Magazine Article | September 1, 2002

Build A Brain For Business

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Domain Home Fashions implemented new business intelligence software to keep pace with its expanding enterprise.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, September 2002

If you are on the road to retail growth, manual data analysis can block your path in terms of efficiency and accuracy. "It might be fine to calculate things manually when you have only 25 stores, but if you want to grow to 100 stores or more, you can't be sitting there with your calculator and Excel spreadsheet," said Mary Lou Burlingame, application support manager at Domain Home Fashions (Norwood, MA).

Growth has been at the top of Domain Home Fashion's business plan since March 2002 when U.K.-based Aga Foodservice Group, a consumer and commercial kitchen retailer, acquired the $65-million furniture retailer. With the acquisition came a desire for Domain to expand to a larger store model that will include furniture and kitchen products such as Aga cookers. The first dual-concept store will open this month in Fair Oaks, VA. Domain's growth prompted the retailer to evaluate its business intelligence (BI) software in order to more efficiently and accurately analyze historical inventory trends.

Manual Analysis: Limited, Inaccurate
Domain originally installed BI software from JDA, and a third-party integrator built an interface to connect the software to the retailer's GERS Retail Systems' Enterprise1 POS (point of sale) software. Unfortunately, the interface was slow and inaccurate in reporting the company's actual inventory levels. "The sales and inventory numbers in JDA didn't match those within Enterprise1. We would spend a lot of time on Monday mornings making sure the numbers were accurate," Burlingame said.

Not only was there an interface breakdown between JDA and Enterprise1, but Domain's employees also found the BI software difficult to use. Many times the application didn't directly fit their needs, causing them to resort to manual processes. "A buyer would take the green and white bar paper report and manually create an Excel spreadsheet by typing in the SKUs [stock keeping units], or he would come to the IT department and ask us to create a report that included certain characteristics," Burlingame said. "At least once a week, the IT department would get a request to program a new report for someone else."

The JDA software could create some of the necessary reports, but it was limited in the way users could manipulate the data, and the software didn't have the ability to view sales at the store level, only chainwide. "Although Domain is a furniture company, we operate like a fashion retailer by reacting quickly to trends. We act on a fashion curve more than a furniture curve," said Malcolm Brazill, director of IT at Domain. "We don't want to know how many green sofas sold in the last year. We analyze based on seasons and week by week like a specialty retailer."

Slice And Dice Data Over A WAN
When Domain investigated new BI software, it wanted more functionality than a simple report maker. The company wanted an application that would allow users to more dynamically explore its data. Since the retailer already had a working relationship with GERS Retail Systems' Enterprise1 solution, it looked to install the vendor's RetailAnalyst software.

The solution enables Domain to use business metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess enterprise performance in terms of product sales, store performance, and seasonal trends. This allows the retailer to avoid unnecessary discounting, minimize stock-outs, maximize floor space, and identify buying patterns.

"RetailAnalyst allows us to slice and dice three years worth of sales and inventory data," Burlingame said. "It used to take me six inquiries just to know how many units of a particular style were sold." Now, the system is more user-friendly, and the employees feel comfortable accessing the information themselves over the company's wide area network (WAN). "The system allows us to release ad hoc reports much faster and with a great comfort in the accuracy of the numbers we report," Brazill said.

The merchandising and accounting departments are just two areas of the company that are now using the BI application with minimal training. RetailAnalyst also freed the IT department to concentrate on other technology projects rather than spending so much time creating databases. While RetailAnalyst helps Domain analyze its historical data, the retailer is looking at implementing GERS' planning and forecasting software called Planalyst in the future.