From a dealer or marina owner standpoint, it couldn’t hurt to have a little more help. But in an era when service departments are lacking qualified, trained technicians, dealers are oftentimes forced to look for help in places other than the manpower department.
That’s where the software sector comes in. With new technologies becoming more available and less costly with every new year, options for automating dealer services have become an option for every level of dealership.
“Ninety percent of dealers are having problems in the parts and service department,” estimates Sean Raynor of Integrated Dealer Systems, a software company that was purchased by Brunswick Corp. in October of 2002. “More and more small dealers are now concerned about automation. It used to be strictly a large dealer problem. Now the smaller, independent dealers are becoming more concerned about gaining the productivity and the efficiency by purchasing the right software system.
“They’re looking to get the same results as the larger dealers are.”
Across the software sector of the marine industry, companies are attempting to help with automation. From the mom-and-pop shops who register $2-$4 million in sales each year to those dealers with $20-million-plus in sales, efficiency and productivity are keys to success.
The costs of programs that make such processes attainable have improved over the years, too, according to Paulson Computer Systems’ David Bledsoe, who says his company’s pricing hasn’t changed in five years.
“A lot of the problems in the past with propriety systems is that they were proprietary,” explains Bledsoe. “Computer systems [used to] cost a fortune and if it breaks, you’re stuck with it. Now, it’s more common to not have proprietary [programs] and not have a computer guru in your office.
“It’s amazing that there are guys out there with family-run businesses, using pencil and paper for 35-40 years, and they’re just now coming into the computer age. They’re not looking for all the glitz that’s fancy. They want something that they can push a button and say ‘do this,’ and it will do it.”
While computer systems used to run somewhere in the $50,000-$100,000 range, Bledsoe explains how anyone can call up a computer retailer and buy a desktop computer for little more than $300. Then, it doesn’t take much more for dealers or marina operators to automate their systems with good programs.
“It’s viable and it’s cost-effective now,” Bledsoe explains. “The ramp-up charge was in the thousands at one time. Now it’s under $1,000.”
And even though it’s the product that, in the end, should make work easier, the variety of the software packages on the market may just be the best news for the dealers.
“We get calls from people all the time who are evaluating software,” says Joe DeMarco of RCS Computer Systems. “Most of them don’t know what they want. There’s nothing that says the industry is leaning in this direction or that direction. Everyone’s looking for a user-friendly package. More and more people are starting to automate every year.”
Most of the software companies we spoke with were banking on big years in 2004, predicting strong growth based on a strengthening economy and a dealer base that is finding a greater need for such products.
David Herndon of Quadrant Corp., makers of WatchCaptain software, says his company is expecting to double in size during this product year. Coming off a year in which it put most of its efforts into a Naval Academy program, Quadrant says it will be branching out by introducing a dealer and marina software package.
“We’re working with people who are known in the industry for having run successful marinas and dealerships,” says Herndon, who says the Naval Academy project gave the software the credibility it needed. “What that does is, it gave us the credibility that we needed to move to other places. We are the new boys on the block.”
Herndon says that, considering that when the Naval Academy approached Quadrant at the Miami Boat Show in 2003, the company literally quit selling product, a renewed marketing and sales effort justify such a lofty goal.
Similarly, Raynor and Integrated Dealer Systems are expecting growth in 2004. The company registered record revenues last year, and a target of 15-percent growth on that, Raynor says, is an attainable goal.
“From a macro economics standpoint, dealers, last year, were very hesitiant to make capital expenditure decisions,” Raynor explains. “Last year was a good year, and because of that, these dealers should have more confidence going forward. We had a lot of dealers last year that were ‘no decisions’ because the dealers were fearful about where they were going to go.
“The confidence of their businesses seems to have picked up, and therefore the capital expenditures should increase.”
Dockmaster Software, also has strong growth in its cites for 2004. President and CEO of Dockmaster Software, Cam Collins, says that with a strengthening economy, those dealers and marina operators with additional dollars sitting around are looking to invest it back into their companies, whether that means more slips, a new boat line, or into marina software.
With that in mind, Collins is predicting 20 percent growth for his company.
“We’re taking the system we have today and pushing it up to the next level,” Collins says. “You’re going to see a lot more product coming from us that’s going to better integrate the dealers with the manufacturers.
“We’re making an aggressive push to be more and more accessible.” While the economy seems to have finally recovered and both the consumers and the dealers seem to be off to good starts in 2004, both Paulson Computer Systems and RCS Computer Systems are doing their best to remain cautious with their optimism for the coming year.
DeMarco says his company is “watching to see how things go” this year and, like Collins, said he believes that the software sector of the industry is dependent upon dealers who have money in their pockets and are ready to go to the next level.
“I think, if anything, last year may have been more on the flatter side than on the more positive side,” he says. “That had something to do with the economy. It had something to do with the state of marine industry.”
So, “our expectations for 2004 are guarded at this point,” he continued. “We’re going to take it as it comes. We’ve been doing this since 1992, and the thing that we find is that the marine industry hasn’t stepped up and embraced software.”
While Bledsoe wouldn’t talk specific goals for 2004, he says his company is optimistic that it will continue to grow through referrals from satisfied customers. Currently, he says, 40-45 percent of the company’s business is obtained by way of referrals. And he expects that trend to continue.
