Budgeting and forecasting software sparks change at Hames

Hames Corp. CFO Max Rule challenges the status quo with Centage budgeting and forecasting software and video software for self-checkout.

Max Rule just about does it all for the Hames Corp. in Alaska.

As CFO, he said he basically runs the fourth-generation, family-owned retail business along with the president. He oversees financial reporting, strategic planning, budgeting, project management, IT and HR.

Rule, who joined the company in 1993, said he has led change and expansion by purchasing new technologies, including applications in finance, HR and security. He said that perhaps his favorite change tool is Centage's Budget Maestro. He purchased the on-premises budgeting and forecasting software in 2012 to replace Microsoft Excel and upgraded to a new version in November.

Rule considers himself a change agent, and said the budgeting and forecasting software from Centage helps him in that role.

"I believe in technology in the right places," he said. "Budget Maestro is a technology that dramatically changed and improved the way I communicate with store managers, forecast my expenses and sales, and determine my costs for labor and benefits."

Staying tough in a small business

I believe in technology in the right places.
Max RuleCFO, Hames Corp.

A change agent also needs to confront problems, ask tough questions and accept failure if necessary, Rule said. For example, he once closed retail clothing and sporting goods stores because they were not profitable or barely profitable and faced looming competition from a big-box retailer.

Hames includes five stores -- including a flagship supermarket in Sitka, Alaska -- in the southeast part of the state: one neighborhood market, one convenience store, one liquor store, and a bed, bath and gift store. A sister company, also under his watch, owns another liquor store.

Hames, which has 160 employees, also owns real estate, including residential apartments, commercial rentals and undeveloped properties.

In a move that he said cut expenses by 15-20%, in January, Hames dropped ADP, its longtime provider for processing payroll, and switched to cloud software by FMS Solutions, which specializes in payroll for supermarkets. He said he was unhappy with ADP, partly because of bugs in the software.

Max Rule, CFO of Hames supermarket chainMax Rule

To track employees' time and attendance, he uses TimeForce, another cloud application.

TimeForce creates a time file that downloads into the payroll system, which Hames then uses to pay people on a bi-weekly basis, he said.

Centage budgeting and forecasting software improves communication

Prior to purchasing Budget Maestro, Rule used Excel for 10 years as budgeting and forecasting software.

With Excel, he often struggled to speak about the budget with store managers, including some who did not have a strong grasp of accounting. By comparison, Budget Maestro allows him to discuss the budget in plain English with managers, he said.

"In Budget Maestro, I can pull up an income statement and I can say, 'There's your sales, there's your cost of goods sold, there's your personnel.' I can also drill down and say, 'Within the personnel, this is who we paid; this is how much we paid per hour, and this is the impact it had on the bottom line.'"

As a budgeting tool, Excel is driven by formulas and parameters and resulted in estimates, not specific numbers, he said.

"In Excel, store managers would say, 'OK, Max, you say we missed our budget in labor. How did we determine the budget?' I would say, 'We thought sales would be $500 million and the labor would be 10% of sales, so we are going to spend $50,000 on labor.'"

In Budget Maestro, he can identify specific employees, their hourly pay and forecasts for hours.

Maxwell Rule, the chief financial officer at Hames Corp.

  • Grew up in Butte, Mont.
  • Graduate of University of Montana.
  • Certified public accountant.
  • Married with two children.
  • Board member at the Alaska Raptor Center, a medical rehab facility for injured bald eagles.
  • Commercial salmon fisherman with 22-foot boat.

In addition to Budget Maestro, Rule recommends two related add-ons from Centage: Link Maestro and Analytics Maestro.

He said Link Maestro allows the import of account records and transactions from his Microsoft Dynamics GP general-ledger system.

Analytics Maestro is a "fantastic piece of software" because it allows him to create financial reports in Excel, and then print from Excel, Rule said. "It gives you tremendous flexibility in reporting and brings all of your data into Excel," he said. "You are not using Excel to calculate anything, per se. You just use Excel as your reporting piece."

Excel prints reports in a format that is familiar to him and board members. People understand the graphs, charts and other visualizations, he added.

Budget Maestro is good for internal reports, but it does not produce the kind of slick and colorful pieces that Hames presents to potential investors, shareholders or the board of directors, according to Rule.

Security software watches for missed items

New software will also bolster security at Hames' stores.

Rule soon plans to install software above the supermarket's four self-checkout lanes called ScanItAll, which uses cameras to spot possible thefts, including by people who pass items around the scanner or type in codes for cheaper goods than what is actually purchased. The software analyzes the security video and compares it to what is actually scanned.

In staffed checkout lanes, Hames also uses LaneHawk cameras and visual software that recognize often big-ticket, "bottom-of-the-cart" items at the supermarket and flashes an icon on a register to alert checkers to ensure the charge.

Rule said change can be difficult, but it can be smoothed with education and training.

"It's not resistance to technology," he said. "It is just resistance to change. A lot of people don't like change. It makes them nervous or uneasy. They like status quo."

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