Plan for visibility

My first “grown-up” job was for a company that designed accounting, inventory, and point-of-sale software for tire stores. We worked hard to make a package that gave business owners everything they needed to know how their business was doing. While we could design custom reporting for clients, we ensured our reporting and bookkeeping were complete and correct from the very beginning.

Somehow I thought other companies had the same level of commitment, so I probably wasn’t as thorough about checking out that part of the software when my own business bought a Point-of-Sale system. My two partners, who had worked in similar stores for many years, seemed to like it. The owner/salesman claimed it had a good interface with QuickBooks. So we bought it.

It didn’t take long to discover that what I thought was a good interface differed dramatically from that of the software company. It did little more than dump a total of the day’s profit or loss into a journal entry. Its onboard daily detail report was also seriously lacking in visibility. It provided totals for each payment type, and could show you a list of everything sold or traded in for the day, but was very sketchy on other details.

Before long I realized that I was going to need to do my own reporting by hand if we were to gain even the basic level of visibility into our business. Every day I comb through the report and a separate screen to determine our total sales in four basic categories, total trade-ins for the day, money in and money out in each payment type, and the cost of goods sold in up to three categories. These are then entered by hand into QuickBooks.

I don’t mind doing it, but I mind that the software doesn’t do that for me. How anyone can successfully run their business with so little information as the system provides is beyond me. In hindsight I wish I’d examined the system more closely before making our purchase.

Don’t make the same mistake. Before you even start looking for a POS system determine what information you are going to need in order to understand what is going on in your business. Make sure the vendor can show you where each bit of information can be found–and if it can be found on a report. If you can’t find any system that provides you everything you want, then–and only then–you can determine which system gives you the most of what you need and adjust accordingly.

Information is critical in running a business. You need to know what is going on so you can make adjustments–perhaps not instant, real-time information, but at least on a daily basis. Plan for what you need and how to get it before you ever open your doors. You’ll be grateful you did.