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Case Study – Brown County Art Guild 

James B. Railing
Board Member, Past Interim Director, Brown County Art Guild

What pain points did you have before?

“Pain Points.”  I like that.  How about in the I.C.U. being treated by doctors who were incapable of figuring out what to do.

The problems or pain points were primarily in three distinct areas: 

(1) Intuit POS software had previously been installed by the Intuit sales provider but was not setup correctly and was not working and definitely not syncing to QuickBooks

(2) QB accounting system which was never setup properly with a workable Chart of Accounts and the QuickBooks was never used correctly

(3) Consignment sales—which make up a significant portion of the sales transactions—was not being accounted for accurately or efficiently

While many transactions were entered into the POS, there were also many other transactions which did not go “through” the POS but which were entered directly into QuickBooks.  Regardless, everything was entered “manually” inasmuch as the POS did not sync to QuickBooks.  So even if there was an instance in which a sales transaction was recorded properly in the POS, it was necessary to take the sales receipt or other information and manually enter the same information in QuickBooks.  Often mistakes occurred.  Other transactions simply did not get entered at all.

The existing Chart of Accounts in QuickBooks was ever setup correctly. Vendors and customers were not entered correctly.  All of which presented additional obstacles making it impossible to sync between the POS and QB.

Previous staff and previous treasurers/controllers did not have the proper training or bookkeeping knowledge to be able to use QuickBooks correctly.  Many things which were entered were simply wrong.  The financial statements which were generated were not only incomplete (which is bad enough) but the statements contained false information (which is worse).  It was impossible for the Board of Directors to make sound and informed decisions which involved any financial input.   

The problems were so extensive that it was not possible to simply reassign new accounts and correct mistakes.  Instead, a new accounting and bookkeeping system had to be established.

No one previously considered how to handle consignment sales.  Consequently, consignment sales were not accounted for properly in accordance with GAAP.  Additionally, the information regarding consignment sales failed to include information about the vendor who was to be paid a commission and failed to include information about the customer.  It was impossible to go back and look up specific information about a particular sale whether by vendor or by customer.  Moreover, whenever vendors (artists) were to be paid, the calculations were done manually.  Mistakes often occurred.

Other staff and volunteers—over the years—attempted to fix the problems with QuickBooks.  Everyone threw up their hands in frustration after spending countless hours.  Various people came and went.  Nothing was accomplished and nothing improved.  Other accounting consultants were contacted to look at the situation and fix the problems.  One consultant in particular was paid thousands over a period of months.  Nothing was achieved with these consultants.  That same consultant who was paid thousands said, ultimately, we would have to accept the fact that the POS will never sync to QuickBooks and we will be forced to continue to manually enter the transactions.

Why did you choose Ability Business as your service provider?

Ability was chosen initially on the basis of its expertise in handling consignment sales and the fact that the firm had developed a software module or add-on to do the accounting for consignment sales within QuickBooks.

But we immediately came to know that Ability—and Lisa in particular—could do so much more than simply deal with the issue of consignment sales.

Before contacting Ability Business, I reached out to several consultants/experts about addressing the problem with the inability to sync the POS to QuickBooks.  Each of these prospective consultants suggested the problem could be resolved within less than a half of a day.  I was surprised they could express such an optimistic assessment and I doubted they understood the extent of the problem.  I was frustrated that these prospective consultants deemed it unimportant or unnecessary to spend time to look more closely at our situation to more fully understand the scope of the project.

I also discussed with these consultants/experts about properly handling consignment sales.  No one seemed to appreciate or understand that accounting for consignment sales is not something that is easily done within QuickBooks.

One consultant (an expert with Intuit software including both the POS and QuickBooks) was about to be engaged.  This consultant then admitted before she commenced any work that the challenge of accounting for consignment sales within QuickBooks exceeded her capabilities.  (Finally an honest consultant/expert who recognized her limitations.)  This consultant referred me to Ability Business and informed me about the module or add-on developed by Ability Business for handling consignment sales.

In my first conversation with Lisa at Ability Business in which I primarily discussed the matter of consignment sales, I learned that she and her firm could offer assistance with all aspects of Intuit’s POS and QuickBooks software.  I concluded very quickly that Lisa fully appreciated and understood the extent of the problems we have been wrestling with for years and she was more realistic in her assessment of the time and effort to complete the project.

The most important reason for choosing Ability Business—and Lisa in particular—is that she clearly was an expert in all phases or aspects of both the POS and the QuickBooks software.  I could tell Lisa knew exactly what needed to be done.  Her manner and approach was self-assured and confident.  For the first time, I was relaxed knowing I had a partner that would be there for me, who would be easy to work with, and who would complete the tasks efficiently and effectively.  Lisa reassured me that our situation would be resolved.  The fees which were quoted were extremely reasonable—and ultimately turned out to be much less than first contemplated.

