Choosing a software system

Your company is growing, and your catalog management software system-the nerve center of your business-is due for an upgrade. But with prices for systems ranging from several thousand dollars to several million, how do you identify the software system that best suits your needs?

Wally Donoghue, secretary/treasurer of $2.7 million Plymouth, MI-based Creative Health Products, says that his hunt last year for an improved software system wasn’t as difficult as one might think. Creative Health, a cataloger of fitness measuring devices, wanted a management system that would track invoices and inventory, and analyze and sort its 180,000-name house file. For 10 years, the cataloger had relied on a “homemade” computer system programmed by Donoghue’s son. “But the system my son wrote was limited in that it did not keep track of my inventory or track ads, and it limited us to the amount of names we could keep,” Donoghue says.

After six months of looking, and conversations with four or five vendors and other catalogers, Donoghue in May 1997 selected an $8,500 software system from Mail Order Wizard.

Donoghue simplified his search in part by determining his must-haves. “So many people shop for a system without determining their needs,” says Bill Kuipers, a principal in Haskell, NJ-based consultancy Spaide & Kuipers.

But the software search wasn’t as fruitful for Elaine Sullivan, general manager of Martha’s Vineyard, MA-based cataloger/retailer The Black Dog. After looking for a system for more than a year and talking to nearly a half-dozen vendors, she has retooled her existing system to hold off buying a new one until after the holidays.

“The amount of double-talk [on the part of the vendors] was incredible,” Sullivan says. She advises bringing along somebody who understands the technical issues. “You really need a techie on your new team,” she says.

>From his use of a management system, Bill Heyman, co-owner of the Marlborough, NH-based Supreme Audio cataloger, learned the importance of inquiring about technical assistance for unforeseen problems, such as database sorting issues, that commonly arise after installations. “Make sure you have continuing telephone technical support available during your hours of operation-it’s absolutely critical.”

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