Each Friday, Furniture News puts five questions to a selected industry professional to explore their background and approach to business. Today, it's the turn of Gordon Kinnear, MD of Edinburgh-based software provider Optimise Solutions

How did you get into the trade?

In the early 1990s, we wrote stock control and invoicing software for a variety of industries including wholesaling, retail jewellery and hiring. We found the requirements of furniture retailers similar to retail jewellers, and so started to sell into that market.

The mid-nineties saw a lot of hiring companies struggle, whereas the retail furnishing and wholesaling side of our business was expanding, so we decided to specialise in these.
Over the years, the furniture retailing side of our business has really taken off to the extent that now 75% of our business is to furniture retailers.

What was the turning point in your career?

Our software used to be a Unix operating system-based software until 10 years ago. Computers and internet were only for those who could afford it. The software market wasn’t very competitive and thus there used to be very little that was done towards developing new, time- and cost-saving features.

Ever since the dawn of this century, people know a lot more about softwares, technology and web solutions. Sage and Microsoft have been big players and it could have been really tough to survive under their shadow.

That’s when we decided to become more agile and rewrote our software into a Windows-based application. Being a Windows-based software, we were able to connect and integrate with all modern devices and accounting softwares. We also went on to create a first of its kind sync program to run an e-commerce website straight from the stock database.

The change from Unix to Windows was the best thing that ever happened to my company.

How will the industry evolve?

Software for furniture has always been a question of cost. There used to be companies who charged unbelievable costs to bespoke, set up and train. Big software firms used to write software from scratch for each furniture business, and most times it became a project that took months to write at a mammoth cost.

Thanks to the competition, the pricing models are now in favour of the retailers. We now have a few software systems that are specifically written for the furniture industry.

This avoids months of programming time and can be installed/set up and staff trained to use the software in just three days. The software has been developed with the furniture industry’s specific requirements in terms of stock control and accounting.

We’ve already been able to link ecommerce websites with our software, print showroom display tickets without needing to buy extra software, enable iPhone access to the stock database, and much more.

"The change from Unix to Windows was the best thing that ever happened to my company"

The industry is advancing very fast, and making available more and more exciting new features that will help furniture businesses optimise their time and increase profit margins.

Furniture retailers are now aware of the benefits that a software system can bring to their business – time and cost savings, increased profit margins, and peace of mind.

We have been getting a lot of enquiries in the past three months. Most of them want a fully integrated system by default. Having independent softwares to manage stock, accounts, display labels, ecommerce website, and orders are a thing of the past.

We found it interesting that retailers are keen to offer a comprehensive order tracking facility to the customers. This would eliminate the number of customer service calls that retailers cater to. 
There is also a number of online purchasing networks that are under development. These portals can handle retailer/supplier transactions with reduced paperwork and improved accuracy.

How can retailers increase sales and profitability?

To increase sales, retailers have to maintain high levels of customer service. To increase profits, in the current climate, retailers should be cutting operational costs that build up due to repetitive processes.

That’s why some sort of a technology or software to assist business owners is a must. If the software can generate reports and dashboards that are easy to read and analyse, the retailers can make better sales and business development decisions.

We are noticing an upward trend in retailers wanting an online catalogue website where they can showcase all their products. This approach is effective. Customers can have a look around the website at their leisure and then call or walk into the store to buy the product.

What brings a smile to your face in this industry?

We are a UK-based company and we go out and meet every potential customer to demonstrate the benefits of using our software.

Sometimes we don’t hear back from them for months and out of the blue we get a call from them saying that they had a look at all other furniture trade and retail systems and found Optimise to be the best-rounded solution.

Such positive feedback and a loyal customer base that trusts us puts a smile on my face and drives me to help more businesses.

This is an extract from an article published previously in Furniture News magazine. For more stories like this, you can subscribe to receive a regular physical copy of the magazine, or to have a free digital issue delivered to your inbox each month.