Click over to http://www.bikebiz.co.uk/.../article.php?id=1730 for the initial news story on Mane’s collapse. The article below is a long one, and includes many interviews with IBDs who have used PoSit, the EPoS software from CMS IT Ltd, or Counterbalance, the EPoS software from UK EPoS Ltd, one of the directors of which is Neil Delafield, director of Mane.com Ltd.
Mane.com Ltd owes £8000 to PC hardware supplier Box Technologies and £9000 to CMS Ltd, the owner of PoSit. Postcode supplier AFD is taking out a writ on Mane Systems Ltd, the previous incarnation of Mane.com Ltd, having not been told, it is alleged, of the switch to Mane.com.
Neil Delafield and his wife Michelle were co-directors of Mane.com Ltd. Mane Systems Ltd. was allowed to lapse after a “parting of the ways” between directors, including Neil Delafield.
When bikebiz.co.uk asked Delafield whether he ever been involved with any business that had failed, he said “no.”
In point of fact he had operated a bike shop in Aberystwyth, Wales in the mid-1990s. Bikeology of Pier Street was closed after just a few months, with a number of suppliers owed money. At least one of these suppliers was later paid back when Delafield resurfaced in the bike trade with Mane Systems Ltd. at the first Cycle & Leisure Show. Delafield paid with a credit card at the show itself after the supplier threatened to reveal Delafield’s less than successful start in the cycle trade.
When pressed, Delafield said his shop was “closed down correctly,” although a number of suppliers strongly dispute this.
After the shop closure, Delafield left for Australia. On his return Delafield said he worked for three of the biggest EPoS suppliers to convenience stores and other independent retail outlets, including Computer100, and Alphanumeric.
He and his wife are keen mountain bikers, regularly competing in MTB events. They had met at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Both were members of the university mountain bike club. When bikebiz.co.uk asked Neil Delafield whether he had gone to university, he said “no.” A negative answer could be deemed partially true: he didn’t complete his course – the University of Wales alumni association has no record of a Neil Delafield, although fellow students claim he definitely started at the university.
As can be seen on the bikebiz.co.uk bulletin board, Neil Delafield – and UK EPoS Ltd co-director Frank Stirling – want to convince IBDs of the benefits of moving over to Counterbalance, an EPoS software package claimed by Stirling, the coder, to be far ahead of other EPoS systems, even mainstream ones.
Delafield apologised for the Mane.com collapse on the BBS. He said: “Please bear with us during this difficult period. You will hear many things about Mane and myself in the near future some true and some untrue.”
So, here’s what Mane.com’s customers think.
LETTER FROM PETER ROBINSON, DORCHESTER CYCLES, 14th October 2001:
I don’t really know where to start writing this letter but I do know how it ends! We want our £800 deposit returned and the equipment removed.
What an unmitigated disaster this last FIVE WEEKS has been – yes it’s five weeks to-day since you came to Dorchester to do the “two day installation and initial training”. Your company has subjected my wife and me, together with our staff to disgraceful service.
You will doubtless recall my letter of the 29th Sept., in which I clearly laid out our concerns. In the letter we gave you two weeks to “get the whole system up, running and 100% useable”. We gave you two weeks because one of our managers was away on holiday for the first week so you would not have been able to complete the staff training. This, we naively thought, would work out quite well - first week to sort out the remaining software and installation glitches and the second week to finish the training.
At close of business on the Saturday at the end of the first week we put away our old tills (again) put the EPOS tills back on the counters. We cleared the decks for Shane’s arrival on the Monday morning for a final push to finish the training and get the system running.
Shane didn’t arrive till midday on Monday 8th but got straight into the training, working with James and myself on the bike floor. It soon became clear that all was not as it should have been. Shane finally had to admit defeat after multiple system crashes, software error messages and an inordinate amount of time on the ‘phone getting advice and information on the programme but was still unable to get the system to work. The final straw came when the system calculated our VAT liability on £100 as £15.11p! Unbelievable!
Shane was frustrated and very embarrassed. After a phone call with, presumably, you, he gave us three options including returning the system or switching from ‘Counterbalance’ to ‘Posit’.
It was, by now, late on Monday afternoon, I said I needed time to think so Shane headed off home after I agreed to call you with a decision the next morning (Tuesday).
I called you on Tuesday morning and advised you that after much discussion and another sleepless night, we had decided on the system removal option. You brushed this aside and said that both Shane and yourself were on your way to us, that you would be there by lunchtime and you were going to install the ‘Posit’ software system for us to try. I was unable to be at the shop that day.