“We’re looking at, instead of raising prices on systems, we’ve stuck to our prices,” he says. “Our primary emphasis is supporting our current customer base and growth comes from that.”
Bledsoe’s company has grown significantly during the 24 years it has been in business. Beginning with almost pre-PC programs supporting the powersports, marine, and RV markets, Paulson Computer Systems has most recently moved to wireless systems.
The technology allows for the freedom of mobility for marina owners, shipyard and repair yards, he says.
“Almost 90 percent of our technical or diagnostical support is done remotely via the Internet,” Bledsoe explains. “You can make a phone call, and we can be there now and have it fixed before you can call the guy who lives 30 miles away and works on your computer. You don’t need a bunch of consultants or a computer guru on standby.
“Let’s face it, if I’ve got 1,000 customers and they all have the same glitch at the same time, there’s not way I can get out and see them all. It’s remote support. It’s part of the tech support.”
Collins and Dockmaster Software is working on a three-part strategy for 2004. First, it's looking to finalize the complete-product Windows technology rollout by the end of the year. Second, it will continue to work on better integration with the manufacturers. And finally, Dockmaster Software is working on providing Web-based technologies for its customers’ customers.
As an example, Dockmaster recently helped Northeast Marine Power, a MerCruiser parts distributor build a Web-based e-commerce site for its customers. It also developed an interface for Skipper Marine Holdings so that the dealership chain could upload boat sales and inventory information directly from Dockmaster’s program to the company’s Web site.
IDS has also introduced some new programs for the coming year. The most recent addition to the product line is an F&I menu selling system, which is said to enable the business manager and dealership to present the ancillary products.
“From a customer standpoint, it brings a lot to the table,” says Raynor, who says that the program is assisting in up to $500-$700 more per boat sale. “The end result is the customers are buying more and more products because they’re presented in a package, rather than in an a la carte format.
“The bottom line is giving better service to the customer and making it a better boating experience for their customer,” Bledsoe says. “It’s getting to make them more professional.”
ProQuest introduces new features including real-time accounting, user-defined screen layout and a web-based user interface. This integrated. Windows-based system is designed to streamline your parts, service, sales accounting and rental departments. Lightspeed Marine integrates with supplier ordering systems, and offers electronic parts images and pricing data.
The Marina Program is designed for marinas, yacht harbors, dockominiums, dry stack, yacht clubs, and storage facilities. Marina management software is well adapted for marinas with seasonal or permanent boats. The program includes full accounts receivable and data management features; space occupancy/vacancy; boat and tenant data; automatically billing for recurring charges; revenue codes for individual charges along with POS and guest reservation management. 98 Main St. #526 Tiburon, CA 94920; 800/435-9585
MShop software has been designed for the marine business, with an emphasis on the service department and repair work. Written by a marine business exclusively for the marine industry, Rapair, Inc., with over 20 years experience in the industry, established RCS (Rapair Computer Systems) in 1992 to meet these needs at a reasonable price.
H20 Software Systems
All marinas do the same thing, differently. Boatbase’n’s custom marina management software was designed to be easy to learn and fun to use. A small monthly maintenance fee takes care of all enhancements and 24x7 hotline support.
The Business Assistant 9.0 is a fully integrated, Windows based dealership management system. Priced for the medium sized dealership but appropriate for very large dealerships. Sales, service, parts, accounting, F&I and parts lookup integration in a system designed to be easy to use. Contact SofTek Software at 330-743-1201; firstname.lastname@example.org Web site www.softeksoftware.com
If you rent, reserve, schedule, or sell inventory or services, Star-trans can help your customers book on-line with you, right from your website. Star-Trans system is designed to require little effort, minimal cost and to be user-friendly. FMI: www.star-trans.com or 1-800-476-4654.
Huggins Outboard Computer Programs
Huggins Outboard Computer Programs offer inventory control solutions for all OEM manufactures, aftermarket, and wholesale accessory vendors. In addition to inventory control software, Huggins also offers price lookup programs as well as cross reference software. Contact us at 919-787-1836.
Watch Captain is a management control system designed by marine professionals to help you run your business more effectively. One hundred percent Windows-based. Customer & vessel management, estimating, work orders, employee time & materials tracking, inventory, bar coding, POS, scheduled billing, security & integration with QuickBooks & Peachtree.
Recreational Finance has launched new F&I software for recreational dealers who maintain in house F&I personnel. Designed for greater convenience and profitability, this program offers imbedded lenders, instant approval filters, plain paper contracts, and much more. Utilizes pure intranet technology - cost effective with only a pc and high speed connection.
Integrated Dealer Systems
As a provider of management systems for the marine industry, IDS helps dealerships to increase F&I profits with FIpoint software. IDS’s offerings include a credit card module, wireless Internet access, lightening-speed credit reporting, and a tool that integrates your website with the IDS system.
Paulson Computer Systems
PCS is releasing “Marinesoft 2004, Dealer Management System, and version for compatibility with windows XP. Now, accounting migration for QuickBooks. Full Wireless, PDA integration, for real time work orders and inventory management. New, on line demo. Call 800/659-8547.