Over the past two years, Sprouts Farmers Market has acquired and merged with two grocery retailers – Henry/Sun Harvest stores and Sunflower Farmers Market. As the companies merged, the retailer faced the substantial hurdle of blending together different sets of IT infrastructure and applications that would enable the unified company to operate efficiently and manage an aggressive roadmap for growth.
Shortly after the mergers, Steve Black was given the dual titles of CIO and CMO, where he saw his role as someone who has a vision of where the marketplace is heading and developing plans that will carry the company well into the future.
In the fall of 2012 Sprouts CEO Doug Sanders created a Technology Steering Committee to determine the needs of the business and find solutions to address them. “The grocery business is fast-paced, there’s a lot of different team members that need key information quickly and easily,” says Steve Black, CIO and CMO for Sprouts Farmers Market.
“It wasn’t a technology initiative where we found what we thought team members wanted,” continues Black. “It was important to the culture of the company for us to be a support department and evolve accordingly. This committee was created with members from each area of the business – merchandisers, buyers, supply chain, finance, marketing, IT, construction, real estate – representing a cross-segment of the entire business.”
“2013 at Sprouts is the year of infrastructure technology ground work,” explains Black, and he means business. Sprouts Farmers Market is shedding the term old-fashioned when it comes to IT initiatives. Keeping up with its expansion rate, the retailer has rolled out BI and marketing analytics that are built on a one-version-of-the-truth database, which helps the retailer find actionable insights quickly and easily. A cloud-based communications tool pushes out messages to all group members thereby reducing e-mails and facilitating better collaboration.
A social community module was launched to simplify Sprouts’ internal help desk communications and processes. To improve customer service and execute on its benchmarks, modules were rolled out to source feedback from around the Web and schedule social media postings. The retailer is also focused on creating a seamless experience as the companies merge, deploying a new website, tablet app and two mobile apps all by year’s end.
First Things First
The first step of the Technology Steering Committee was to determine what technology was currently being used, if it fit the company’s needs today and if it would fit the company’s needs in the future. Next, a log of all current manual processes was created. The committee then identified what solutions are available to fit those needs and blend together the companies and their people with an infrastructure that would allow for growth in the future.
From the get-go the retailer viewed reporting as one of its biggest challenges. Store sales, margin and labor reports for 35 to 50 stores can be done simply with PDFs and Excel spreadsheets, “but what we found out quickly is growing from 50 to 100 to 150 stores – that’s difficult to look at on a spreadsheet and mine your data,” says Black.
As a result of the mergers and strong organic growth, a mix of competing applications existed throughout the enterprise. After querying multiple areas of the business, Black learned the common complaint was the need for easier access to up-to-date data to streamline the current process that forced all departments to expend significant time and resources to aggregate it from multiple systems. “Analysis revealed that Sprouts was spending significant dollars per year in spreadsheet management for data that wasn’t timely,” notes Black.
Knowing that the business planned to pursue an aggressive growth strategy, any adopted IT solution had to be scalable. As a result in early 2013, Manthan’s Business Intelligence platform and Merchandise Analytics application were implemented to aggregate retail data from multiple sources so that merchandisers, marketers, store operations, supply chain operators and executives can access a single application to gain insights regarding business performance quickly and easily.
“The primary motivation for the Manthan solution adoption was the desire to get decision makers the information they needed more quickly,” says Black. “Teams across the organization needed an easier way to look at data coming from multiple sources, without having to put that data together. We then wanted to have the ability to drill down or drill across that data. With Manthan solutions, all areas of the business have access to timely information on multiple devices, including mobile.”
The expanded use of cloud technologies has allowed the retailer to outsource system maintenance, taking IT’s responsibilities out of the day-to-day business processes of the organization, including ensuring servers are up and running, and keeping operating systems and software releases up-to-date.
“All IT projects are never quite what you plan them to be because there’s so many things you don’t know until you start dissecting data and putting data together, but the BI rollout was as smooth a project as I’ve encountered,” says Black.
Opening the Lines of Communication
With BI in place, Sprouts could focus on cloud, social and mobile. Through the Technology Steering Committee, the retailer discovered the need to eliminate or drastically reduce the amount of e-mail to stores. With more than 14,000 employees, many spent a large part of their day sorting and managing e-mails.
In September 2012, Black attended DreamForce where he came across the SalesForce cloud-based Chatter tool to facilitate internal employee communication and collaboration. “My ‘ah-ha’ moment at the conference was that e-mail is the new fax,” says Black. “It’s important that in this fast-paced business people aren’t bogged down with e-mails. We need to quickly give them the tools they need to communicate, both internally in the store and externally to the support office and with the specific departments.”
Chatter allows the retailer to create a platform for disseminating information and coordinating activities that is easy to use and highly efficient. It allows everyone involved in specific processes to be linked in one group that shares messages, which minimizes time spent on dealing with e-mails.
“The beauty is the instant response of the store being able to communicate back to the buyer and send a picture of the product received at the store – whether the quality met expectations or not,” notes Black.
SalesForce RemedyForce, a social help desk support module, was also launched to simplify Sprouts’ internal help desk communications and processes. Rather than talking an employee through an issue, the support desk can now do FaceTime through RemedyForce, guiding associates through issues and repairs.
Another concern during the merging of several companies is the ability to converge social properties without items falling through the cracks. In February 2013, Sprouts Farmers Market rolled out SalesForce Marketing in the Cloud, which includes Radian6 and BuddyMedia modules. The retailer can listen across the Web to what is being said about Sprouts, its product and competitors in Radian6 for an instant view of all Web content, including social properties, blogs and comments. BuddyMedia allows Sprouts to create content and schedule it to be distributed across all properties, including more than 20 different Facebook pages, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
“Since February SalesForce customer service module has helped to make substantial strides in response time, allowing us to hit the benchmark of responding to customers in a 24 to 48 hour period,” says Black. “It helps improve the efficiency between the support office and stores. We never would’ve been able to do that without SalesForce.”
Full Steam Ahead
Each of the applications that Sprouts Farmers Market has rolled out are mobile-enabled, including Manthan BI and Merchandise Analytics, Chatter, RemedyForce and Marketing in the Cloud, to ensure that retail associates can access the tools they need, anytime and anywhere. The retailer will continue to enhance the platforms that are already in place, entering phase two of its deployments.
“Phase one was getting them live, phase two is enhancing the current modules that are available for each one of the products,” explains Black.
But the retailer has more mobile plans ahead. As the three companies merged, Sprouts recognized the importance of offering a more robust, seamless experience on the Web. Whether customers access the mobile site, website, tablet app or mobile apps all experiences must be the same. To do this, the retailer turned to Mercatus to deliver a new website, tablet app and two mobile apps, which will launch at the end of the year.
“It’s important that as a company and a culture we embrace technology and change. We understand that it may be somewhat painful through the rollout of new technologies, but the end result is going to set us up for growth in the future. Every single task, as easy as it may seem, is going to get a lot easier.”