After Counterbalance, Posit was a revelation! No more crashes and everything seemed to work except the Postcode software, but even that, you said, was “on its way”. On Tuesday afternoon you and Shane worked upstairs installing the system and showing it to Anne and Mandy. Training and installation continued on Wednesday. Shane went home at about 3.00pm having finished upstairs and you stayed on till about 5.00pm. So, after a very busy and intensive day you eventually persuaded me that everything was now working and I gave you the deposit cheque to be forwarded to HSBC to release the balance of monies due. Little did I know that you had, during the training and late in the day after Shane had left, changed the software to a ‘lower’ version apparently to get the barcode printer to work properly?
We went home that night thinking all our problems were over, all we had to do was load up the post code disk when it arrived. In the meantime we could get on putting our stock onto the system and trade normally using your ‘product code dump code’ crib sheet. But it was not to be.
On Thursday morning another list of problems started to build;
No ‘hot key’ drop down menu on screen.
Barcode reader could not read the prepared ‘product dump code’ labels.
Postcode software did not arrive.
When we went to print the barcode labels they printed across the label and off the edge of the label.
This was the final straw. Once again we did not have what you told us we had been given! Lots of ‘phone calls back and forth trying to get things fixed. James managed to put a couple of bike sales through but only after the customers had gone off with hand written receipts. Shane faxed over a crib sheet of function menu’s to be sellotaped onto the top of the monitors. Needless to say we eventually had to get our old tills out again.
I am not being difficult and I have given you every chance, but our system is still not right! We are not talking small money here either. This system was due to cost us a little under TEN THOUSAND POUNDS and it should have been installed, set up and training completed a month ago.
In closing this letter I feel I must put on record three further aspects of this affair that trouble us.
The system you demonstrated to us was Posit, a system you ‘buy in’, but the system you tried unsuccessfully to install was your own Counterbalance system which you now admit is unusable.
We are disturbed that having agreed to buy the more expensive Epson touch screen terminals to suit the fully ‘touch screen’ compliant Counterbalance software they were not now required. Posit is only partially ‘touch screen’ compatible and it would have been simpler and cheaper had we gone for ordinary monitors and keyboards. You were unable to tell us when Posit would be fully ‘touch screen’ compliant.
We are also deeply aggrieved that you were, for the first four weeks of this debacle, using Dorchester Cycles as a ‘guinea pig’ in trying to get ‘Counterbalance’ software system to work. Wasting your time is your affair but you wasted many, many, hours of my staff’s time and even more important, they spent days with their eyes ‘off the ball’ to the detriment of regular work as they struggled with a system that you now admit will not work. Counterbalance obviously needs a lot more development before it can be used in a retail environment, a point you obviously agree with as you tell me you have now withdrawn the system and intend to re-launch it next year. It is outrageous that you tried to charge us £3000 for it!
You will doubtless recall our telephone conversation on Thursday. This letter is confirmation.
I am rejecting your system, something I should have undoubtedly done a month ago but due to my easy going nature/naivety I did not do. We now require your cheque for £800 refunding our initial deposit after which time you can arrange collection of your equipment.
NEIL DELAFIELD TOLD BIKEBIZ.CO.UK:
“[Dorchester Cycles] were told its new software was Counterbalance. They had early versions of it. There were some training issues and some hardware never arrived on time. But Peter whinged that the bar code label isn’t quite big enough. All times before that we asked them ‘are you happy’? ‘Extremely so,’ they said.”
EAMON McCONVERY, McCONVEY CYCLES, BELFAST (Counterbalance user):
“We installed Counterbalance in July. It’s never been right. We were demonstrated PoSit, which was a fully functioning system but when it came to the time of installing the system we were told there was a PoSit upgrade called Counterbalance. We went for that.
“We’re now on version three-hundred-and-ten, and that’s after just a few months! It’s got better over time but it’s still unworkable in many parts. We continually download patches from the internet.
“We are paying to develop their software!
“We have been EPoS users for a long time, we’ve all done computer courses here, we’re computer literate. We now feel like suckers. We were shown one system but got another. We were definitely led to believe Counterbalance was an upgrade of PoSit.
“We still owe [Mane.com] £1100. Neil rang yesterday and said he’d still support us, but he wants his £1000 first. He said we were one of the key accounts they wanted to keep and would develop the software for us.
“There’s no way he’s getting the money, we haven’t got a system that works.
“I have little faith in [Neil]. Even from the start it always appeared that we knew more about Counterbalance than he did.
“We’ll probably cut our losses and install new software.”
