Retail creativity and innovation are alive and well among the 10 Influentials honored by RIS News in 2007. Across all verticals executives are taking retail by storm with best-of-breed business practices and aggressive IT strategies. Not surprisingly, company growth is a key driver motivating the RIS News 2007 Influentials.
The business-leading retailers are finding their success via various routes, including acquisitions, investments from private equity firms and cross-channel expansion, all wrapped around the overall tenet of improving customer service.
IT strategies run the gamut from overall infrastructure realignment to specific software implementations. Influentials executives are focusing on priorities including communications strategies, inventory optimization and data synchronization.
Combined, the 2007 RIS News Influentials are selling out of close to 10,000 stores across all 50 states, recording sales of more than $125 billion annually. Congratulations to this year's 10 Influentials executives and the continued success of their businesses.
Don Reeve, Senior Vice President and CIO, Wegmans Food Markets
A noted technology thought leader in the retail industry, Wegmans remains one of the most honored retailers in America and Reeve has worked diligently to maintain that reputation. "IT strategy at Wegmans continues to be aligned with and fostered by our business strategy," says Reeve. "Our business strategy is to, every day, do the very best job we can possibly do for our customers through our knowledgeable, hard working employees. We work very hard to provide the best systems and tools our employees need to achieve their goals, and provide the incredible service our customers have come to expect."
Wegmans continues to be a leader in data synchronization and has completed synchronizing with suppliers that represent 82 percent of their cost volume in the CPG arena. "Our new Source Catalog (product database) is the foundation for our current and future systems," says Reeve. "We've spent over two years developing it and have trained more than 350 people in the corporate environment."
Wegmans stores offer more than 70,000 SKUs, compared to the average supermarket's 40,000, restaurant-quality prepared foods (one store even has its own fine-dining restaurant), beautiful stores and displays (like a European open-air market), and customer service that is abundant and approaching endearing. And Wegmans keeps growing; it has steadily expanded down the East Coast, from Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, to New Jersey, and has recently entered Maryland and Virginia.
Ray Auger, Vice President, Retail Store Systems, CVS
Ray Auger has been with CVS for 15 years, holding multiple key roles within the store systems department. He has helped CVS achieve continued record sales and earnings as a sponsor and driver of critical projects including the 2004 integration of 1,260 Eckerd stores, the recent integration of 700 Sav-On and Osco stores, along with industry-leading implementations of Mini Kiosks for customer loyalty solutions, and mobilizing store managers with hand held devices.
"CVS continues to make great strides in its commitment to customer service," says Auger. "In addition to our ongoing POS replacement project, we recently deployed a state-of-the-art RF infrastructure and application suite. Keeping the checkout process quick and our employees out on the sales floor (interacting with customers), is always a major focus when introducing new retail technology to our stores."
Debbie Dixson, Vice President, Business Information Officer, Best Buy
Debbie Dixson oversees the IT strategy supporting the company's U.S. retail stores and e-commerce systems. Over the past year, Best Buy completed technology and hardware upgrades in all of its 800-plus U.S. stores, as well as BestBuy.com, to help process customer orders more efficiently with less risk of system overloads.
Since the Best Buy CIO has taken on additional international responsibilities, Dixson has become the lead IT executive at the company. She is building cutting-edge systems in a multi-banner environment with an enormous focus on the customer-facing implications of all those technologies.
Black Friday 2006 is a prime example of Dixson's success: With stores opening at 5 a.m. to long lines - sometimes hundreds of holiday shoppers - Best Buy combined employee training with the new system technology to help process purchases more quickly and reduce checkout waiting time for customers. The combination of people and technology meant a shorter and smoother Black Friday rush than previous years. Additionally, BestBuy.com weathered the highest level of Black Friday traffic in its history without a single site crash.
Bill Holder, Vice President and CIO, Dillard's
Holder believes in the old-fashioned "do it yourself" attitude, which means his IT staff creates most applications in-house. "While third-party packages are considered when new functionality is requested, we rarely find one that will meet our needs and scale to our store/SKU, function or speed requirements," he says. "Nearly all of our applications are written in-house, with a staff that is smaller than companies our size or often even smaller companies."
Holder continues: "We take pride in being able to provide our users with the exact functionality they need, not forcing them to accommodate their business processes to pre-built systems. Our IT shop is able to discover, design, write, test, fix/change issues, and implement an application faster and cheaper than we could with third-party software. Our mission is retail and we support this with technology and services based on the business needs at the time."
Holder also is a voracious proponent of RFID and is planning to implement RFID-based asset management at Dillards. "Asset management will cover everything we fix machine-wise," he notes, "such as POS scanners and signature capture pads. We have to keep up with serial numbers when we move an item from one place to another. Today we do it with bar codes and it works pretty well, but people have to remember to scan the items. With RFID, all you have to do is walk by it.
Ed Wong, Senior Vice President, Supply Chain and Systems, Charlotte Russe
Ed Wong was promoted to senior vice president, supply chain and systems in June of 2004. Wong has worked for Charlotte Russe, a growing mall-based specialty retailer of fashionable, value-priced apparel and accessories for young women in their teens and twenties, since December of 2003. Wong began his retail career in store management for Sears, then transitioned into buying and merchandise planning roles at Mervyns, and then evolved into information technology positions for Target Corporation. He subsequently worked for several specialty retailers including The GAP, Eddie Bauer, Gymboree and Factory2-U in information technology and supply chain management roles.
Led by Wong, Charlotte Russe began a business transformation project a few years ago that included a comprehensive upgrade of technology tools for its business teams. "We replaced our legacy merchandising, planning and allocation with applications from JDA; and business analysis and reporting with Business Objects as a start," notes Wong.