How did Ability Business help you?

Lisa at Ability became more than simply a consultant.  She became a true partner in all that we needed to do in the creation and implementation of a completely new accounting and bookkeeping system.

There were countless things to be done.  The ultimate goals were to address the three distinct problem areas already enumerated:  to get the POS and QuickBooks software to work perfectly and to sync back and forth while adopting a new Chart of Accounts with a whole new set up books that included proper accounting for consignment sales.  Lisa was an expert in all phases of the project.

Lisa acquired a thorough understanding of the Art Guild’s business—which is much more complex and extensive than the more typical (and simple) nonprofit operation.

Lisa embraced everything that I, as Treasurer, wanted to accomplish with the new accounting and bookkeeping system.  Which was to do it right.  No shortcuts.  No excuses.

Lisa offered advice to support me in what needed to be done.  She knew that I was up to the task regardless how tedious and time-consuming it may be to do certain things.  Lisa’s advice was always clear and accurate.  She and I had such a good working relationship that many times we often anticipated the other’s actions or thoughts.  Many times we finished the other’s sentences as we discussed the problems and the solutions.  Lisa continued to always be assuring and comforting and supportive in a most calm and confident manner.  No problem was too difficult or too daunting for her to quickly dispense with.

Lisa moved quickly.  There was much to be done and I wanted to do everything as quickly as possible.  I did not want the project to be drawn out over the period of many months.  As a result, I often communicated daily with Lisa—indeed, many days included multiple phone calls and/or emails together with entering many transactions through remote connection.

Lisa and I discussed how to best implement the new accounting and bookkeeping system while the Guild continued to operate.  We decided on creating a new set of books on my personal computer separate from the Guild’s computers.  This facilitated being able to run countless “tests” to be sure the syncs between the POS and QuickBooks succeeded as intended before going “live” with the new system.  I ran countless reports throughout the process to be sure all the accounting was being done correctly.  Then, with Lisa’s help, the Guild transferred from the “old” bookkeeping system and the “old” QuickBooks software to the “new” system—all in one day.  We did not experience a single problem or issue in going from one set of books to a new set of books and new accounting system.

We had no intention of ending the engagement with Lisa and with Ability Business at the conclusion of the project.  As a partner with us in this journey, Lisa became a permanent and valuable part of our team.  As time has gone on, there are fewer and fewer occasions when we have a problem.  But it is comforting to know that Lisa is always there for us and always able to resolve any issue quickly.  All of the staff came to admire to respect Lisa and each developed a close fondness and connection with Lisa.  Lisa is not simply a partner and a member of our team.  She is our close friend.

How has the solution changed how you do business?

The way we do business today does not remotely compare with how business was done before.

As I related, everything was done manually before.  Many errors.  No reconciliation.  No reliable information.

My best guess is that the previous Executive Director spent a minimum of two-thirds of his time on bookkeeping and accounting matters.  And still the information was incomplete and inaccurate.

Today, everything works as it is supposed to work.  Close out at the end of the day results in information automatically syncing to QuickBooks Desktop.  Bank deposits are effortless and take no time.  Financial reports and statements provide important information to the staff and the Board of Directors.  So many different aspects of the Art Guild’s business is now routine and accounted for properly such as, for example: calculation and payment of sales taxes, inventory, layaway transactions, donor gifts, accounting for grant activity, revenue and expenses associated with specific programs and events, etc. etc.

A significant change in how we do business is the handling of the consignment sales for the artists (and some artisans) each month.  All of the information is now cross-referenced by vendor and customer.  The module/add-on for consignment sales from Ability is amazing in tracking all of the sales and generating reports and—most importantly—automatically creating bills within QuickBooks from which we pay the vendors (artists).  Before, the monthly accounting for these consignment sales (generally involving 20-30 different vendors each month) took literally days to complete—using two staff persons.  Now it is accomplished in minutes.

The other change that has occurred is our peace of mind.  We can confidently generate financial reports which we know are accurate.  These reports are used in so many areas of the business of a nonprofit, such as providing the basis and support for grant applications and meeting with large donors and addressing cash flow needs, etc.  The Board of Directors is informed and the decisions of the Board are effective.

The Art Guild’s CPA has often remarked that our accounting system is the best of any nonprofit that he has seen.  When the CPA completes our annual IRS Form 990 Foundation tax return, there are no changes.  He says our books are perfect.

That is a tribute to Lisa and Ability Business.

David Nickel
Past Board President, Brown County Art Guild, March 2018

What pain points did you have before?

