Ed Engel's got nothing but open road ahead of him and blue sky in the rearview mirror.
Now all the president and general manager of software company Quality Design Systems (QDS) has to do is keep his tires on the road. When QDS, a subsidiary of Bandag Inc., acquired Open Road Technologies Inc. in February, it hoped to marry the developer of high-performance information management systems, including RoadWare, with its own flagship TireMaster product. The result would, Mr. Engel theorized, bring his firm a step closer to its ``goal of becoming a `best-of-breed' supplier'' of end-to-end business management solutions for the tire and automotive service markets.
The marriage is still in the honeymoon stage and both parties are learning how to communicate.
One of the company's post-acquisition priorities is to have both software packages integrated, Mr. Engel told Tire Business, so that they can, in computer parlance, ``talk'' with each other. Currently they operate on two different platforms-RoadWare is based on the Unix system; TireMaster operates in the Windows format. Given the vagaries of software development and testing-and delays-he's hopeful the two systems will be chatting away by this fall or winter.
However, ``down the road, I'm not sure which platform we'll end up with'' in the future, he said. ``We feel, long term, that Windows is probably the right avenue, but there are a number of other things we're also looking at. We have to analyze what makes sense five, 10 years from now. We don't want to make a decision now that will hurt us later.
``Who knows-we may find that neither platform is best.''
As a point-of-sale system for retail tire dealerships, TireMaster has a lot of the bases covered, he said, while RoadWare software offers a management system tailored to retread shops and commercial tire dealerships.
According to Open Road's Web site, the firm also develops bar code, mobile and wireless solutions for companies such as Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and its Oliver Rubber Co. unit; Autotote Systems, Black & Decker, Ericson Fila, Giant Foods, Philip Morris, Ricoh Corp. and the U.S. Navy.
RoadWare components include on-time production scheduling; paperless work-in-process shop floor control; buff specifications and customer retread and repair requirements; bar-code scanning to track tires during retreading; and finished goods tire labels customized for dealership or fleet customers.
Mr. Engel said Open Road ``was a great acquisition for us. Bandag had a lot of pent-up demand for that (RoadWare) type of system-Bandag dealers are really interested in it, and there's a lot of activity going on right now.
``We're so busy with site surveys and estimates that the guys from Open Road are out there 100 percent of their time just getting installations (in retread shops) lined up.''
Until the buyout, he said, some Bandag retreaders and commercial dealers ``were kind of blocked out'' from using RoadWare because Bandag was trying a different approach to business management software. Now, with Open Road in the fold, Mr. Engel said those dealers will have access to a complete package of programs.
Meanwhile, the two software companies are ``putting our cultures together and getting to know each other.''
At last year's Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)/International Tire Expo in Las Vegas, QDS debuted version 5.0 of its TireMaster program-the company's first step into the commercial tire management arena. ``We've found that everything we've put into the software so far for commercial dealerships, retailers would want the same anyway, so it didn't make sense to offer two separate products,'' Mr. Engel said. RoadWare, on the other hand, is specifically designed to control a retread operation's shop management process, ``from bringing casings in to delivering the finished product back to customers.''
Although over the last few years Open Road did the design and development work on Goodyear's G-Tracs software used in retreading and commercial operations, Mr. Engel said there has not been any problems since Bandag's subsequent acquisition of Open Road.
``There was a concern from dealers about confidentiality and proprietary information. But because QDS operates as a stand-alone company, I've sent out letters to each one indicating that we will keep that proprietary information confidential, and all information separate. That's one of our key goals,'' he explained. ``It hasn't been an issue so far. But we have to walk the talk and prove it.''
RoadWare is primarily in use in many Goodyear retread shops and commercial dealerships, as well as in some Bridgestone/Firestone and Oliver retreading shops, but according to Mr. Engel, a number of Michelin retreaders also are showing interest in the product. While Akron-based Good-year has its own internally developed point-of-sale (POS) system, he said about 150 Goodyear retail outlets use a DOS-based version of TireMaster. In May, QDS will have available for those dealers a Windows version that will interface with the tire maker's Xplor and infoLink software systems.
Among TireMaster's features are: a redesigned and larger purchase order generation capability; an expanded pricing matrix; a commission calculation feature that provides more flexibility in setting up individual commission levels; and a marketing function that queries customer data to produce mailing labels for direct mail advertising.
According to Brian Critchfield, national sales and marketing manager for Meridian-based QDS, the company's main competition offering similar software packages on the retail side is Car Parts Technologies, which acquired the former Anderson BDG; on the commercial side it's MaddenCo and ASA International Ltd.'s ASA Tire Systems Inc. subsidiary.
With TireMaster originally developed for retail businesses, the addition of the RoadWare software ``gives us a lot better foothold on the commercial side,'' according to Mr. Engel, by giving the company access to the ``more than 400 Bandag dealers who have over 1,000 points of sale in the marketplace.
``And it gives them a solution that fits their entire business-not just point-of-sale software or retreading systems that can't communicate with each other.''
In the future, Mr. Engel sees the company's stable of products becoming more modularized, with the core being POS plus the ability to add various packages, such as general ledger or specialized accounting.
While he's understandably partial to QDS software packages, Mr. Engel noted that his company allows dealers the option of turning to one vendor in order to obtain training, documentation, support consulting and compliance services and custom databases.
``The dealer can come to one source and feel comfortable he'll get all his internal business systems taken care of and be supported over the long term,'' he said.
However, in order to tailor a package to an individual dealership, QDS must first conduct a site survey in order to determine a shop's specific needs, Mr. Engel said.
QDS eventually hopes to branch out into offering networking and backup services ``because some of the smaller dealerships don't have that capability,'' he said. The firm also plans to slowly move into providing software specifically for the auto services market.