Monday, June 1, 1998

Keeping track of car dealer inventory


By Geoffrey Bonser

Many businesses are looking for ways to make it easier for employees to use computers to improve their efficiency. Auto dealers are no exception. Having data at the fingertips of auto sales personnel can a whole range of everyday business tasks easier to do. In this article, we'll explore how a custom solution for auto dealers was developed using the PalmPilot

Jeff Sacks and Associates (JS&A) is an automotive consulting group that provides their auto dealer clients with accounting and computer system solutions. Sandi Jerome described the problem they were trying to solve: "Most of our dealers complained about the lack of good inventory reports and their employees' inability to use the in-house computer system to search for a vehicle. Most sales managers and salespeople use stock cards or invoice books (paper solutions) that are difficult to maintain and often inaccurate."

JS&A decided that the PalmPilot made perfect sense as a handheld companion to their mainframe and desktop-based sales tools. So they devised a software solution, called "SalesLink" to allow auto dealer employees to use the PalmPilot to access their inventory data.

SalesLink consists of several pieces:

  • a dealer's in-house system which can be ADP, Reynolds & Reynolds, UCS, Dealer Solutions or EDS systems (all industry-specific dealer systems);
  • a custom conduit running on the desktop built with Windward Group software known as RTAccess;
  • and an Auto Inventory application that runs on the PalmPilot.

While JS&A is more familiar with auto dealer solutions, my company, The Winward Group, has experience developing PalmPilot applications. We worked together to produce SalesLink. I wrote the synchronization and handheld portions of the system.

Since most PalmPower readers aren't auto dealers, this article isn't intended as a pitch for SalesLink (and PalmPower editors wouldn't let us publish it if it were). Rather, I hope you'll get a good understanding of an interesting industry-specific solution for the PalmPilot.

Benefits for the Dealership

SalesLink provides an easy way for the dealership to provide a detailed listing of its inventory to the dealer (usually the owner), sales managers, used car buyers, salespeople and special finance departments. According to Jerome, "The cost of maintaining an inventory is the largest expense for dealerships, and dealers have few tools to market and manage this inventory."

A dealer's in-house system can be difficult to use and is not too portable. With SalesLink on a PalmPilot, dealers always have an easily searchable inventory listing in hand. That lets them better serve their customers. Mike Johnson of Durand Chevrolet in Durand, Michigan describes it this way: "I'm always running into customers at the mall or at meetings and they ask me if I have such-or-such of a model in stock. With this in my pocket I won't have to 'get back to them' later."