It hurts, just thinking ALL about what it was like before Lisa and Ability Business. Sooooo painful !

  • As a small but very complex operation, with limited resources for technology and IT talent, our desire to join the 20th (not even the 21st) century, by wanting our POS and computer data base and QuickBooks accounting system to sync and do the heavy lifting.
  • Information and Data had to be re-entered or manually copied over and over into the various systems.
  • Loss of information or risk of mistakes being made when having to manually re-enter items over and over.
  • Putting together any type of “report” or records, required hours of gathering data from the various systems and hand written records, … and then creating a type of spread sheet or report for review.
  • A desire to use the speedy technology of bar codes and scanner for items sold at the POS. The information and details had to be manually entered for every transaction and sale of goods. Easy to make simple mistakes that would not match up with previous data entry of the same item. etc.
  • Checkout at the POS took forever to complete as the sales associate manually entered all of the information needed to complete a sale and record the information for our accounting system. Creating frustration and long wait times for the customer. Staff continuing to apologize over and over for the wait and long time it took to make a simple transaction.
  • With the desire to keep new and repeat customer contact information… what might be in one system, was not in another, so it needed to be re-entered multiple times. Again leaving room for various mistakes and omissions.
  • POS and QuickBooks accounting system would NOT “sync”. Causing an accounting nightmare. All had to be done manually using handwritten sales slips and notes with hours of cross-checking.
  • QuickBooks could NOT deal properly with “commissioned vendors”
  • % discounts had to be entered manually and “stand on you head” work arounds to “trick” the POS into coming up with the correct final total for a sale.
  • Trouble training staff on the POS system. It was very cumbersome and NOT at all “intuitive”. Required multiple steps and screens to even get a transaction started. (Again, providing the customer with a less then desired shopping experience)
  • We lacked a “good business practices” system and standards of operation.
  • Taking hours and hours of inefficiencies to keep and provide accurate accounting.
  • Always questioning and not trusting the data being gathered and provided from the different “systems”. ie; hand written paperwork and records, POS reports, QuickBooks reports, etc.
  • Not easy to check inventory levels on-hand …for re-ordering new product or analyzing a product’s sales performance.
  • And certainly very challenging to analyze customer activity and marketing performance.
  • It would take hours and hours to gather any information needed to analyze the business or target a particular market. For example, If we wanted to contact a previous customer, who had purchased and liked a particular artist’s work in the past… it would have taken hours to dig through past records for that information.
  • WHY CAN’T our Computers and/or our technology systems do that work for us… using just a few key strokes????? PAINFUL ! – MADDENING ! ! !

Why did you choose Ability Business as your service provider?

  • After some time of searching and getting “empty promises” spending thousands of dollars on “dead-end Expertise” in QuickBooks, etc. At my wits end !
  • A call into Ability Business and Lisa Burnett… Who fully understood our unique and complex challenges, calmly and graciously, walked us through the many possible solutions for our issues. AB and Lisa B had the answers we had been searching high and low for. PLUS, it was very affordable and worked with the systems and technologies we had. Only minor purchases for any add-ons required.

How did Ability Business help you?

  • Simply stated, they had the proper solution(s) to fix our problems and for our desire to have “best business practices” using technology to be more efficient and provided solutions that would help us reach our long-term goals to better serve our customers and vendors with proper accounting and targeted marketing.
  • Took the time to carefully understand who we are as an organization. Understand and discover our strengths and weaknesses.
  • Organized and standardized our numerous and complex areas of consignment sales in particular.
  • Synced our POS and QuickBooks accounting systems.
  • Set up a inventory program for the computer/POS so no longer needing to do handwritten data listings
  • Trained the staff with the POS
  • Was always available for troubleshooting and training.
  • Set up and trained the staff to connect remotely to the systems
  • Provided new policies and procedures training manual(s) for current and/or future staff members
  • Relieved the anxiety around these many issues. Gave positive support and training to the staff. Was kind and patient through the process.
  • Ability Business and Lisa “connected ALL the dots” and even the ones we didn’t know about.

How has the solution changed how you do business?

  • We operate more efficiently and accurately. We “trust” our data, information and accounting systems for the first time.
  • We provide better customer service
  • We can now, better engage and provide accurate information for our many Vendors
  • Reports and commission checks are created with a few key strokes.
  • We function “On Time” (no longer needing to scramble at the last minute.)
  • Can better analyze our business and focus our marketing efforts
  • The stress and anxiety is gone.
  • Have the confidence to expand and grow our business.
I would NOT be over-stating MY belief, that Ability Business and “the amazing” Lisa Burnett as our account mgr. … “have been my/our salvation and a dream come true for the Brown County Art Guild” !