SPECTRUM IN THE STORE
Mike Wright takes stock of three programs for small business
STOCK CONTROL for small businessmen, such as shop-keepers, is often a matter of looking at the shelves while working, noticing where stock is low and reordering. In such circumstances is there any point in having and using a stock control program? In attempting to answer that question we look at three stock control programs from Hilderbay, Transform and Kemp.
All the programs are driven from a master menu followed by a combination of prompts and secondary menus. They all feature the basic requirements of information on line, supplier, unit cost, stock level and re-order level and offer the ability to add and deduct stock.
Any changes in unit costs affecting the total value are, however, dealt with differently. The main differences are in the way the output is presented and each has features which make it attractive to possible users.
The Transform program holds up to 900 lines. On loading, the program prompts for a file name for the data before displaying the main menu. That offers eight options, including update stock, list stock, deduct stock and print all details. The four remaining options are used for saving and loading the stock list and/or the program. The options are all selected by a single keystroke.
Option one is used for entering the stock details in the beginning and then updating the details at a later stage. When selected, a secondary menu is offered. That is headed Search facility and offers six options - 1, to enter new stock item; 2, to search for a supplier; 3, to search for details of stock; 4, to search for sock number; 0, to scan pages; ENTER to return to main menu.
Selecting option one displays the bare details of the line. Those are stock number, line, supplier, unit price, stock level, re-order level and value of stock. The stock number is assigned by the program and the other details are prompted for one by one. When the details have been completed another menu is displayed in the lower half of the screen.
That on-screen menu allows changes to be made to any of the details, searching on a stock number and scanning backwards and forwards. To continue entering new stock lines is simply a matter of pressing ENTER. The other options can then be used to search for the supplier, the line and the stock number or to scan through the lines.
Adding or deducting stock can be done using any of the search options on the Search facility menu to display the details of the line and then selecting option two to deduct stock or option seven to add stock. The program prompts for the amount of stock assuming the current unit price. If the unit price is changed the total value of the stock is calculated at the new rate.
Option two allows listings of the lines of stock to be made by all-lines, supplier, low stock levels, or supplier and low stock. Every time an option is chosen a printout or screen display can be selected. The all-lines option also allows the user to choose the first stock number from which the listing will start and gives the last used stock number. Stock can be deducted also using option three on the main menu which asks for the stock number and when the details are displayed the amount of stock is entered.
The cassette insert states that with that option the program can be used easily beside a cash register. It is possible that having the cashier remember the stock number for each line would create more difficulties than it solves. Certainly it is easier to use the search facility to deduct stock.
Although the only manual is the cassette inlay, which contains the barest information on running the program, it is remarkably easy to follow and use. Nearly all options are selected by a single keystroke. The exceptions are for printing and deleting a line. The method of displaying the details on a line is one of the most compact and yet clear and informative to be found.
In contrast, the Kemp program is fussier in its approach but incorporates more safeguards against accidental errors. The user is asked first if the loaded program is to be verified, then for a two-letter security code - which is set up on the first run - and then the date. After that a nine-option menu is presented. Creating a new line is done from option four. The details are stock number, description, supplier, unit cost, re-order level, present stock level and stock value. Unlike the Transform program the stock number is alphanumeric - numbers and letters - and is user-definable up to four characters. As each value is entered it is displayed.
Having realised that each item is being prompted for in turn, it is a shock to find the program asking for the date again - a reference which does no appear to be used elsewhere - and then the type of transaction, for instance goods in or out, when all you might expect to enter is the present stock level.
After the transaction type, the amount of stock is prompted. That is followed by a prompt asking for the value of the stock. Entering u calculates the value of the stock at the unit cost and adds or subtracts that from the total value - initially zero. Alternatively, a separate total value can be entered. The same procedure is used for updating the details - option two - as well.
There is, unfortunately, no way of skipping from one line to another when updating and once the details have been entered a return must be made to the main menu before updating another line. Corrections can be made to line details or the line deleted using options three and four respectively. Before those can be used the access code must be entered again.
A display of the details on a single line can be obtained from option one; a listing of the amount and value of all lines is given using option six, while option seven displays the total value of all stock. Option eight allows the lines to be searched and itemised by either description or supplier. Despite a maximum of 20 characters per description, the search is done on the first four letters only. A list of lines with low stock levels is given by option nine which allows also all stock to be revalued at unit cost, again after the access code is given.
Saving and loading is easy. To save a file press e and ENTER on the main menu. The saved version is then used to load both program and data next time. In running the program a printer needs to be attached permanently, as a printout is made automatically at nearly every stage, creating a paper chase for the auditors. The need to enter every option seems tedious after using single keystrokes to select options, as is the need to enter the date at every transaction.
The Kemp program is probably the most sophisticated of the three and that is indicated by the packaging and the level of error-trapping. Perhaps, however, you would rather forego some of the sophistication for a slightly more usable program.
The Hilderbay program differs from the others in that you are allowed to specify the number of characters used for the details of the lines. The program also allows for an additional amount of text to be specified for each line. The length of the text is also prompted for when setting up the program.
The maximum number of possible lines is calculated from the total number of characters in the lines and text. That is displayed while the user is asked for the number of lines to be used.
Once that and a file name have been specified the five-option main menu is displayed. Option one allows a line to be found, added or deleted. On selecting the option the line description is asked for and, if found, the details are displayed. If the line is not found, either a new line can be entered or return to the main menu. If a new line it set up the user is prompted for the unit price, a supplier code - between 0 and 235, a type code - 0 to 255, stock level and reorder level.
Once the details have been entered they are displayed on-screen with a further menu which allows stock changes, alterations to re-order level and unit value to be made. Available also is the ability to add to the text, delete a line and move backwards and forwards in the list.
As the lines are entered they are sorted automatically into alphanumeric order. On opting to make a change to stock the user is prompted for the change in stock - a minus sign is used to show a deduction - and additions are made at the current unit value. If additions are to be made at a different unit value then the Alter unit value option should be used. That prompts for the new value and asks for the number of items at the new value - attempting to enter a negative value causes the program to crash. If 0 is entered the unit cost is changed to the new value and a new total value calculated. If any other number is entered an average unit value for the stock is calculated.
A useful feature is the line of text which can be used for suppliers' addresses, contacts or other information.
Selecting the second option gives a subsidiary menu offering print options. That allows lines to be listed by supplier and type, re-order levels, text or by 'everything'. Because of the amount of information to be printed the 'everything' option can be selected only when using an 80-column printer.
Unfortunately the program is poorly protected from accidental errors in data entry. Considering the high standard of the other Hilderbay programs you might be disappointed with this one.
Overall, if you are looking for a stock control program it would seem to be a choice between the Transform or Kemp programs, unless you specifically require the text or averaging unit value features of the Hilderbay program.
41 Keats House,
Kent. Tel: 01-658-6350.
London NW1 7AA. Tel: 01-845-1059
43 Muswell Hill,
London N10 3PN. Tel: 01-444-5499.
No. of lines: 900
No. of characters per line: 15
No. of characters per supplier: 5
Low stock indicator: Yes
Space for comments: no
No. of lines: Variable
No. of characters per line: User-definable
No. of characters per supplier: 1
Low stock indicator: Yes
Space for comments: Yes
No. of lines: 518
No. of characters per line: 20
No. of characters per supplier: 4
Low stock indicator: Yes
Space for comments: No