Custom Auction Management with Invoicing

Invoicing plus Live Auction Management with Excel Integration

Tayler and Fletcher are a long established firm of Chartered Surveyors, Property Consultants and Auctioneers. They hold regular Farm Machinery and Hay and Straw Sales throughout the region. PC Access has been working with this client for 23 years, first providing support in 2001, and subsequently developing a full invoicing and Live Auction Management System, incorporating features specific to farm machinery as well as hay and straw sales.

The Problem

Tayler and Fletcher had an existing Live Auction Management System written by another company that was cumbersome and difficult to use. With little validation it was prone to error, so data had to be carefully checked manually.

The software had limited functionality. Without built in traceability it was difficult to match sale items with invoices. Among other things, the software was not able to handle the complex commission calculations inherent with the industry, or deal with "split lots". Raising invoices through the system was not a simple process.

Managing sales for hay and straw was particularly difficult. Bidders usually inspect "lots" before the auction. Vendors typically have lots from various locations which can be many miles apart. To enable bidders to see other lots at the same location, these had to be grouped together in the catalogue. The current system was not capable of doing this.

Our client was not able to find a ready made solution that did everything he wanted within the budget available. Nor did he want to be "tied in" to expensive support contracts, licencing, or minimum development spend.

The solution

Development of the new Live Auction Management software has been in phases. Working within tight budgets we have provided updates and enhancements as and when needed. The first requirement was to get the original software working reliably. Later we added invoicing functionality to make it easier to generate bidder invoices in particular. Finally we adapted the software to incorporate specific requirements for managing hay and straw sales.

The new system now handles the complete process from recording items for sale as the information is received, to balancing the sales ledger at the end of the auction. It facilitates all the stages in between including compiling the catalogue, recording sales as they happen, generating bidder invoices, calculating commission and printing vendor statements. Excel integration enables staff to have full control of management and accounting information.

Firstly, working within a tight budget, we were able to fix a number of irritating bugs in the original database. Importing and exporting processes, previously prone to error and requiring manual intervention, were fully automated with proper checking procedures. We added robust calculation functions to eliminate rounding errors.

Auction Invoicing: In the next phase of development, having stabilised much of the system, we focused on invoicing. Some bidders pay for all their items at the end of the day, whilst others require multiple invoices preferring to settle up periodically throughout the day. Now, by simply entering the bidder number into the system, all items bought during the day are listed highlighting those that remain outstanding. Invoices are generated quickly and easily, automatically including all items not yet paid for. The bidder's premium, which could either be a percentage of the sale or fixed charge, is calculated by the system and added to the invoice.

Hay and Straw Auction Management: The fundamental problem with the original software was that the underlying structure was not flexible enough to handle the more specific requirements of Tayler and Fletcher, particularly with regard to hay and straw sales. In the third phase of development we rebuilt the data model to give our client the flexibility his business needed, as well as providing a solid foundation for future enhancements. To minimise costs we were able incorporate the work we had already completed with minor modification.

Items for sale can now be added to the system as they are received, recording the "location" as appropriate, for instance for hay and straw sales. When preparing the sales catalogue "lot numbers" are allocated automatically. All relevant information can be grouped as required to ensure that lot numbers are sequenced correctly. For hay and straw sales each vendor's lots are grouped together, and within that lots are grouped according to their site location. The system automatically generates the document used to print the finished catalogue.

Depending on the type of sale, the commission charged to vendors can either be a fixed amount or a percentage of the sale. For example farm machinery has a complex banded commission structure. These, and other variances, can now be managed easily within the system, both in setting up prior to the sale, as well as making any necessary adjustments on the day.

Information for regular purchasers is stored on the system, together with their pre-allocated bidder number. New bidders can be added on the day. If they subsequently purchase an item their details are collected for easy retrieval at a future sale. A bidder number is assigned to each lot as it is sold, and we provided a custom sales sheet for this purpose. A printed sales sheet is also generated for use by the auctioneer, with space for making notes.

If necessary, sale items (lots) can be split during the auction, for instance lots that specify a quantity. The new numbers generated relate directly to the original lot number for traceability. Bidder invoicing is carried out throughout the day as well as at the end of the auction, as described previously.

When the auction is over a Sales Ledger and Invoice Summary is produced to ensure that the amount received from sales balances with the payments made to vendors less their commission and other expenses. Vendor statements are given to each seller with their payment, detailing the sale amount for each lot (or no sale), commission deducted, plus any adjustments for items they have bought. Hay and straw items also include bidder information, so the vendor knows who will be collecting.

The new auction management database makes it easier for both management and staff of Tayler and Fletcher to manage the complete sales process. All stages are fully integrated with appropriate validation to minimise data entry errors. Built in automation has freed up staff time, whilst flexibility has been provided where needed. There is no replication of data, and information for both bidders and vendors is readily available for all sales. With relevant and meaningful management reports, regular buyers can be easily identified, and overall buying trends can be effectively monitored.

It has been a pleasure to deal with PC Access, a small firm where you get personal service and immediate access to the person dealing with your programme.

Charles Arkell FRICS, Director, Tayler & Fletcher