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TOOLS OF THE TRADE: GET WITH THE PROGRAM

LOOKING TO RUN a lean and mean event business? Better think about the business software you're running. With a tight economy and a market growing more competitive by the day, smart software can mean the difference between forging ahead and falling behind.

RENT RIGHT

“We believe that a rental computer system's primary purpose is to proactively maximize revenue on investment in inventory,” says Jack Shea, president of Springfield, Mass.-based Solutions by Computer (www.solutionsbycomputer.com).

According to Shea, Solutions takes a different approach from rental programs that are designed to keep inventory records — programs that he says “view the rental transaction from the standpoint of record-keeping, because they were initially designed to automate accounting functions.”

Shea says Solutions' popular CounterPro rental management software manages inventory availability on a real-time basis while providing timely information for operations management and dispatch departments. “It's the difference between offering a passive super-calculator, or technology that actively fuels event and party rental profits,” he adds.

Built specifically for event rental operations, Party Track software from Kennebunk, Maine-based Event Rental Systems (www.partytrack.com) makes efficient order processing a priority, says company president Larry Weeman. Among features that serve party rental pros, he cites the ability to create missing-equipment invoices.

Looking to the future of rental technology, Weeman points to DSL and cable Internet connectivity. An example of online technology already proving a positive advancement for Party Track: “Web-based payment processing. Instead of using credit card machines with dial-up merchant services, you can process all of your credit card transactions right over the Internet through Web sites that provide this service,” Weeman says.

CATER TO CLIENTS

Speaking from a catering industry perspective, Ron Evans agrees that Internet-based order entry is big and poised to get much bigger.

What's next? “My clients are moving toward hand-held computers,” says the owner of Lincoln, Calif.-based Caterpro Software (www.caterprosoftware.com), which provides its Caterpro 8 for Windows — a program that carries no per-workstation fee for the network version — to off-premise caterers, restaurants, country clubs, hotels and other catering operations. According to Evans, hand-held technology is a boon to catering pros “not just for calendar kind of information, but also setup information they can take with them as opposed to carrying a piece of paper.”

Naples, Fla.-based Horizon Business Services (www.caterease.com) meets its clients' needs by offering its Caterease software in versions designed for small, medium and large catering and event companies, says company sales manager Tom Jewell. Functions for booking events and assigning staff, plus an ability to print contracts and generate food and beverage orders, are just some of the features that make Caterease Standard the company's most popular product, Jewell says. “Need to send a thank-you letter?” he adds, noting the importance of great customer service in today's tough economy. “No problem. Just a few mouse clicks and Caterease creates an elegant personalized letter without you having to touch the keyboard.”

THE BIG PICTURE

More than 1,000 event-related businesses currently use event management software created by Gaithersburg, Md.-based Synergy International (www.synergy-intl.com), according to chief operating officer Bill Marsh. He credits the popularity of Synergy's programs, including its best-selling Visual Synergy Enterprise, to a few key factors: “We have the ability to have our clients' Web sites configured to allow for real-time data to go directly into the Visual Synergy line of products. We also have extremely tight integration with the Microsoft Office suite of applications.” Most important of all, he adds, “The people who started Synergy and work here all came from the event industry. We have done what the people we're working with are doing.”

According to Marsh, Synergy users can expect such vital features as inventory tracking, report creation, event staffing and asset management, among others. Interested parties can visit the Internet for proof, he says. “Our most progressive demo is online and allows the user to log into our server and view an assisted live demonstration of the software while asking questions of our sales representatives in the process.”

Beth Goodell of Livermore, Calif.-based Efficient Frontiers (www.reserveinteractive.com) calls her company's event management software “process driven.” Users can expect explanatory prompts to help them through the program, rather than simple database fields, she says. Also included in the company's software package are 24-hour toll-free telephone and Internet technical support, plus a monthly newsletter with time-saving tips and advanced user instruction. But no matter how powerful it is, according to Goodell, software is worthless if it's impossible to use. “Carefully evaluate the software products available to you,” she advises. “‘Usability’ means more than just ease of use — it encompasses the subtle but powerful elements of screen flow, process and automation.”




RESOURCES

Caterpro Software, 800/606-1597; Efficient Frontiers, 888/433-4725; Event Rental Systems, 877/967-4557; Horizon Business Services, 800/863-1616; Solutions by Computer, 800/950-2221; Synergy International, 800/522-6210

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