"Along with outsourcing our computer operations and upgrading our wide area network, it sets the stage for our current initiative to improve our in-store technology with new POS, back-office and customer solutions from JDA," Wong continues. "At the same time, we're evaluating the implementation of a markdown management solution and other optimization opportunities for this coming year."
John Moore, Senior Vice President, CIO and head of logistics, Tween Brands
Moore was appointed senior vice president, CIO and head of logistics for Tween Brands (formerly Too Brands) in January 2005. As CIO, Moore has driven a number of recent initiatives at Tween Brands: a new infrastructure designed to scale to company growth, with the appropriate reliability and security; an enterprise data warehouse; assortment planning and financial planning suites; markdown optimization; new financial software; merchandising software; and a new POS system.
As Moore continues to push Tween's growth strategy forward (a five-year, $27-million plan to develop infrastructure, application software and data warehousing), his initial technology improvements already are paying off. The number of stores has increased 49 percent since 2002, with an annual volume shipped from the DC increasing to almost 67 percent.
"We have spent the last two years putting in a completely new suite of IT systems for Tween Brands as part of a five-year initiative called TEA 2010 (Tween's Enterprise Architecture)," notes Moore.
Prior to joining Too Brands, Moore was the senior vice president, enterprise systems group for Best Buy. In this position, he was responsible for delivering all information systems within Best Buy and for the Best Buy infrastructure. Before joining Best Buy, Moore was the vice president of global architecture and engineering and CIO for the Public and Relationship Sectors at Dell Computer Corporation. In this role, he was responsible for Dell globally for all aspects of engineering, architecture, information security and offshore development.
Steve Stone, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Lowe's
In the past year, the Lowe's IT team has been focused on the delivery of solutions to support Lowe's key business initiatives, according to Stone. Key 2006 deliveries included new technologies to support major supply chain initiatives, markdown optimization, additional ERP modules, multi-channel selling tools, and various efforts supporting Lowe's Total Closed Loop (TCL) selling model.
"Focused execution of our technology priorities has allowed our IT organization to deliver value to our business and to our customers," says Stone. "This same sense of execution when matched with an obsession for providing the best customer experience is driving many of our new innovations at Lowe's."
The TCL is designed to simplify the process of selling specialty items and services for store associates, manage the communication and processes with Lowe's service provider network, and provide tools to improve and manage the customer experience throughout the entire selling process. "The combined technologies in this model have been deployed in phases over the past three years, with more deliverables planned in 2007 and 2008," Stone says.
Charles Carstens, Director of Multi-Channel Transformation, Cabela's
Cabela's is the nation's largest direct marketer and a specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and related outdoor merchandise, founded in 1961. A few years ago the retailer committed to focus on superior customer service throughout its channels: catalog, on-line, and in retail stores. To that end, cross-channel consistency emerged as a theme. "Customer service must be delivered with the same look-and-feel and with the same high quality that our customers have come to expect from us," notes Carstens. "In addition, we recognized that our competitive position would be greatly enhanced by reducing costs; this could only be achieved by streamlining and completely integrating multi-channel business processes and information systems."
At the same time, the decision was made to expand Cabela's presence in the market place by expanding its destination store concept. The challenge was to transform a company deeply rooted in direct marketing into a true cross-channel retailer. This challenge required Cabela's to change many existing business processes and to replace its catalog-centric systems.
Currently, Cabela's is working on a number of IT initiatives. The company is redesigning its merchandising business practices, realigning its organizational structure, and implementing new information systems. The new systems suite includes JDA MMS, Manhattan Warehouse Management, Manhattan Merchandise Planning and Replenishment, Oracle CRMS, JDA Financials, and the custom catalog management systems.
Brad Friedman, CIO and Vice President, Burlington Coat Factory
This has been a challenging year for Burlington Coat Factory (BCF), which has recently become privately held with the assistance of Bain Capital. Friedman and his team have been implementing new initiatives to help aggressively grow the business. "It is our (MIS) jobs to facilitate those initiatives," says Friedman.
One key implementation was the addition of a new returns management system. "We added a cash back policy," explains Friedman, "and in doing that we knew it was extremely important to limit the potential fraud related to the cash back returns. Returns management software to help control that fraud was paramount to ensuring an effective program."
The company also focused on IT infrastructure in 2006. "We spent a great deal of time ensuring our IT infrastructure is prepared to support the business as we move forward," Friedman notes. "With Oracle's Grid technology and their database, along with IBM and other key partners, we have built a highly scalable fault tolerant processing infrastructure to support the business for the long term."
Friedman has worked at BCF for more than 22 years, beginning as a data entry clerk in 1984. Thanks to Friedman's commitment to performance excellence, BCF has won many awards including Retailer of the Year, Top 100 Most Resourceful Companies (based on its pursuit of emerging technologies to reduce costs), Top 100 Companies to work for in IT, and Top 10 Best In Class.
Marty Allen, CEO, Party America
Turn-around should be Marty Allen's middle name. Following a stint with California Closets, in which Allen spent four years building the brand to prepare the company for a successful sale, Allen took on Party America. At Party America, Allen was faced with an uphill battle: the retailer declared bankruptcy shortly after he arrived in 1996 due to a failed merger with Party World.
Bouncing back and led by Allen, Party America acquired Paper Warehouse in 2003 then Party Concepts the following year. The results speak for themselves: same-store sales rose, posting a 6.6 percent increase for fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2005. Party America grew from a regional chain of 36 stores doing approximately $55 million in sales to a national chain with more than 290 stores and sales of more than $255 million.
Allen can truly be considered an innovator and an influential in the realm of company turnaround, growth and the development of company culture - and he does it one percent at a time. "There's nothing you can do today that is 100 percent better than your competition," he notes. "The difference today in winning in business is doing 100 things one percent better."