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Violin Shop Management Software


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Sorry for such a boring question, but I am trying to decide on software for managing the business operations of a violin shop. I've used AIMsi, and mostly hate it, although I'm not sure there are better choices readily available. I'd like to be able to manage inventory, integrate the inventory management with a website automatically, keep track of rentals and contracts, instrument trials, sales, repair scheduling, repair estimates, billing, payroll, shipping etc...

AIMsi does all those things, but it's so painful and counter-intuitive that I'd love to know of something else since I am starting from scratch. I also think that the software integration with a website will require the right web provider, so I don't want to build the website on a platform that is incompatible with software. Squarespace does not appear to have support for inventory integration with your brick and mortar store otherwise I think I'd probably use that, since it has worked well for me before.

I appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

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We have not found anything that works well.  Qb enterprise covers a great deal, but it is very expensive and every time there is an issue no one at the support center seems to have any idea what is going on.  It is supposed to sync with the websites and the cc processors,  but that is a pipe dream.  The inventory control is pretty good as is the client and vendor data base, but the calendars are useless at best.  

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19 hours ago, The Violin Beautiful said:

Could you give more info about the issues with AIMSi? We have the software at the shop but haven't set it up yet, so any insight into serious problems would be appreciated.

AIMsi to me represents everything that I hate about Microsoft products. Not intuitive, difficult to manage, in theory you have quite a bit of customizability, but some really key features are not there.

Examples: When you're entering your item descriptions into AIMsi you need to be really careful about punctuation. If you type Bach: in the description, for example it will not find Bach because there is punctuation attached. You will need to use a wildcard search Bach*  That may not be the end of the world, but if you use a / for any reason it will prevent you from searching for anything attached to the backslash. For example 4/4 3/4 etc... are unsearchable because the slash eliminates them from searchable results. To work around this and make searchable fractional codes we used the Selection Code feature, which allowed us to create codes like 4/4 and 3/4 that are searchable in a different dropdown list than the description. An item can have only one selection code, though, so if you ant to search for anything that is multi size, like some cases or shoulder rests etc... you will not be able to narrow by size.

If you want to track instrument inventory trends by size you have problems because AIMsi customer data for sales and contracts are a separate category from the inventory data like Selection Code. If you want to look at reports of sales or rentals by size you will need to build that in to your instrument code system, then export a list to an Excel sheet and come up with some way of sorting by code or counting how many items in a given column have a particular code. Then make sure you don't have that same code reoccurring in any of your model numbers or it will cause an error. For example: The 4/4 violin Strad you're selling in your shop might be STRAD-VN and the 3/4 violin might be STRAD-VT so you can search for VN and VT in an Excel sheet and find how many times they occur. Alternatively you can have any individual code and a full breakdown of all those codes to be counted in the proper category, and cut and paste your formulas into the sheet once you download a new data set, and it will count up everything and give you totals. Really obnoxious, though, if you want to get a monthly report of certain trends by size.

You also can't have notes placed in an easily searchable way. You have the one field for description, but if you want to have something that will not be displayed on invoices, and more detailed descriptions that are still searchable you can't do that if I recall correctly.

You can create package deals for strings, such as a Dominant G, D, A and Gold Label E, but you can't have these automatically adjust based on percentage of the individual prices of strings. That means that if the prices change for Any of those strings you need to track down every package deal and manage it individually, and remember that there is this additional component to manage when prices change for anything that is part of a package deal.

There are other nuisances, which you may or may not be able to work around easily, but those are the primary ones that come to mind. There are good things about it, however, I recall a constant frustration in the shop where I worked briefly as part of the sales staff and people were constantly having items come to the counter for purchase and being unable to figure out what SKU it was because you're so limited in searchable terms. People can get really frustrated when they're waiting to get checked out and the cashier can't figure out what they're trying to sell and what it should cost. It was a pretty regular occurrence.

Hope that helps give some perspective.

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On 5/14/2017 at 7:39 PM, MaestronetLurker said:

I also think that the software integration with a website will require the right web provider... Squarespace does not appear to have support for inventory integration with your brick and mortar store

If you're big enough to need this, you're big enough to lay out for some custom middleware (if needed).  You just need to use the same database for both.

