Magazine Article | May 1, 2003

IT Crunch Time

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By outsourcing its enterprise applications, clothier Work 'n Gear replaced its 57-store IT infrastructure in less than six months and reduced inventory and markdowns by 20%.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, May 2003

It's not unusual for enterprise-wide IT rollouts to take more than a year from the time the purchase is made, the hardware and software are installed, and integration and testing are complete. Work 'n Gear (Weymouth, MA) didn't have that luxury. In fact, the 57-store clothier had only six months to roll out an entire IT infrastructure. Six months into the rollout, they've experienced a 20% reduction in inventory and a 20% reduction in markdowns.

Clothier Breaks Away From Parent Company
In May 2002, Work 'n Gear separated from its parent company, men's big and tall clothier Casual Male Retail Group, Inc. (Canton, MA). On the outside, everything appeared business as usual. On the inside, it was everything but business as usual. All of the IBM OS/390 mainframe computers, POS terminals, and communications systems that Work 'n Gear had used were now the property of the parent company and had to be replaced right away. "Because up to 40% of our annual sales occur between the months of September and December, we couldn't afford to be in the middle of a major IT rollout at that time," says Jay Scheiner, executive VP and COO of Work 'n Gear. "In addition to replacing office equipment and phone systems and retrieving our data from our former parent company, we had to search for servers, operating systems, POS terminals, and peripherals for 57 stores."

In A Pinch? Outsource
During its search, Work 'n Gear was introduced to retail software and service provider Celerant Technology Corp. (Staten Island, NY). The retailer implemented Celerant's RMS (retail management system), which is a POS solution with added functionality such as CRM (customer relationship management), inventory management, purchasing/distribution, gift cards, and employee management. Because of its limited deployment time frame, Work 'n Gear opted to have the vendor host the solution from its data center in Staten Island. Because the Celerant RMS suite includes several applications, there was minimal integration that had to be performed. "The only two applications that had to be integrated with the RMS were our MAS 200 accounting application and our ANT planning application," says Scheiner. "Because the vendor already had APIs [application program interfaces] established with both applications, the integration was complete within a few days."

Gotta Convert The Mainframe Data
Most of Work 'n Gear's IT rollout was finished in a few weeks. One major setback, however, was caused because the retailer's data, which resided on an IBM mainframe (used by the former parent company), and the new system's InterBase database were not compatible. This meant there was no pressing a button to export data from one system to the other. "We spent the bulk of the rollout cleaning up and translating the data," recalls Ian Goldman, president and CEO of Celerant Technology. "It was a very manual process that entailed normalizing redundant data and running data conversion programs." Ultimately, the project came down to the wire and entailed creating a tool that mapped the data from the IBM OS/390s to the Celerant database overnight, enabling Work 'n Gear to go live with its new system the following morning. "By choosing to clean up their data before migrating it to a new database, Work 'n Gear cut its total data storage by 66%," says Goldman.

Less Inventory Speaks Volumes
On the front end of the solution, Work 'n Gear uses POSIFLEX touch screen terminals, which are connected to the back end database via a T1 connection and Java-based middleware. All sales, including credit and debit transactions, are sent through the hosted data center, which includes a frame relay to a Payment Tech transaction switch. In the event of a lost Internet connection, each store has a modem connection to the Internet, and it has a local server that keeps a copy of recent transactions and customer information. "If our Internet connection goes down, customers and cashiers don't even know it," says Scheiner. "The only noticeable difference is that credit and debit transactions take longer to process." Additionally, because Work 'n Gear is always connected to its back end system, cashiers and managers can view real-time inventory levels at any of its 57 stores, and they can check customer payment histories. Besides real-time POS functionality, the solution includes data mining and CRM functionality, which runs Work 'n Gear's customer loyalty and stored value card programs.

Work 'n Gear currently runs its applications on an InterBase database, but it is in the process of upgrading to an Oracle 9i database, which will allow it to add more functionality to its overall solution, such as e-commerce and EDI (electronic data interchange) capabilities. It plans to roll out these projects in the next year. For some companies, it may seem like an aggressive goal to get such huge IT initiatives off the ground. But for Work 'n Gear, this is nothing compared to the pace at which they're used to working.