What IT solutions are available to bike shops?

By Jake Voelcker, owner, Bicycleworks

This piece first appeared in the March edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Do you spend hours reordering stock? Do you find that competitors are overtaking you thanks to online sales? Do you wish there was an easier way to make bookings and manage your workshop? There are IT solutions to all these problems, but knowing which ones to choose can be a minefield. Here is a breakdown of all the things you might need:

Point Of Sale (POS)
The POS is basically a computerised cash register, but it should also include stock control, and card payment integration. In addition, a good POS will handle your order history, customer details, gift vouchers, discounts and offers, and more.

Website
The simple option is a marketing website, which advertises your business online and lets customers know about your location, services, and products. Another option is an e-commerce website, which also allows online sales for delivery or click-and-collect.

Workshop diary
Any shop which offers servicing and repairs will need some form of calendar. But good workshop software will do more: store past service history, handle customer details so you can send texts and emails, and allow you to easily generate job sheets and receipts.

Newsletter
This is possibly the single most effective marketing tool a small shop can use. Targeted emails, tailored to your customers’ needs, are very good at generating sales. A service reminder for the workshop? A ‘happy birthday’ email with a discount? A regular newsletter about your offers, upcoming events, and any news? Newsletter software makes all this easy.

Financial accounts
All modern accounting packages are on the cloud, which allows them to integrate not only with all your other software, but also with your bank feed for automatic reconciliation of your accounts.

Where to start?
It makes sense to think about the biggest issue in your business, and aim to solve that first. If your biggest headache is the time spent on managing and ordering stock, then some kind of software that can handle inventory is the obvious solution. If your biggest problem is marketing and sales, then a website or e-commerce solution may be the first place to invest. If your business is focused on servicing and repairs, a workshop diary is the obvious choice.

Future expansion
Whatever you choose, plan with expansion in mind. As the business grows, how will you add functionality, and how will you link the systems together? The options are:

– An integrated solution, where most of the components above are included in one piece of software. For example, Lightspeed and Citrus-Lime are both examples of systems which combine a POS, an e-commerce website, and a workshop diary in one place.

Pros: it works straight away, and it’s likely to be fairly reliable. The setup cost is normally low or zero. Adding extra features is as simple as paying the provider to unlock them.

Cons: you are tied to one system, and it may be difficult to leave. It’s difficult to extend if you need extra functions which aren’t provided. And the monthly subscription cost can be high.

– A modular solution, where you can choose your POS, website, diary, newsletter software, and more.

Pros: you can choose the best software for your needs. It’s expandable because you can just keep adding other software. And once it’s set up, the monthly running cost can be low.

Cons: you need to connect all the different systems together so that they can exchange data (customer details, stock levels and sales figures). This is probably a job for an IT specialist, although it is becoming easier to set up such things without too much tech knowledge, either using the software’s own built-in capabilities or using tools like zapier.com or automate.io.

A real life example
At Bicycleworks, we have opted for a modular solution. We trialled a few integrated systems, and their simplicity and reliability are definitely appealing, but in the end, we found none fulfilled all our requirements. We use:

Website and e-commerce: WordPress and Woocommerce website, designed and set up by a contractor, but now managed in-house. The beauty of this type of website is its extensibility: we use several custom plugins to provide special features like our online bike builder (see www.bristolbicycles.co.uk)

Newsletter: Mailchimp.com newsletter integrates easily with the website using a free WordPress plugin, so that not only contact details, but also orders and sales data can be shared across both systems to provide dynamic, targeted email campaigns.

POS: Phppointofsale.com is not a very widely used POS, but it suits our needs perfectly and has built-in Woocommerce integration, so customers and orders can be shared between both systems.

Workshop diary: This is the black sheep of our software family – an old piece of bespoke software, written 10 years ago. If we started again we would use a bookings plugin on the website, or external workshop management software instead. But our old diary software works reliably and has many useful features… why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Financial accounts: Xero.com is a cloud-based accounts package, so our bookkeeper can work from home, and our accountant can log in when required. It integrates with Woocommerce via a plugin for a small annual fee, and links to our bank account’s feed.

Reporting: The one piece of software we’ve found to be lacking is a centralised reporting system. Most of the above systems report their own figures (the POS reports in-store sales, Woocommerce reports online sales etc) but there was no single place where we could easily see all our weekly sales figures, costs, and profit.

Arguably the accounts software would be the right place for this, but we found it wasn’t easy to show the numbers in the way we wanted, especially for weekly team meetings. We, therefore, set up a Google spreadsheet to bring all these numbers together (and being online, a Google spreadsheet is able to access data from the above pieces of software, so it updates itself weekly).

Download a free copy of this spreadsheet template and access more links and resources at www.bicycleworks.co.uk/bike-business-it-resources.

That ends your whistles-top tour of IT options for a bike shop or small bike brand! In conclusion: start with the software that will solve your biggest problem, but plan ahead and make sure it’s possible to extend that system, or easily link it with other systems in the future.

Jake Voelcker, owner, Bicycleworks. Bicycleworks offers everything you need to launch your own bike brand and build bikes in-house.

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