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6 hours ago, MaestronetLurker said:

AIMsi to me represents everything that I hate about Microsoft products. Not intuitive, difficult to manage, in theory you have quite a bit of customizability, but some really key features are not there.

Examples: When you're entering your item descriptions into AIMsi you need to be really careful about punctuation. If you type Bach: in the description, for example it will not find Bach because there is punctuation attached. You will need to use a wildcard search Bach*  That may not be the end of the world, but if you use a / for any reason it will prevent you from searching for anything attached to the backslash. For example 4/4 3/4 etc... are unsearchable because the slash eliminates them from searchable results. To work around this and make searchable fractional codes we used the Selection Code feature, which allowed us to create codes like 4/4 and 3/4 that are searchable in a different dropdown list than the description. An item can have only one selection code, though, so if you ant to search for anything that is multi size, like some cases or shoulder rests etc... you will not be able to narrow by size.

If you want to track instrument inventory trends by size you have problems because AIMsi customer data for sales and contracts are a separate category from the inventory data like Selection Code. If you want to look at reports of sales or rentals by size you will need to build that in to your instrument code system, then export a list to an Excel sheet and come up with some way of sorting by code or counting how many items in a given column have a particular code. Then make sure you don't have that same code reoccurring in any of your model numbers or it will cause an error. For example: The 4/4 violin Strad you're selling in your shop might be STRAD-VN and the 3/4 violin might be STRAD-VT so you can search for VN and VT in an Excel sheet and find how many times they occur. Alternatively you can have any individual code and a full breakdown of all those codes to be counted in the proper category, and cut and paste your formulas into the sheet once you download a new data set, and it will count up everything and give you totals. Really obnoxious, though, if you want to get a monthly report of certain trends by size.

You also can't have notes placed in an easily searchable way. You have the one field for description, but if you want to have something that will not be displayed on invoices, and more detailed descriptions that are still searchable you can't do that if I recall correctly.

You can create package deals for strings, such as a Dominant G, D, A and Gold Label E, but you can't have these automatically adjust based on percentage of the individual prices of strings. That means that if the prices change for Any of those strings you need to track down every package deal and manage it individually, and remember that there is this additional component to manage when prices change for anything that is part of a package deal.

There are other nuisances, which you may or may not be able to work around easily, but those are the primary ones that come to mind. There are good things about it, however, I recall a constant frustration in the shop where I worked briefly as part of the sales staff and people were constantly having items come to the counter for purchase and being unable to figure out what SKU it was because you're so limited in searchable terms. People can get really frustrated when they're waiting to get checked out and the cashier can't figure out what they're trying to sell and what it should cost. It was a pretty regular occurrence.

Hope that helps give some perspective.

Was your great-grandpa pissed that the field didn't plow itself?

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On 5/16/2017 at 1:30 AM, Bill Merkel said:

If you're big enough to need this, you're big enough to lay out for some custom middleware (if needed).  You just need to use the same database for both.

It's really hard to search for software and get any sense of what it will do for a violin shop specifically, and of course it doesn't seem like there are products designed closely enough for what we need to be a perfect fit (if that's possible). I would think that any retail business with both web business and a brick and mortar store would want this integration, but from what I can tell it just isn't so straight forward. That seems bizarre to me. Especially with large web platforms like Squarespace that have web store options. One would think that it would be in the best interest of both the software companies and the web platforms to make sure their software has a way of integrating without custom middleware.

On 5/16/2017 at 1:32 AM, Bill Merkel said:

Was your great-grandpa pissed that the field didn't plow itself?

I don't really think it's so much to ask in this day and age that software has a smart search. At least enough to know that when searching for a word it should find it even if punctuation is attached or to be able to search for a fraction within a description. There are all sorts of web reports available, and the ability to make custom reports, but when the data sets can't be cross referenced and you have to export and jump through these extra hoops it seems a little ridiculous.

It seems to me that it's expensive software that has lots of features, but still manages to be a bit clumsy.

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'Lurker's criticisms are valid but they would apply to almost any structured database product that I have had the misfortune to work with. Mistakes made in setup are often almost impossible to undo, and they are inevitable, since at setup it is almost impossible to predict exactly what we want or how we will want to use the product. 