RICK PEACOCK, CHEVIN CYCLES, OTLEY (Counterbalance user):
“We’ve had so many problems with their system. We’ll probably be dumping it. We’re computer literate, we’ve had EPoS for ten years now.
“I like the guys but they’ve cost me an awful lot of money. They fragmented my business alarmingly. It’s been one long nightmare.
“They never came up with the goods. I’m now stuck in no-man’s land.”
DAVE SHAW, FACTORY DIRECT CYCLES, BIRSTALL (Counterbalance purchaser but not yet a live user):
“On the face of it [Counterbalance] looks alright. We’re not live with it yet. It has problems. I’m relaxed that it will work eventually but I know how these things can be time bandits so won’t go live with it until every problem has been ironed out.
“I was under the impression that [Mane.com and UK EPoS] were one and the same company.
“They’ve clearly stretched themselves too far. I’d definitely fall into the dissatisfied camp. I have threatened [Mane.com] with litigation because the system was not ‘fit for purpose’. They are selling a system that doesn’t work yet. There are serious shortcomings.
“You pay when a system is delivered but you expect it to be (a) working, (b) suitable for what you want it to do and (c) enable you to get going straight away.
“They invited me to modify the way I do things. That’s not the way to do it!”
Dave Shaw knows computers, his background is in corporate computer management. He was one of the IBDs given to bikebiz.co.uk by Neil Delafield and Frank Stirling as someone who would give Mane a positive review. “Just shows you how much they know about customers, doesn’t it? said Shaw. He has a diary of ‘Mane problems’ on his computer. It’s a long list, starting from delivery at the beginning of August and continuing to date.
DEREK ARMSTRONG, ARMSTRONG BIKE DOCK, BELFAST (PoSit user):
“Ever since getting into the bike trade seven years ago I’ve had an EPoS system. PoSit’s great but it has gremlins. We put up with them.
“Counterbalance, as we’ve seen it, is Franky’s baby. He’s able to work at it and make changes.
“I have never come across a more conscientious group of individuals. I might be frustrated by certain things but Neil has been over [to Northern Ireland] at least fourteen times. That’s a lot of determination. I’m not one to suffer fools gladly. Life’s too short. [Neal] is an angel compared to other computer people
“I think there’s a lot of [IBD] ignorance of what an EPoS system should do. A lot are computer illiterate.”
LES SIMPSON, CYCLING WORLD, ABERDEEN (PoSit user):
“We’ve had very little bother with them. The after sales has been brilliant. Shane and Neil? Top boys. Very helpful. We’re on PoSit at the moment but we’re going to swing over to Counterbalance.”
PHIL STAPLES, STAPLES, NEWARK (PoSit user):
“We’ve been pleased with them. No problems to date. Neil’s a very amiable fellow. He’s always responded to our phone calls. His enthusiasm really comes across.”
BERNIE BURNS, AIRE VALLEY CYCLES, KEIGHLEY (PoSit user):
“The system is the best on the market. It took a six month period to get it just right for us. CMS [the PoSit owner] helped with that. But the system crashed two weeks ago and just when we needed Mane the most, they won’t there for us. I rang 30 times a day for two weeks. I emailed. I rang Neil at home. He rang back once.
“He says he’s fed up with the bike trade because we all moan but we wouldn’t moan if he did his job properly. If I ran Aire Valley Cycles like he ran Mane, we wouldn’t have a business.
“We’ve all been guinea pigs.”
ANDY SHRIMPTON, CYCLE HEAVEN, YORK:
“[Mane is] probably the worst supplier we’ve ever had. Every bill [to Mane] has been paid on the button but every time we’ve had a hardware upgrade we’ve had a problem. We have a major system breakdown right now. We’ve suffered the most dismal level of service. All my staff want to throttle [Neil], they’re at the front line.”
“UK EPoS is my development company. Existing customers will be looked after by UK EPoS. I’m not going to dump on customers. Last week, support wasn’t up to scratch but it’s better now. Letters will be going out this week telling [customers] the options – go with CMS or me.
“PoSit was not getting developed as quick as I’d have liked. Certain bits never got developed at all. There were bugs with it. We worked hard to fix them.
“I’ve invested a lot money in Mane. CMS are not owed as much money as me. It’s being made personal [by them].
“I did not bounce cheques on CMS. As soon as Mane stopped trading, our bank froze the account. I have not been trading insolvently.
“[UK EPoS] Ltd is well funded. It has investors. I’m not going to release their names.
“All this news will make it hard for us but I have happy customers. But you never have a 100 percent happy customer base.”
There are further IBD impressions of Mane.com on the bulletin board, as well as many comments from Neil Delafield and Frank Stirling.