Need a software package to handle legal billing? How about one for taking care of real estate amortization, or helping with inventory control? Here's an idea: Go to the library.
Not an ordinary library, of course. The place to go is the PC National Software Reference Library, which opened on June 15 in Fairfax, Va. There you can find from 1,500 to 2,000 software packages, with 50 more arriving daily, plus all the hardware necessary for demonstrating the major software brands. In addition, the library sponsors evening seminars; stocks computer books and magazines; and maintains a staff of 45 full-time consultants, adding 10 more each week. "We're like the Library of Congress for software," says founder Larry Stockett. Unlike the Library of Congress, however, Stockett's library is open only to paying customers ($300 per year, $100 per quarter, or $25 per day).
The PC Reference Library is part of Stockett's plan to cover the personal computer software market the way snow covers a ski slope. He describes his one-year-old company, PC Telemart Inc., as an "integrated software distribution support service." Its publishing arm, PC Clearinghouse, issues a software directory, whose latest edition carried 21,042 listings for more than 200 microcomputers. The PC Store, a retail outlet located in the same building as the library, gives browsers an opportunity to purchase their choices at a 10% discount.
But Stockett's most ambitious project is a nationwide electronic information and ordering service, PC Telemart, which will allow users to shop for software at kiosks in local retail stores. Each kiosk contains a computer terminal connected to the library's central computer. A customer can call up a directory, hunt through it for appropriate software, receive evaluations, test programs, and place orders.
Should customers subsequently experience problems with any purchase -- or with other software they own -- they can return to the kiosk and key in the difficulty. For $25, the computer will spew out a solution. And if the computer doesn't have a solution, PC Telemart will pay an outside consultant or software publisher to find one. "Instead of having lots and lots of experts on all these different things," says Stockett, "we make the computer be the expert."
Stockett has already tested the idea at 50 kiosks in the Washington, D.C., area. Locations ranged from 7-Eleven convenience stores to Waldenbooks stores to Computerland outlets. "Some people are incredibly intimidated to go into a computer store and have a 15-year-old kid talk down to them, or to have a very technical person talk over their heads," he says. "But they don't have any fear at all walking up to a kiosk in a 7-Eleven store and saying, 'Let me try this out." Moreover, some of the kiosks are equipped with modems, so that, for $5 an hour, a user can plug into the system from the safety of his or her own home or office. As for the retailers, they pay $500 a month to rent the kiosk. Part of the payback, says Stockett, comes through increased sales and a minimum 40% discount on all software ordered through PC Telemart.
Stockett says the strength of his operation lies in the fact that each section feeds another. Library members, for example, can earn a renewal by evaluating software. publishers and manufacturers donate all the library's software and hardware in exchange for ads in the directory. "Covering our overhead cost with a multiple revenue stream allows us to do things that no competitor with any one component could even consider doing," he says.
Stockett intends to open 12 more libraries by the end of the year and install kiosks in cities across the country at the rate of 300 a month. "We want to solve the problems of the retailer and the end user from womb to tomb," he says.
Provided, of course, they plan on taking their computers to the grave.