Often the easiest solution is to stay with the product you already know, having learned a whole lot about its limitations and quirks and start again with a clean database, that incorporates all of the learned lessons.

I can almost guarantee that a new product will have an equal number of quirks and idiosyncrasies but they will be subtly different, and the new database will be just as annoying but in a different way.

The search criticism is valid within the world of internet functionality, but in the world of structured databases, its almost an impossibility without a bunch of  front end programming. The trouble is, structured databases were designed to do one job and now we are trying to make them do stuff they are just not very good at.

 

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On 5/14/2017 at 4:39 PM, MaestronetLurker said:

Sorry for such a boring question, but I am trying to decide on software for managing the business operations of a violin shop. I've used AIMsi, and mostly hate it, although I'm not sure there are better choices readily available. I'd like to be able to manage inventory, integrate the inventory management with a website automatically, keep track of rentals and contracts, instrument trials, sales, repair scheduling, repair estimates, billing, payroll, shipping etc...

AIMsi does all those things, but it's so painful and counter-intuitive that I'd love to know of something else since I am starting from scratch. I also think that the software integration with a website will require the right web provider, so I don't want to build the website on a platform that is incompatible with software. Squarespace does not appear to have support for inventory integration with your brick and mortar store otherwise I think I'd probably use that, since it has worked well for me before.

I appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

OMG, now you've got my Sunday riled up....AIMsi...............  This program drives me crazy.  I've  never used something that lacks so much basic intuitiveness.  It is the most non user friendly program, and this is coming from an AIMsi user that started back when Tri Tech softmusic (AIMsi) was a dos menu program.  We used  this up until a year ago (believe it, or not) because of the problems with AIMsi, and we are a pretty large operation.  Trevet is right that the best program....is  the one you know sometimes.  A lot of ML's complaints about the program didn't exist in the older version (dos menu, softmusic) and when  we converted,   all h..ll broke  loose. Tons of  things like the 4/4 issue, i  could go on for days.  Bill, I don't agree with your assesment as ML (and I), I believe, are comparing the program to others out there, not spoiled with unrealistic expectations.  The problem for a music shop is, that the rental module is what's missing out of other retail POS software, otherwise, I would bail in a minute.  

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On 5/16/2017 at 1:30 AM, Bill Merkel said:

If you're big enough to need this, you're big enough to lay out for some custom middleware (if needed).  You just need to use the same database for both.

Jeff,

   You should try QuickBooks.  The program does not work very well, the tech people mostly do not know what they are doing, but at least it is way too expensive.

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Just now, Jerry Pasewicz said:

Jeff,

   You should try QuickBooks.  The program does not work very well, the tech people mostly do not know what they are doing, but at least it is way too expensive.

Oh man, now MN is really pushing my sunday am out of shape.  I use the QB online version in my (help) with my wife's optical practice and we are finally moving  to another system the first of the month.  QB help is usually better in a search on the web, kinda like web therapy..................

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1 minute ago, Jeff White said:

Oh man, now MN is really pushing my sunday am out of shape.  I use the QB online version in my (help) with my wife's optical practice and we are finally moving  to another system the first of the month.  QB help is usually better in a search on the web, kinda like web therapy..................

Yeah, we tried to switch over to online many years ago, it was an absolute shitshow.  The latest problem is when you download a report to excel, it aborts the program.....I often ponder what would happen if we were as bad at our jobs as some of these people are at theirs.  I do not know about you, but I would probably lose my profit sharing and bonus.

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On 5/24/2017 at 3:53 AM, carl1961 said:

MaestronetLurker if you have time to read  maybe check these sites
https://unicenta.com/  

and maybe also this Luthers shop software http://www.whistlingfishsoftware.com.au/LuthiersWorkbench.htm

Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately neither of those would quite work for a violin shop doing sales, service, and rentals. I was really hoping that someone on MN was going to have the perfect answer, but I guess we are in a rather small niche. 

