COMPANIES TO WATCH
|Tri-Tech’s suite of software applications continue to bring new tools to the music retailer’s fingertips.
Retail software specialist announces name change, new partnerships for flagship application.
GIVE OR TAKE TWO LETTERS, the AIM software package by Tri-Technical Systems has been a digital nerve center for music stores since its first version rolled out more than three decades ago. Formerly known as AIMsi (Accounting and Inventory Management Systems Integration) Tri-Tech’s flagship application is the music retailer’s answer to standard-issue point-of-sale software, combining tools for accounting and inventory tracking with rental management, repair and service tracking, and more. A recent rebranding gave it a shorter, more straightforward name and a modernized logo—and although it’s been described as “a change in name only,” that’s only mostly true. While the onboard features of the current “version 12” software haven’t changed, AIM recently gained a new partner in TeacherZone, an online lesson scheduling platform that helps students and teachers communicate while organizing assignments, reminders, and class tracking. Because the system integrates directly with AIM, retailers can use it to effortlessly pull up student and guardian information, update records, and manage payments. With its years-long record of smart upgrades and customizable solutions, Tri-Tech was recognized during the Summer NAMM’s Show’s “Best In Show” awards, where it was named one of this year’s “Companies To Watch.”
“We’re excited about our integration with TeacherZone,” says Greg Cox, COO of Tri-Tech. “This partnership expands on our suite of technology solutions for music industry retailers.”
Founded in 1984, Tri-Tech is credited as the first company to rethink point-of-sale software for the unique needs of music retail. In the 35 years since it launched its first program, the software specialist has retooled its signature applications many times over to keep pace with the speed of technology. The software package now called AIM has built continually on its tools for inventory management, point-of-sale, accounting, and much more.
Tri-Tech’s Active-e, the integration interface that shares data between AIM and the outside world—including e-commerce, mobile apps, and other third party integrations—also got a recent redesign, adding new features and enhancements for querying and posting to the user’s AIM database. During the redesign, Tri-Tech decided to give users access to some of Active-e’s internal workings, exposing its functionality via secure API calls so that customers with web or mobile programming experience can design their own custom websites or mobile applications. For those who want “out of the box” solutions, Tri-Tech partners with ecommerce specialist Vortx to offer a robust e-commerce platform called AIMStorefront. It’s also finalizing a mobile app suite that can be white-labeled (store-branded) for retailers, giving their customers a new way to make payments; view rental history, receipts, and purchase history; update credit card information; and more. The mobile app also has employee-facing functions that let employees search inventory, view inventory history, enter physical inventory, and receive purchase orders, among other tools.
“We rewrote the software from the ground up using the newest development languages to allow us to take advantage of more innovative technologies,” says Tri-Tech CEO Paul Acton.
Based in Dubuque, Iowa, Tri-Technical Systems was established at a time when the software options for music stores were somewhere between inadequate and nonexistent. Founder David Cox had 18 years’ experience in computer programming, but he was working in the equipment leasing business when one of his clients, a computer salesperson, happened to mention the problem: Music retailers couldn’t find a workable software package because off-the-shelf applications had no tools for managing rentals, lessons, repairs, and other essentials of the business. Cox went on to found Tri-Tech along with his wife, Julie, and introduced its first product under the name SoftMusic—now AIM. As Acton says, “AIM was developed to uniquely fit the needs of music retailers.”
Over the years, tools were added for customer loyalty programs, payroll and employee management, and automatic ordering, to name just a few. Through a “module-based” design, the software can be configured with whichever combination of resources, or modules, makes sense for each business. For instance, AIM’s “base” package can be augmented by a “B2B” module that networks with suppliers to keep track of available stock and pricing, or a “C2B” module that lets customers view their account history and make online payments. “Each module integrates seamlessly with the other modules and can greatly enhance the AIM experience,” says Acton.
As Tri-Tech developed other software applications, AIM became the centerpiece in a suite of applications designed to work in tandem. With Active-e as the conduit to an e-commerce site, AIM acts as a companion inventory management center, processing orders and feeding in real-time inventory information so the two are always in sync. “We have set ourselves apart by listening to our clients and creating fully integrated business control technology tools to match their specific needs,” says Acton.
Acton, who joined the business in 1990 with a computer science degree and several years’ experience at another specialized software company, now heads up the Tri-Tech team. Credited with driving many of the company’s key technical updates, he’s also cultivated ties with music retailers, manufacturers, publishers, and distributors to open up a constant give-and-take between Tri-Tech and the industry at large. Over the years, he and his team have performed multiple overhauls of their software to respond to new needs and requests, building in features such as serialized inventory tracking, long-term rental inventory tracking, repair and service tracking, and many others. The company has also elected to keep technical support in-house, rather than farming it out to call centers, so the team that built the software can be the team that responds when questions arise.
“We continue to consult with retailers and match them up with custom technology solutions,” says Acton. “And our markets continue to evolve as technology provides more efficiencies in the day-to-day tasks involved in running retail businesses.”
Tri-Tech software solutions are now used by businesses across North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Australia, and other points around the world. As Acton notes, software is an “evergreen” business in the sense that technology is always serving up something fresh, and customers are always looking to tech solutions for the edge they need. “In strong economic times, businesses push for growth by crunching data and looking for new revenue streams,” he explains. “In slower economic times, businesses look to be more efficient as they are forced to run a little leaner. The tools that our software provides allow them to access data to better help them make the business decisions that will help them succeed.”