This week, we continue our two-part article evaluating inventory management systems with comments from the bookstore owners and booksellers who use them on a daily basis. These inventory systems are listed in alphabetical order.
The Book Wizard
Co-developer Carl Augustin owned a children's bookstore for five years. Not wanting to part with his user-friendly Macintosh, he collaborated with a programmer to develop the Book Wizard, the first and only inventory system for bookstores that runs on the Apple computer. It has been available for Windows since 1997. Book Wizard Lite, the system's lower-cost version, is for booksellers who do not need a full-featured system and comes with point-of-sale, book club, mailing labels, customer, merchandise and suppliers files. Booksellers can add more modules and features, as needs develop and budget allows.
Susie Fruncillo, co-owner of Lake Country Booksellers, White Bear Lake, Minn., computerized three years ago, and sought a user-friendly system for her staff of computer greenhorns. "Of course, the lack of savvy led us to choose a bookstore inventory system written for the Mac, specifically Book Wizard," she said. "The cost was lower, and the lore was that Mac was more user-friendly." In retrospect, she told PW, "This probably wasn't the best choice for a business, because it didn't have enough ports to plug in all our peripheral stuff. That led to getting a hub that didn't work right, which led to lots of freezes and lots of frustration, and I could go on and on." Although she pronounces the Book Wizard program "very stable," the store's iMac "still gives us occasional fits. If I had it to do again, I'd definitely get a system for PC rather than Mac. We are limited with electronic ordering—unfortunate, because we get penalized discount-wise by Ingram for phone orders—and also can't use BT Link on the Mac. When this system blows up, or we get a windfall, I'd love to switch to a PC program and system!"
Chris Wilcox finds Book Wizard appropriate for the staff's needs at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, N.C., where he is assistant manager. His store had also invested in some Macintosh computers and needed a compatible system. He said, "It's the only system I've used in my bookselling career, but it's been an efficient enough tool for us so that we don't have to look for anything else. It's easy for new employees to pick up, and the cash register function is great." He added that some industry features, such as Bookscan, aren't set up to work with it, "but we were able to automate our bookseller reporting to Book Sense."
IBID is another system in its 20th year: software developer Richard Sloan wrote the first release in 1983, in conjunction with independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although IBID is a multi-user system, it offers centralized hub multistore capabilities for large and small bookstore chains. Sold as a turnkey system or software only, IBID runs on PCs. IBID is preparing to release IBID/ie, a new Windows-based Internet edition.
Vicki Titicomb of Titicomb's in East Sandwich, Mass., said IBID is the only system her small store has ever used, although she thinks there might be other systems more appropriate for the used and rare book sales that make up a large percentage of her inventory. IBID "keeps a good, long history of our sales for comparison, and it's nice that it allows you to go from window to window without backing up." She praises the responsiveness of the tech support. "It's a pretty big improvement for us," she said. "We used to have to go over our slips three times at the end of the day. Obviously, it's a completely different world for a lot of us. None of us went into bookselling because we were interested in computers—I think in a sense we're all Luddites—but the transition has been relatively painless."
After working at Waldenbooks, Amanda Parker chose IBID when she became manager at J.W. Beecroft Books & Coffee in Superior, Wis., six years ago. "I was familiar with Ingram from all my years with a chain. For a POS system, it has very few disadvantages. From the cash registers we can dial in to Ingram and get instant on-hand stock reports. It's very user-friendly for reports on sales, reports we need to do inventories. We automatically order electronically through them. It also has the ability to do frequent buyer programs. Technical support is extremely helpful—because a system is only as good as its technical support."
Square One was developed in 1985 for the Dartmouth Bookstore by Computac, an IBM business partner. A turnkey system, it can utilize existing hardware: workstations can be Windows PCs or terminals with existing equipment incorporated into the configuration. Point-of-sale stations are PCs with a cash drawer, laser scanner, color monitor, keyboard with built-in credit card reader, and a receipt/ journal printer. The point-of-sale station can also operate stand-alone in the event of a server/communication problem or for off-site events, with the ability to transfer files automatically later. The user can choose between Books in Print databases or the optional Venstock database, which interfaces with Tradebooks.
For David Van Houten, "file cards and pencil—which I still think might be a superior system!" were the inventory system of choice at his Village Book Store in Littleton, N.H. "But the handwriting was on the wall. We looked around and saw that places like Tattered Cover and Powell's were using Square One, and figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us." The store began using the system less than two years ago. "At first, we spent a lot of time on the phone talking to tech support, or looking at a computer screen instead of talking to customers. I'm sure it's going to get easier as time goes on."
At the Chinook Bookshop in Colorado Springs, Colo., Kimin Kirkpatrick runs the IT department. He likes Square One because it's Unix- driven, user-friendly, compatible with various applications and responsive to the store's needs. He noted, "It's tailored for the bookseller, plus it's one of the older systems, so they've had time to perfect it." He also praises the customer service department.
WordStock systems are custom-configured; the software, first written in 1982, runs on desktop personal computers but can also use terminals, so that not every workstation has to be a computer. This helps keep the system cost to a minimum. Comprehensive consulting services and custom programming are offered, and a complete range of system hardware and supplies are available. The typical users are full-service bookstores with a high level of customer service, especially stores with comprehensive special order, mail order and customer-service operations.
Before becoming the buyer at Wellesley Booksmith in Wellesley, Mass., Susan Taylor had worked with WordStock in three other stores continually since 1984. "It's gotten consistently more stable and more sophisticated over the years," she told PW. "No matter how you run your store, you can tweak WordStock to do what you want it to do. The reporting capabilities are pretty amazing; you can sort by monthly sales, ISBN, comment fields, and do calculating reports by publisher, store sections or product. There's so much information on this system, and people who actually know what they're doing can manipulate it to suit their needs." She also likes the direct connection to publishers and the "excellent" technical support. "But it requires a lot of work to understand it," she warns. "You really have to work at it."
"The system is superlative in terms of sophistication and flexibility," agreed Mary Yockey of Anderson's in Chicago. She's used her multistore, centralized system since 1992. "We're computerized from the ground up, and everything is bar-coded and scanned. But there's still no way you're going to hand over buying decisions to a microchip! Wordstock is nice because it keeps track of what you have on hand and what you've sold. It gives us the only really quantifiable data we have to follow trends and anticipate how much stock we need to meet demand. The people at Wordstock are booksellers; they understand the retail side and good customer service."
BookTrak (www.traksys.com) is a version of the RecordTrak inventory control system used by music retailers. This system usually comes as a complete turnkey system, with hardware and software, though software only is available. Its physical inventory program can be used with portable scanners. Information Partner (www.irtnet.com) was developed, supported and marketed by IRT to ABA stores for more than 10 years. It's sold as a turnkey system, utilizing UNIX computers with tailored setups depending on the size of the store, but especially effective for large and multiple-location stores. Keystroke POS (www.keystrokepos.com) is used by independent stores, regional chains and national franchises, and is available in Windows or DOS. The Contract Pricing editor is a stand-alone application that was created for use with the Keystroke POS program for the entry and editing of contract pricing. The new 5.0 version features include definable transaction types, customer contact database and improved inventory database.