacturer to set that up on the dealership’s behalf. So a classic example is HNI. They have several different companies under their umbrella. Not only does HNI have different enclaves, our clients rarely access all the same ones. One dealer will carry Allsteel and Hon while another will carry Paoli, HBF and Gunlocke. So we have the relationships with the manufacturers to work with them directly to get a dealer all set up and configured and then from the dealership’s perspective when they go to electronically enter an order they just get one button that’s already configured”

“Another important feature of how we go to market is that we host, manage and configure everything for the dealer – we’ve found that many dealers are afraid that upgrading their operating system is going to force them to buy hardware, hire and or train IT staff, install the software, etc. – so we take all that potential pain off their plate.”

It isn’t our place to sell anybody on FCC and for all I know there may be other software providers out there with excellent products for the unaligned dealer community. But if you are a dealer thinking of moving up from a legacy, primarily accounting system to one that can help you manage your business and improve your profitability, take a look at the sample screens we’ve included in the gallery below and if you think FCC might be a good fit, by all means check them out further. Here’s a link to the FCC website .