Avexxis has a radical idea: to tailor its CatMan CMS package to individual catalog companies, rather than to make the companies tailor their operations to the software. Even the best, most customized systems typically require client companies to modify at least some aspects of the way they do business to accommodate new software. CatMan (short for Catalog Management) is still in its infancy, but if Avexxis can pull off this emphasis on customization over the long run, it will be a boon to companies that don’t quite fit the standard CMS template.

So far, CatMan has five catalog companies as clients, but that actually represents 13 installations, as Federated Stores, the largest single client, has eight different systems for its various divisions. The other clients are Sunshine Art Studio, Valassis of Canada, Vermont Teddy Bear, and University Book Services.

CatMan also offers gap analysis prior to contract, practically unheard of in the industry. It’s an intriguing concept, but it could have its downside: Every modification has both a monetary cost and a potential for risk to other parts of the system. And, too, can Avexxis maintain multiple system versions as its clientele grows?

Functions and features
CatMan is a highly integrated, full-featured CMS package that will run on any Unix/RISC architecture or Windows NT platform. The package uses a UniVerse relational database management system in conjunction with the HOSTACCESS screen generator from Pixel Innovations.

Avexxis began writing accounting and distribution software in 1986, and the company has focused on catalogs for the past four years. The firm does not employ programmer/analysts. Instead, its team of multidisciplinary business software analysts (BSAs) guide clients through specification, testing, and acceptance.

CatMan offers a number of user-oriented design functions. A proprietary development tool called AvGen creates menus and standard processes, allowing for fast, relatively easy customization. Documentation is online at the module, file, and field levels, and can be printed at any time.

Order entry and customer service. These two functions use the same screen to record customer service notes (incidents), which can be sorted and put in report form. Along with standard order entry functions, CatMan can tally points for buyers’ clubs, calculate purchase order arrival dates, and set user-defined parameters to flag limits such as dollar value on rush orders.

The software can accept multiple payment types and multiple credit cards for an order. Mail orders are done in batches, but there are no balancing controls. CatMan can handle international addressing and add address lines via a function key.

Credit authorization. CatMan can do authorization in batch mode or online. The package is interfaced to First USA, Paymentech, and Visa Net, and is also MAPS-certified.

Order processing. CatMan offers several options for producing pick/pack documents, including carrier and service, backordered items, arrival date, and warehouse. The system shows how many shipments, lines, and line items are available and allows the user to specify how many to process. Bar coding of the packing slip expedites pack verification.

Balancing and controls. Many of Avexxis’s clients are working with different accounting packages. Reports created by Avexxis or the client account for any financial transactions can be passed to other systems. All users were satisfied that the system can be balanced and that controls are adequate.

Purchasing and receiving. CatMan creates purchase orders from scratch or copies and modifies existing orders, and automatically creates purchase orders for review, modification, and printing/submission through percentage-complete inventory forecasting. Backorder and product analysis reporting is available.

Warehousing. CatMan does not have automatic replenishment based on pick runs. Inventory replenishment from bulk storage to forward picking must be confirmed or assumed via reporting. The software supports kits and assemblies, but there is currently no lot or serial tracking through the warehouse. CatMan’s pack verification function prints a corrected pack list and/or invoice. Bulk items must be identified for putaway, as directed putaway is not supported. Physical and cycle counts are predefined, and there is currently no ABC analysis.

Accounting. Each subsystem (accounts receivable, accounts payable, and general ledger) can be closed independently of other modules. Costing can be done by FIFO, LIFO or weighted average, and cost layering is fully maintained. The software can create profit and loss reports with roll-ups at multiple levels, and do sales tax reporting. It can also do cash flow projection.

Shipping and manifesting. CatMan can ship from multiple warehouses by default zip codes loaded for each DC. The software can do postage and handling in the form of a tiered table, item count, or weight and zone. CatMan can select specific carriers and service levels and accommodate rate shopping through third-party shipping systems. The software is interfaced to Pitney Bowes, UPS Powership, and Aristo.

Returns processing. Returns are applied to original orders for appropriate processing. Exchanges are referenced to the original orders. Returns reporting is basic; users must develop their own in-depth reporting.

Marketing and analysis. This functionality is customized. CatMan can access pricing, shipping charges, and add-on sales at any level, and it can manage line and order bonuses such as buy-one-get-one-free. It can calculate customer lifetime value while maintaining original source. CatMan can store bill-to, ship-to, and ordered-by addresses, and can perform sales analysis at any of these levels.

User comments
All clients responded positively to Avexxis’s range and ability to make modifications quickly and accurately. Sometimes modifications are too quick; in a few cases, users reconsidered their modifications and the process had to be repeated. More formal user approval of proposed modifications could solve this problem.

The staff at one client noted that Avexxis’s very good base package prompted their selection. Their comment: “Avexxis’s strong point is making modifications to our specifications; major changes have been accomplished.”

Another client says, “Customization abilities are amazing. We haven’t seen much they can’t do. A large company the size of Federated, with large corporate systems to interface and eight different divisions’ business rules, did not scare Avexxis off.”

This client was impressed by Avexxis’s personal service: “We know all of the players and can call them at any time, and we get a live person to talk to.”

The clients interviewed were asked if they would select Avexxis if they had to choose all over again. All answered with an enthusiastic yes.

Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company, a consultancy specializing in catalog operations and fulfillment. He can be reached at 1897 Billingsgate Circle, Suite 102, Richmond, VA 23233, (804)740-8743. His e-mail address is: