Making a Store Fit Its Customers

Making a Store Fit Its Customers

The discipline I learned as a pianist has helped me throughout my technology career. Music requires that you have the ability to focus, collaborate, be creative, then execute, whether it’s for an upcoming concert or a master class. The same is true when you’re pulling together the pieces of a big technology project. It’s coordination, orchestration, tempo. It’s being sensitive to the harmonies and the other members of the project team.

When I joined in 1995, the executive team at Men’s Wearhouse wanted to expand to many more stores and divisions. At the time, we had 300 stores in a single division, Men’s Wearhouse. We asked, “Is the infrastructure, including the information systems, suitable to handle growth?” We decided the systems were not.

Most important, we wanted our systems to allow us to remain close to our customers. We pride ourselves on having a full assortment of men’s tailored clothing and helping our customers select and purchase the right garments. We spend a great deal of time training our store personnel how to help our customers and amass information on our customers—where they shop and what they’re buying—so we can market to them.

Our first phase was to replace our human-resources and finance systems, and to bring our payroll system in-house. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) was the rage and the suppliers we considered—PeopleSoft and SAP—did not have a strong presence in the domestic retail market.

We elected to go with best of breed instead of an ERP system and went with PeopleSoft’s human-resources and financial packages, including the payroll system. We expanded our use of analytics from SAS and obtained Hyperion for reporting. These new systems now support our broader population and business base, including our new dry cleaning and corporate apparel divisions.

For our merchandising system, we expanded upon a custom-built UniVerse database and the Pic operating system, which is now supported by IBM. It’s a proprietary nonstandard relational database and captures information about each customer and transaction down to the size, style, specific item, price, date and discount offered.

Our next major project involved replacing point-of-sale green-screen terminals, which had required a lot of maintenance and user training. This system was difficult to use because store employees needed to remember arcane instructions and enter a lot of keystrokes. Instead, we deployed color touch screens that look more like a video screen. Employees are more comfortable with them. For a new store employee, the typical training on the touch-screen terminals has been cut in half to about four hours.

Our systems help us synchronize what is in our stores with what our customers want. For instance, if a customer visits a store and wants a blue blazer, size 52, and it’s not at that location, the system will find the closest stores with one available. Then our wardrobe consultant can ship the blazer to the customer’s home or hotel.

We know where every item is located in our entire chain, and know what every store and wardrobe consultant has sold or any service problems they’ve encountered. Recognizing the ebbs and flows of the business is critical to our success.

Our systems also allow us to act on business ideas quickly. As an example, an employee proposed that we start renting, instead of only selling, tuxedos. George Zimmer, our chief executive officer and chairman, liked the idea, and within five months we were renting tuxedos in 13 stores in the Seattle market. It was a project fraught with challenges: You’ve got to get the right tuxedo to the right guy on the right day. So we bust our backsides to make sure that happens. Now it’s a national program, and we will rent about one million tuxedos this year.

Whether you’re creating music or a system for business, it’s the creativity—the collaboration and execution—that are so satisfying.

Jeffery Marshall is chief information officer of Men’s Wearhouse, a retail men’s clothier, and is president of its Twinhill corporate apparel division.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Baseline.