ATLANTA-For many overworked tire dealers, spending the time and money to computerize their dealerships can be a paradoxical experience. Sure a computer might-eventually-streamline tasks and save money down the road. But who has the time to get started?
According to speakers at the recent National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association convention in Atlanta, dealers who expect to remain successful had better find time to computerize-and fast.
In today's competitive retail environment, the efficiency and cost-cutting ability of computer systems are a definite advantage.
During its Atlanta convention, the NTDRA hosted a number of educational seminars and ``Product Info Expos'' to help dealers realize the benefits of computerization and understand the computer buying process.
One speaker, Jim Krakower, president of JMK Tire & Wheel Center in Champaign, Ill., told fellow dealers a computer system can more than pay for itself by freeing employees from menial tasks and helping them serve customers more efficiently.
Mr. Krakower said he foresaw those potential benefits back in 1979 when he first sought to automate his operation. But he soon discovered none of the then-existing software packages truly answered the tire dealer's needs.
So Mr. Krakower founded JMK Computerized Tire Dealer Information Systems to market dealer-specific software he himself helped develop.
Now through his marketing efforts, as well as acting as a consultant for the NTDRA, Mr. Krakower said he's heard just about every reason or excuse tire dealers can conjure up to avoid computerization.
Nicholas Hodel, of the Northwest Tire Factory Group, said the group was initially afraid of what they perceived to be a large learning curve associated with operating a new computer system.
To Mr. Hodel's surprise, only a couple of nights were required to become acquainted with the system the Northwest Tire Factory Group is now using, he told dealers during a seminar.
Now the group even is on the Internet with it's own World Wide Web site capable of advertising to consumers while simultaneously providing confidential warehouse information to its dealers.
The simple fact is computers already are essential to running a business, said Mary McKeel of ASA Tire Systems Group. During a seminar, she encouraged dealers also to get on the rapidly growing Internet.
``It is very important for you to get on the net because pretty quickly the manufacturers will be sending all their information over the net,'' she predicted.
Wholesalers and buying groups, including the Northwest Tire Factory Group, already are using the Internet to offer dealers real-time inventory updates and computerized ordering and billing, John Fischer of Signal Software Corp. pointed out.
In fact, inventory control, ordering, billing, payroll and point-of-sale programs are areas many retail dealers are computerizing to save time and money in their business, according to Mike Andreoli of Andreoli & Associates Inc.
For those having difficulty knowing where to begin, computer experts at the NTDRA convention offered a number of tips:
First, determine what portions of the dealership, if any, could benefit from automation;
Second, determine what software will accomplish those tasks;
Then determine the hardware needed to run that software.
``You may have a local need that doesn't apply to other people,'' Mr. Krakower said, stressing the importance of linking a computer system's requirements to the goals of a particular dealership.
An excellent way to begin, he said, is to allow employees to brainstorm ideas on how computerization could make them more efficient in their jobs.