Merchandiser rethinks data strategies

Service Merchandise Corp. (SMC), Nashville, Tenn., is changing its retail philosophy, as well as the way it processes and thinks about data. "We came to the conclusion that we were the only catalog showroom left, meaning there wasn't really a market for that type of store," explained Ken Brame, SMC's CIO. "We're shifting to a general merchandise philosophy where [just about] everything is put on the floor, rather than pulled from a warehouse."

The change in business means SMC's line-of-business analysts must look at different, more-detailed sales and merchandising trends. In the catalog showroom format, all of SMC's 358 stores (in 35 states) carry the same merchandise and use the same advertising scheme. The physical size of a store is not relevant in terms of what items are carried, as only one of each item is on display. The rest of the inventory is pulled from storage on an as-ordered basis.

In a general merchandising philosophy, however, business analysts must take into account square footage, location and individual store sales trends. For example, items that sell well in one area of the country may not sell well in another.

To help aid in the transition, SMC implemented the DecisionMaster data warehouse and analysis package from Intrepid Systems, Alameda, Calif. DecisionMaster is a retail-oriented tool built on the DSS Objects OLE API from MicroStrategy Inc., Vienna, Va. Prior to implementation, only eight "super users" had access to a "rudimentary" data warehouse, said Brame. Now, 35 people have desktop access to corporate legacy information. Users can drill down, summarize and slice-and-dice data in ways never before possible.

"When I came to the firm two years ago, all analysis was being done at the transaction level," Brame said. "I set out to change that and to get down to the product level. Luckily [I/S] was a half-step ahead of the company."

Brame chose DecisionMaster after evaluating a number of different options, including building a new solution in-house from scratch. "DecisionMaster opens the data in the warehouse in such a way that it makes more sense to more people," he said.

Three I/S people, with some help from Intrepid, had the new warehouse up and running in 10 months. Most of that time was spent optimizing the system to work with SMC's new version of Informix, release 7.2. Brame is hoping to have about 100 users on the system by year's end.

When asked if the project has been successful, Brame replied, "When I went to senior management with a request to buy [hundreds of thousands of dollars] worth of equipment, they did not blink an eye." This, Brame indicated, clearly signals their essential happiness with the results.