CLEVELAND—Tire dealers who want to improve performance at the front counter by using computer technology will find a bewildering array of "point-of-sale" software systems.
Type point-of-sale (POS) into an Internet search engine on your computer, and you'll find thousands of entries for POS software and hardware—64,667 of them on Infoseek, for example.
Scott Mueller—who operates Mueller Tire and Brake in Cleveland with his brother, Dean—faced such a dilemma about two years ago. Their dealership—with 15 locations and three under construction—had outgrown the computer hardware for the Tire Works system it had purchased from Signal Software Corp. in 1994.
Knowing it had to make a huge hardware purchase, the company decided to look into upgrading its software at the same time.
"We basically realized that we would need a new system," Scott Mueller said.
Mr. Mueller attended two large retail trade shows—the National Retail Federation convention in New York City and "Riscon," the Retail Information Service convention in Chicago—in search of a comprehensive front-counter system that also would have good accounting, financial and management reporting tools.
"A lot of the retail accounting systems or POS systems are designed for a scanning retail environment like the checkout counter at Sears or a grocery store," Mr. Mueller said.
Many tire and auto service systems he saw were good at the front end but had underlying weaknesses in other areas, he said.
Mueller Tire also explored high-end business systems, like those offered by Oracle Corp. and PeopleSoft Inc., Mr. Mueller said, but they were too costly and were made for "billion-dollar companies." Mr. Mueller said his dealership "basically did a lot of detailed due diligence" to find a system to meet its needs.
Mueller Tire has come full circle and chosen a system called OpenWebs TN from OpenWebs Corp., which was founded in March by CEO Wes Lucas, a former executive at Allied Signal and Nova Chemicals, and an industry consultant at McKinsey & Co. The company's staff includes several former Signal Software employees. OpenWebs creates trading networks for multi-tiered channels and markets.
This software will be the company's first product for the tire industry, and Mueller Tire will be a test site for the OpenWebs system.
Serving as a market test site for a new system "is a lot more challenging than a normal implementation," Mr. Mueller said.
OpenWebs TN is a Windows-based, PC-compatible program that contains a point-of-sale and accounting system, as well as modules for tire, parts, labor and wheel guides, Internet commerce and connectivity with manufacturers.
"At the heart of the OpenWebs product is the seamless integration of the dealer's point-of-sale with electronic business-to-business commerce, which in the past was two separate Signal products," said John Fischer, vice president of sales for OpenWebs and a former Signal employee. "Dealers can conduct business with their trading partners without leaving their existing system."
OpenWebs uses technology licensed from Signal, Mr. Fischer said, and was developed by those who developed Signal's software. That software is used by about 200 tire dealerships, he said.
Signal also developed software technology for Michelin North America Inc., including BibNet, an electronic commerce system, and Millennium Suite, a commercial tire dealership and retread plant management system.
Mr. Fischer said about 45 OpenWebs staffers have spent two years developing its software package.
OpenWebs also has a strategic partnership agreement with a major tire manufacturer, he said, and the system will be formally introduced at the upcoming International Tire Expo in Las Vegas.
"One of the strong points of this system is that functionality will be at the fingertip of the salesperson," Mr. Fischer said.
"It will improve a salesman and his ability to give customers advice and recommend product availability and times and so forth," Mr. Mueller added.
OpenWebs is written to the "Microsoft HTML standard," Mr. Mueller said. "The value is there are so many products written to that standard such as mailing programs...you can buy off the shelf."
OpenWebs is Windows-based and uses a mouse, Mr. Fischer said, so it is easy for front-counter people to learn.
A small dealership using OpenWebs on a single computer with Internet access will be able to fully take advantage of the software.
Mr. Mueller declined to discuss how much Mueller Tire will spend for the new system. Because the dealership is a test site, he said, there is some cost sharing with OpenWebs.
"Dealers will probably be able to purchase this at really a fraction of the price most other retailers pay for similar systems in other industries," Mr. Mueller said.