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It’s not hard to find tales of communication overload these days: Too many messages from too many people, too often missing the target and leaving questions about follow-through.

With 156 locations under five banners including Copps and Rainbow, Roundy’s Supermarkets was no exception. Messages regularly went out from the Milwaukee home office to store management teams, but only a few team members had system rights and access to e-mail.

“We would either have to e-mail that very small group with the information and then have them distribute the items, hoping they were in that day, or we would use a simple messaging system we had in place at the stores where messages could only be filed and archived,” says Lynn Guyer, director of organizational communication at Roundy’s.

“Even then, the small number of store management with e-mail and system rights resulted in distribution issues. Messages would have to be printed, and then managers would be hand-delivering mail to the department heads accountable for the work … the entire process resulted in a lot of duplication of efforts and extra paper floating around the stores.”

The Roundy’s project team knew there had to be a better way. First up was a thorough analysis of “everything we were sending to the stores,” Guyer says. “E-mail, truck mail, the messaging system — we took a look at every single piece.” The goal was to reduce the amount of time store management was spending on messages.

In the process, Roundy’s found Opterus. The Toronto-based store information and execution management solution provider’s Store Ops-Center gives Roundy’s a single channel to all of its banners — as well as the ability to monitor task execution on the store end.

“Everybody intuitively knows that communication is a giant problem,” says Janet Hawkins, Opterus founder and president. “No matter who you talk to, they’ll say that their communications are a mess and that they need to solve it somehow. Part of it, in my opinion, is closing the loop…

“We spend the money, we hire the right people and we plan a great promotion, but somehow it doesn’t get executed on the store level,” Hawkins says. “It doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done on time — or we don’t know if it gets done. We kind of send things out there and cross our fingers. But we need to be executing based on our strategies. If we’re not, what’s the point?”

Messages sent, tasks performed
Opterus works with retailers across “any vertical and any tier,” Hawkins says.

“It’s all the same problem,” she says. “There’s a central decision maker and dispersed locations … it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a 500-store chain or a 10-chain retailer.”

One of the things that was unique to working with Roundy’s was the grocer’s dedication to the project.

“Roundy’s took the time up front to make sure it was a successful implementation,” says Rick Peters, chief product officer for Opterus. “Our solution is easy to deploy out of the box, but Roundy’s went out of their way to fully learn the solution and their own communications needs rather than throwing it in and tweaking as they went.... There was a fair amount of integration to their other backend systems.”

Fred Lunde, director of IT governance for Roundy’s, says it was important that store directors “shouldn’t have to search for things.

“The goal of reducing the time on the computer was very important,” he says.

Information like price changes or merchandising plans sent out from the home office is now delineated into “messages” (good-to-know information) and “tasks,” which have an action component. The home office is notified when tasks are received and completed, and store directors (through department leads) can send messages back to the home office.

“That capability is huge,” Guyer says. “They took to that feature right from the start. Before, they would have to place a call to the home office and wait for an answer. Sometimes those calls would be rerouted, meaning even more time and productivity lost.”

Prioritizing work
Roundy’s also has been impressed with Store Ops-Center’s gatekeeper functionality. It not only limits who can send out information, but also how much is being sent out and what shape the messages are in before they’re distributed.

“[Messages] all go to the gatekeeper first,” Guyer says. “In the future, we’ll make further decisions about the gatekeeper, but for now, it’s the place for all messages and tasks to be reviewed for grammar, conciseness and clarity so that when something is sent out, we know that it’s in the best form it could possibly be.”

Roundy’s has 160 home office users on the system, as well as another 2,800 in the stores, including back-up users for coverage purposes. As such, in addition to culling the number of messages sent, those receiving the information have been asked to check the system just a couple of times a day.

“Stores should now be able to better prioritize work by looking in one place for all incoming messages and tasks, which are automatically plotted on a calendar,” Guyer says. “That means productivity can be managed better.... And we’re still not using all of the Store Ops-Center’s capabilities.

“We started out with the very basics and will be introducing additional features as [we] gain confidence,” Guyer says. “Opterus gave us a solution that encompassed everything we were looking for — plus.”