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3/30/2006
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EMS Scales A Data Mountain

Outdoor gear merchant Eastern Mountain Sports implements Web-based business intelligence to help it win retail sales.

Eastern Mountain Sports recognized it had a dilemma: How could it cater to its clientele of hikers, snowboarders, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts -- and their demands for trendy, new items? The company recognized the importance of being able to track an enormously challenging variable: customers' tastes.

EMS, like other successful sporting apparel shops, wants to offer the latest clothing and accessories at a reasonable cost. However, unlike much of the competition, EMS is not only a retailer, but also a manufacturer of some of its products. The clothing industry is highly competitive, and being able to recognize and take advantage of a trend is paramount.

The company turned to New York-based Information Builders, and proceeded to launch WebFocus, a package designed to meet retailers' reporting requirements by helping them analyze and leverage sales, merchandising and inventory intelligence through dashboard-like interfaces. It is layered on top of a midtier AS400 platform.

"Our core merchandising system was antiquated, and it didn't give us a good view into the business," says Richard Pedott, vice president for planning, allocation and supply chain at EMS, adding that the company wanted software that employees could use from remote locations. It also wanted delivery on a tight schedule. "We implemented this solution during a 12-week time period, with different data structures in multiple locations. It's very intuitive. If you can use the Internet, you can use the tool."

EMS, says Michael Corcoran of Information Builders, needed a system focused on its operations, one that could run and track its business as well as manage sales data, orders and inventory. "They aren't typical users of business intelligence information," he says. "They aren't a highly technical company. They needed [the software to provide] greater timeliness of information."

Ease of use was very important to EMS. Store managers weren't hired to be technically savvy. Instead, their expertise lies in outfitting customers and holding a thorough knowledge of products. The company wanted to give employees an easy way to access data to help increase sales and assist in recognizing emerging trends. "Anybody with a Web browser can access the system; simplicity was very important," notes Corcoran, adding, "The retail segment does not like to spend on technology, but this type of solution is a very cost effective investment with a high return."

It's often easy for a good idea to get lost in the shuffle at any business; in particular, a good sales practice at one EMS store could easily go unnoticed by its fellow 79 outlets. Pedott hopes to use WebFocus to change that. "We're hoping to see ideas percolate up from stores," he says, noting that the software helps "small people" -- store managers -- in the organization to behave like "big people," or corporate managers, by letting them see real-time data and make timely decisions on sales trends.

So far, Pedott says he's seeing excellent results: For example, EMS has increased sales of foot insoles by 57 percent by interpreting the data WebFocus has reported. And the company is hoping to share the wealth (of information) with its suppliers. "There are opportunities to expand use of the tool," says Pedott. "In the future, this could be an [inexpensive] way to share information with supply teams. Without having them make an investment, you can send them a piece of the dashboard so they could have insight. It's as simple as sending a zip file within an e-mail."

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