Our online supplement to August's "Driving Profits" cover story. Find out what questions you should be asking when shopping for software.

It’s easy to get swept up in all the latest techno-jargon from sales representatives when shopping for a software program for your club. That’s why Club Industry went to an expert on software sales, Andy Wigderson, the East Coast sales rep for CSI Software, and asked him what kinds of things club operators should ask before purchasing any kind of program for their club. Here are his suggestions:

1. What are the features and functionality of the software?
2. Are the programs fully integrated?
3. What type of database is used?
4. What programming language is used?
5. What direction is the technology going?
6. What happens after the sale?
7. What kind of training will I receive?
8. What is the company infrastructure?
9. How many customers does the company have?
10. What is the company history?

Wigderson also says club operators should insist on a reference list containing both new and old customers, as well as insist the company send a representative, at no cost, to do an on-site demonstration of the software and go through real life scenarios. Additionally, operators should inquire as to how one vendor differs from another.

Go to trade conventions and visit with the vendors, advises Casey Conrad, president of the Rhode Island-based Communications Consultants and the national chain Healthy Inspirations Weight Loss Centers. “Visit with the vendors and have a list of what they want the software to do,” she says. “Don’t buy the first package they see, and take notes. Compare one software program with another.”

Also be sure to make sure that any new programs you are buying are compatible to any of your existing software programs, advises Mark Johnson, the senior vice president and general manager for the Colorado-based CheckFree Health and Fitness. “When we were at the IHRSA Convention in San Francisco… what we heard was that this was singularly the largest concern in both small clubs and large clubs,” he says.

And, before you talk to any software vendors, decide what needs your clubs has. Don’t let the vendor tell you what you need. You decide. “They need to really evaluate what they want to be involved with,” Roger Salisbury, the IT manager for National Fitness Financial Systems (NFFS), says. “I personally think you shouldn’t invest more than $1,000 on something without speaking with someone that has been around the block with it. I would call up people [who already use the program].

“That holds more weight in my mind than talking to a sales person,” he adds.

Agrees Conrad, “It’s a corner that [many club operators] cut that’s not a corner that should be cut.”