C harming Charlie, the Houston-based purveyor of trendy women’s jewelry and accessories, has as its mission, “helping women find their fabulous.” Its methods for measuring performance, however, were less than fabulous. Employees needed an efficient way to find “the single truth,” says Jay Nayak, senior director of IT applications.
“Everyone had their own database or spreadsheet,” she says. “We all were doing a lot of data crunching.”
Charming Charlie has approximately 250 locations across 34 states; each store is organized by color and item type to help customers navigate the approximately 8,000 SKUs contained within.
In the spring of 2012, it became clear that the different means of calculating performance measures meant the company might have several slightly varying versions of a particular measure. Moreover, the reporting that was occurring was manually intensive, says Russell Meachen, director of store operations. “There was really a vacuum of reliable, credible reporting.”
‘Relevant, timely insight’
Nayak and Meachen assembled a multi-functional team of field and store managers and other corporate employees to evaluate different reporting platforms. The goal was to develop a more reliable process that would allow management to easily determine the critical needs that would help drive the business, Meachen says.
The team looked at some 20 data warehouse and reporting vendors before settling on Manthan Systems’ ARC Merchandise Analytics. Nayak says Charming Charlie was persuaded by Manthan’s rapid implementation capability and the fact that it could pull data from multiple systems, such as the company’s POS, inventory and labor management applications. “We didn’t have to worry about the underlying data,” she says.
Meachen appreciated the system’s versatility and its ability to create report views with multiple dimensions, allowing users to obtain specific answers. The system’s dashboards are critical, given the time constraints of the executives that would be using the data.
Manthan’s goal is providing “relevant, timely insight to make better decisions,” says Kevin Walker, vice president of sales and marketing with Manthan Americas. “We take all the heavy lifting out of the equation” so employees can focus on sophisticated data analysis, he says. “The framework is in place for heavy analytical work to better understand the customer and make better buying and business decisions.”
The result is a “hub-and-spoke” arrangement: Manthan’s data warehouse is situated at the center of a range of data-feeding systems, Walker says. About 95 percent of the reporting most companies need is delivered right out of the box, although retailers can create additional ways to view the reports and information provided, he says.
Manthan’s solutions can provide intelligence to aid in merchandising, shelf-planning and promotional initiatives. For instance, it can help retailers supply their locations with the right quantity, size and color of each item. “More often than not, retailers, when projecting, can buy the right merchandise,” Walker says. However, a particular location may need twice as many size smalls as size mediums. That insight isn’t always readily available.
Manthan’s applications also offer predictive capabilities on matters like potential out-of-stock situations. The software will analyze an item’s historical movement and seasonal performance: “Based on this knowledge we can tell the retailer when they need to source more goods to prevent [the stores] from running out,” Walker says. Similarly, Manthan’s applications can help retailers analyze the impact of price changes on revenue and profit.
The company’s solutions are database-agnostic and platform-independent, and can be accessed via the web. Clients can choose to install applications on their own servers or employ a software-as-a-service model; Manthan recently added a number of new customers in the cloud and sees that model growing, Walker says.
In September 2012, the team at Charming Charlie began defining the stakeholders in the new system and putting together a plan of action. It started development in November, began testing in February 2013 and gradually rolled out the reporting applications over the next few months. As it did so, the team collected feedback to determine which reports and information were most useful.
Meachen notes that while Manthan comes with several hundred measures, he and his colleagues decided to initially provide about a dozen reports, focusing on the measures most important to Charming Charlie. Users could become familiar with these reports and absorb the information, rather than be inundated with too much data all at once.
In addition to installing the solution itself, Charming Charlie management developed training materials and engaged in change management. Employees needed to understand that the company was moving “from an Excel-based organization to a dashboard- and graph-based organization,” Meachen says. Taking the time to do this helped ensure the software’s acceptance.
Meachen and Nayak also began employing a data governance strategy to support the implementation of the Manthan system. Each department now has a business intelligence mentor or lead who works with his counterparts in other areas of the company to develop a common, standard approach to each performance measurement. “Having a data governance body to set the tide going forward is critical,” Nayak says.
The changes and new system have been particularly well received at Charming Charlie. “There was such a hunger for good, quick, digestible reporting,” Meachen says.
For instance, employees can obtain reports that compare the performance of different stores and highlight the outliers. Stores that do really well might be asked about the steps that have been key to their success.
In addition, the solution provides performance information that wasn’t as easily available before, Nayak says. “Sales breakdowns by attributes, size, etc., are more easily available now and require minimum to no IT support,” she says.
The biggest win has been “having information so readily available,” Meachen adds. “We can do those kinds of comparisons to drive the business.”