As a point of comparison the company that my wife works for (fashion industry) had custom software built to do everything that they wanted. It cost something like $15,000-$20,000 + a subscription fee. The software company owned the code, which also somehow meant that they owned the data in the program or something. Not quite clear, but they had constant bugs. Certain reports would crash the system and it would require a programmer to reset it. The company folded, and agreed to keep hosting the software for the same fee, but their support was virtually gone. From the sound of it the data was not easily exported because of the lack of a universal format, so switching to a new system was a huge undertaking. Overall it was a total disaster. So, in comparison AIMsi doesn't look so bad.

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Came across this today, and it seems promising. https://www.rainpos.com

I see some guitar shops are using it, and you can see reviews from those shops here:

http://www.capterra.com/point-of-sale-software/spotlight/140893/Rain Point of Sale/Rain Retail Software

The upshot is they seem to be liking it. Integrates well with websites (don't know about compatibility with particular web platforms), has sales, rentals, and service. The two notable cons mentioned in a couple reviews from music stores were that it doesn't seem to have options for trades or consignments, and there are some issues with voided transactions and accounting. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Looks very easy. Haven't seen any info about pricing yet, but I've hit my limit for researching this question for the time being. Will report back if I find anything interesting later.

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On 5/20/2017 at 11:33 AM, MaestronetLurker said:

I don't really think it's so much to ask in this day and age that software has a smart search.

Do you mean type in 'strad' to retrieve 'stradivarius' as well as 'strad'?   Some people wouldn't like it, e.g. maybe type in 'hot' and retrieve 'hotel'.  So you'd have to be able to turn it on and off, which makes it harder for everybody, and multiply that times some big number of similar examples.  And once a feature is in there you can never remove it, because somebody might be using it.  And then somebody is in the habit of putting a space after their search term and it won't match stradivarius because he wanted it to only match strad.  Unless you strip the space, which messes up a bunch of other people, likely as not in some way you'd never forsee... The cardinal sin is to force someone to change the way they do business.  But for a one size fits all, the best you can do is try to write something that meets typical needs or accepted practices.  If you have something to write for someone specific you can more easily avoid that but then comes the impossible or conflicting requests...  I can't think of any examples at them moment but I've had some funny ones.

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On 6/2/2017 at 7:41 PM, Bill Merkel said:

Do you mean type in 'strad' to retrieve 'stradivarius' as well as 'strad'?   Some people wouldn't like it, e.g. maybe type in 'hot' and retrieve 'hotel'.  So you'd have to be able to turn it on and off, which makes it harder for everybody, and multiply that times some big number of similar examples.  And once a feature is in there you can never remove it, because somebody might be using it.  And then somebody is in the habit of putting a space after their search term and it won't match stradivarius because he wanted it to only match strad.  Unless you strip the space, which messes up a bunch of other people, likely as not in some way you'd never forsee... The cardinal sin is to force someone to change the way they do business.  But for a one size fits all, the best you can do is try to write something that meets typical needs or accepted practices.  If you have something to write for someone specific you can more easily avoid that but then comes the impossible or conflicting requests...  I can't think of any examples at them moment but I've had some funny ones.

I guess what I mean is that it would work like most search functions on a computer. As I mentioned, in AIMsi if you were looking for something with the title "Bach: Sonatas" and you typed Bach into the search field it would not find it because the description is has Bach: not Bach

If you search for 4/4 it will not find it because a backslash attached to any character eliminates it from search results no matter what you do. Apparently that has something to do with coding (so I was told). In any case, the restrictions in the search function are unlike anything I've come across on a computer before. Very frustrating.

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Maybe try Bach* and 4\/4. You should be able to escape special characters bound to functions by \ and also have some kine of white character that is a character for every other character possible, also more than one. Sadly I dont know anything about this software, but I guess it might do a sql search query where this should work. 

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  • 1 year later...

Hello!

SO glad I came across this post-- I am with an independent instrument shop, and searching for new software. We also use Aimsi, and strongly dislike it, for the reasons detailed in previous posts (unintuitive, inefficient, etc). 

I'm very interested in Rain-- they seem like a much better solution-- has anyone had a successful transition? Or, did you find another program that better fit your needs?

It would be great to share our experiences and best practices! I'd love to hear how Rain (or other software) has been working for you. Thank you!

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