Thanks to its new pumped-up software, business at Menomonee Falls, Wis.-Holland Bulb Farms is … well, blooming. 

After years of using a combination of Intuit's QuickBooks and Microsoft's Excel to track accounting, inventory and expenses, the 32-person company, which sells specialty flower bulbs, boutique fruit and vegetable plants, and seeds, decided it needed more expansive software to support its first foray into the world of e-commerce. So three years ago, Holland Bulb Farms purchased Everest Software's Advanced, an integrated accounting, inventory, point-of-sale and e-commerce package. In addition to handling accounting and payroll, the system tracks every aspect of what the company sells, ships, and needs to order, sending internal email notification to the appropriate departments. It also offers customer relationship management (CRM) features that allow the company to notify customers of special offers and promotions, or greet them on birthdays or special occasions.

Holland Bulb installed the Everest system just before going live with its website, explains Erik Thomas, the company's director of e-commerce, at a cost of between $1,500-$1,800 per year. 'I'd say we had a 300 percent return on investment in the first month of the site going live,' he says. Buying the On-Premise version as opposed to the hosted On-Demand version, Thomas said, is giving the company more flexibility to customize the product. Everest's new tutorials, he adds, make it much easier to train new employees on the system.

Integrated software a growing trend

Integrated financial software for smaller businesses is part of a growing trend, notes Gary Chen, a senior analyst specializing in small and mid-sized businesses at Yankee Group, a Boston-based research firm. 'There's definitely a trend…as the Internet and technology changes, you have traditional accounting packages expanding. It's definitely a good place to start, because every business needs accounting,' he notes.

Companies like Dulles, Va.-based Everest and Rohnert Park, Calif.,-basedNetBooks, whose CEO, Ridgely Evers, founded QuickBooks while with Intuit, thinks providing a complete business management model to smaller businesses just makes sense. 'If accounting is all you need, you can't get better than QuickBooks,' Evers says. 'But QuickBooks is designed for transactions. NetBooks is designed for interactions,' he adds.  

NetBooks offers a web-based service for $200/month for five users, documenting everything from incoming orders to outgoing shipments, CRM, and payroll and accounting, too. NetBooks even offers access to a marketing coach through partner Duct Tape Marketing. Evers notes that NetBooks is tailor-made for small businesses without IT departments: 'companies where I-T still spells it,' he quips.

Intuit in the act, too

Even QuickBooks' maker, Intuit, would seem to agree with the wisdom of building on basic accounting apps, notes Chen, who notes that Intuit recently purchased Homestead, a build-your-own-website software package with CRM features. QuickBooks' 2008 version also includes more flexibility, such as breaking out data in ways that can be used for sales and customer service.

While the newer offerings are more integrated at present, stealing market share away from QuickBooks will be difficult, says Chen. 'It's pretty difficult to knock Intuit off its pedestal,' he says. In the end, 'the accounting department has to be comfortable using whatever software is being used, and a lot of accountants are comfortable with QuickBooks.'

SIDEBAR: Integrated Business Software: Who's Got It?

Intuit, which offers both QuickBooks and now Homestead, a build-your-own website package.

NetBooks, offering marketing, sales, inventory and finances in one software-as-a-service system.

Everest Software Inc.'s Advanced, winner of SIIA's Best Business Software Product in 2004, is offered as On-Premise or On-Demand, calls itself an all-in-one business operating system, offering accounting, e-commerce, point-of-sale, inventory, shipping, and CRM.