November 19, 2012, 4:10 PM

Outdoor Living builds custom applications without developers

The retailer uses drag-and-drop software from TrackVia to handle customer data.

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After two years in e-commerce, outdoor furniture, housewares and recreation equipment retailer Outdoor Living outgrew using Microsoft Corp.’s Excel spreadsheets for organizing its customer records and information on more than 100,000 products, says Rony Daniel, the retailer’s vice president of business development. Excel didn’t provide the functionality Outdoor Living needed, he says, nor were the spreadsheets easy to share among employees. “Anytime something went wrong we needed a programmer or a database guy to fix things,” he says.

Daniel says he investigated software products that would have cost thousands of dollars and required months to implement, before deciding the retailer could build its own database applications with tools from TrackVia, Daniel says.

TrackVia provides an Internet-hosted software platform that allows non-technical staff to build applications for organizing and analyzing business records, the company says. For example, a car manufacturer created an app to track the locations of all its cars by vehicle identification number and coordinate where to house them among dealerships and warehouses across the country, a niche need that would probably be hard to find pre-built to that business’s exact specifications anywhere, says Charles Var, TrackVia’s vice president of marketing,.

“TrackVia does for business software what WordPress does for blogs,” Var says, referring to the web publishing platform that has a simple interface based on buttons and words. “You don’t need to know how to code for software, you can just drag and drop to build software. It’s a do-it-yourself application platform—do-it-yourself with a little bit of help.”

Customers don’t need to hire engineers or wait months for development, Var adds; the typical time to deploy an app is seven days. The company offers a handful of pre-built application templates for common uses, but Var says most customers build from scratch after testing TrackVia.

Outdoor Living’s first TrackVia application—to manage customer service tickets and tie them to web site and sales information—was up and running in about four days, Daniel says. The software includes privacy controls so that users from different departments can access the same database but see only the information relevant to them, he says. That way, Outdoor Living can use the application in various projects. For example, the retailer can track which products are generating the most complaints and contact manufacturers to fix them or, perhaps, send e-mails promoting fire pit covers to customers who bought fire pits last season, he says.

“You can pretty much create any application you want with it,” Daniel says. “The challenge is designing it to your needs.”

TrackVia’s web site features how-to webinars and videos with user tips for customers just getting started. Included in the monthly subscription is a one-on-one TrackVia contact who assists retailers in using the platform, Var says. When Outdoor Living isn’t sure how to make the exact application it wants, TrackVia typically provides a design for the requested app within 24 hours, Daniel says.

Additionally, Outdoor Living has improved its customer service efficiency, he says. Any manager from any department can log in to the database and see what he needs, such as open tickets. This will help the retailer when holiday sales spike in December, he adds, because managers will be able to give holiday staff database access and train them to use it in 10-15 minutes. In the past, training took a few days, he says.

Most customers begin by using the free community edition of TrackVia, Var says, which allows one user access to one custom application for as long as she wants. Then prices rise according to the number of users, applications and records managed, from three users with five applications handling 250,000 records for $99/month up to 100 users with 35 applications and 1,000,000 records for $1,999/month. TrackVia says it offers negotiable contracts for users requiring more capacity than that.

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