Sound Advice Electronics

Sound Advice Electronics plans new location expansion

with the support of Vigilant Solutions

by Andy Shaw

Wilf Fehr, the financial controller for Sound Advice Electronics stores in Manitoba, is like the great American heavyweight boxer, Joe Louis — a man of few, but well-chosen words. Louis was once asked after one of his world title bouts, how he felt about his fight. About all Joe said was, “It was a great fight… and I’m glad I won.”

Asked to reflect on his firm’s experience with Vigilant for Linux retail and accounting software, about all Wilf says is, “Vigilant’s a good system … and it works well for us.” From Wilf there couldn’t be higher praise.

Vigilant has been part of the firm’s operation since Wilf’s brother, Ernie Fehr, began the business selling audio, video, and security systems for home and automobile with a single store in Brandon in 1997.

“We were looking for a point-of-sale and inventory control package suitable for retailers and couldn’t really find one. That is, until someone told me about Vigilant,” says Wilf.

“So I did morechecking and there was no doubt that Vigilant was the best.”

What Kiddle, Vigilant, and Linux together solved for Sound Advice’s two stores is a problem faced by multiple-store, chain store, and franchise owners and operators everywhere: How do you know what’s going on with your business financially at any given moment — when you can’t be in more than one place at a time?

How much is being sold? Who is selling it? For how much? How much cash is in the till? What’s left of our inventory? How is one store doing compared to the other? These are questions that have bedevilled businesses large and small since time immemorial.

In recent times, technology has come to the rescue of large corporations. They’ve been able to afford the complex software and wide area networks (WANs) that can provide financial answers in real time from remote locations. But the high cost of setting up and maintaining a WAN is beyond the reach of most small and medium sized businesses. The alternative is multi-site polling. Using regular telephone lines, and multi-site polling software, owners can retrieve financial data from computers in their other outlets overnight or periodically during the day. But it’s not real time, of course, and the results can be rife with difficulties unless your staff:

Remembered to leave their computers switched on
Didn’t forget to switch the phone line to ‘modem’
Know the proper ‘create and merge’ steps to follow
Don’t ignore making backups for easy recovery
Don’t disrupt the work of others with over-frequent polling.

You get the idea.

Jane Giggal knew that there had be a better way. Aware of the pitfalls of multi-site polling, and in search of a better solution, Vigilant’s Vice President Strategic Development, brainstormed with Vigilant’s software development team and consulted with a select number Vigilant’s 11,000 users — ones who had experimented with running Vigilant applications on Linux, the operating system that powers much of the Internet. As Giggal discovered, those experimenters had proven Linux to be as rock solid, fast, and reliable as the overlying Vigilant software, which Vigilant has been evolving constantly since 1983. Giggal then set a revolution in motion at Vigilant. “From Jane’s investigations, we knew for sure that user expectations had risen beyond time-
delayed polling of information,” says Jon Mainwaring, Vigilant’s President. “What customers wanted was real time information delivered in a fast, stable, and secure environment by a system that, most importantly, was affordable. We realized too, that since Linux was designed for it, we could use the Internet as the delivery mechanism.”

Consequently, Vigilant’s Chief Technology Officer, Dan Maloney, led a Linux software development team that redesigned the underlying architecture of Vigilant to suit Linux. And thus was born a breakthrough — a real time financial management system that small and medium-sized businesses could afford.

“One of the beauties of using Linux is that the application, and all the data sit on one host server,” explains Maloney.

“That means the server does all the processing not the client terminals out at your various locations. As a result, there are only miniscule packets of information containing just display and input characters that have to go back and forth over the Internet. So Linux enables Vigilant to work much faster and in real time.”

Set-up time can be faster too, especially when Vigilant is teamed with the OpenLinux operating system from Caldera International, Inc. of Orem, Utah — as Kiddle did for Sound Advice. “Caldera’s set-up routines are very quick,” says Kiddle. “So instead of taking days to get a new business system up and running, you’re talking just hours.” “We’re on the road quite a bit, especially Ernie. He travels to an electronic show in Las Vegas and sales meetings in places like Vancouver and Toronto,” says Wilf. “But all we have to do, if we want to know what’s going on with the business no matter where we are, we just get on the Internet and we can log into our server. Even if a customer calls and says he needs a certain part, I can do the sale from Vancouver or wherever I am and print the invoice in Brandon or Steinbach.”

It is this ease with which Linux, Vigilant, and the Internet allow a business to take its financial systems beyond traditional geographic boundaries that is catching a lot of attention among other firms, reports Kiddle.

“We have a broker of oil and gas industry supplies here in Calgary, for instance, looking at Vigilant, because they have a sales rep in Kazakhstan. And with Vigilant he can simply log on from there, check stock, and sell an order,” says Kiddle. “And it doesn’t matter what your industry is. We also have companies in the cellular phone, tile making, and scrap metal businesses all online with Vigilant.”

At Sound Advice, Wilf admits his only concern about using a retail and accounting application on the Internet was security. But he’s since learned just how impenetrable Linux is to hackers and the like. Because its an “open source” program, developers around the world are constantly making Linux stronger. In addition, Caldera has made Linux more business friendly. Caldera has packaged Linux so that not only is its set-up quicker but so is making Linux fit with other business applications such as printing programs and even the Windows operating system.

“That’s something that not everyone understands. Linux and Windows can be made to work very well together as Caldera has done,” says Mainwaring. “Users at their own computers can still interface comfortably with the Windows desktop they know, while Linux is working unseen over the network in the background .”

Make no mistake, though, says Kiddle, having Linux work in the background is far superior to anything else a small or medium-sized business might put there including network versions of Windows: “Compared to the speed and ease of Linux, Windows’ wide area networking just doesn’t do it. Windows can be tedious especially if you are relying on the Internet as your network. It works great of course on dedicated networks.

“However, we know from our own experience with Vigilant (Kiddle Enterprises itself uses Vigilant), that you don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up your own network. With Vigilant for Linux, you get the same real time information at only a small fraction of the cost.” Concludes Kiddle about Vigilant: “It’s a good product that we can rely on. It’s the same with all the products from all our suppliers. If they don’t perform, we don’t use them. And in Vigilant’s case, they also have a very good reputation for technical support.”

All this has Ernie and Wilf thinking about adding more Sound Advice stores to their chain. Asked if Vigilant would go with them, Wilf replied , “Yes.” Asked if they were thinking about expansion because they knew Vigilant could support their growth, Wilf also replied, “Yes.”

Even Joe Louis could not have expressed confidence in Vigilant more succinctly.

Andy Shaw is a freelance writer, broadcaster and international journalist with articles in many business and technical publications.

For more information about Sound Advice Electronics, visit www.sound-advice.ca

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