Paradies Shops Enhances Real-Time Merchandising Strategy

WebFOCUS in the Cloud Supplies Metrics and Dashboards to Hundreds of Stores in Popular Airport Retail Chain

Named “Best Airport Retailer” for the past 16 consecutive years by Airport Revenue News, The Paradies Shops operates more than 550 stores in over 75 markets across the U.S. and Canada. A family business with more than 50 years of providing first-class service to the traveling public, Paradies offers collectibles, souvenirs, coffee, apparel, jewelry, books, magazines, luggage, handbags, and much more. Founded in 1960, the company is based in Atlanta, Georgia. It has off-airport retail locations in Orlando, Florida; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Houston, Texas; and Atlanta, Georgia.

Paradies Shops has renewed its focus on operational efficiency and aggressive growth. To monitor progress and plan for the future, management decided to acquire an enterprise business intelligence (BI) solution that could supply consistent and timely insight into corporate performance, create more accurate forecasts, and help store managers maximize the effectiveness of promotional and merchandising strategies.

Paradies Shops purchased Information Builders’ WebFOCUS intelligence and iWay integration solutions to create a BI solution complete with dashboards, scorecards, and geographical representations of data for quick, results-driven decision-making. Non-technical users can monitor high-level metrics or drill down to minute details, with the ability to “write once and deliver anywhere,” including to smartphones and tablets. A consistent metadata layer enforces data integrity among data marts for sales, inventory management, financial management, and vendor management, driving better business decisions throughout the organization.

Rather than installing and maintaining in-house infrastructure to support its new BI applications, Paradies Shops opted for a cloud solution from First Rate, an Information Builders partner that offers hosted, on-demand BI software and services. First Rate has significant experience with WebFOCUS, Information Builders’ BI platform.

“We wanted to become more proactive in delivering information that would help us simplify daily operations and merchandising tasks,” says Tony Dudek, vice president and chief information officer at The Paradies Shops. “Information Builders supplied a BI platform that enables people who don’t have IT degrees to manipulate dashboards and produce interactive reports. Because it is a cloud-based solution, we don’t have to buy and maintain the associated infrastructure, worry about upgrades or patches, or deal with a host of other IT issues.”

Shopping for a Complete BI Platform

Paradies Shops considered BI solutions from a range of software vendors, including Cognos, MicroStrategy, QuantiSense, QlikView, and Tableau. IT pros found that these vendors either provided only a small slice of the total functionality that the company needed, or that their products were too complex for a small IT department to manage. Only Information Builders had a complete solution that was easy to use.

On the front end, Paradies Shops liked WebFOCUS Active Technologies, a form of interactive reporting that permits offline data analysis, along with the data visualization capabilities of WebFOCUS Visual Discovery. Dudek and his team also liked Information Builders’ support for mobile BI since it would make life easier for buyers and store managers in the field and at individual stores.

On the back end, they valued the data migration and cleansing capabilities of iWay integration solutions, which enforce a common view of all data assets so that everyone gets consistent answers in their dashboards and reports. WebFOCUS metadata acts as a buffer between users and data sources, allowing people to work with data in business terms, easily manipulating it for reporting, analysis, and forecasting.

“Information Builders presented us with a highly configurable offering designed to address our specific store-level, geographical, and product needs,” says Dudek. “In addition to top analytical tools, Information Builders has data integration technology to construct a metadata layer that ensures consistent and accurate results.”

From Daily Reporting to Real-Time BI

The first phase of the BI project entailed updating a variety of aging information systems with rudimentary reporting capabilities. These systems stored performance information related to which products are selling, the company’s inventory position and inventory turns, sales trends, seasonality, and event-based sales. The merchandising and operations teams could access the data stored in the system only by writing their own queries and then manipulating the data in Excel spreadsheets.

To create a more flexible reporting system, Paradies created a data warehouse that feeds a series of data marts containing sales, inventory, financial, and vendor management information. The data warehouse is populated by four source systems: an Oracle database, a SQL Server database, a Sybase database, and a legacy GERS merchandising system.

Working with Information Builders Professional Services and a third-party provider called Daugherty Business Solutions, Paradies Shops used iWay DataMigrator to extract, transform, and load the data from these four different types of databases into a common format. The team used DataMigrator to build the individual data marts and they continue to use it to feed data into the warehouse with operational data.

Currently, the data warehouse is updated each night. In the future, they plan to use iWay to trickle-feed it with updates every 15 minutes, enabling the company to relay information about bestselling items to vendors and suppliers. This will be a useful way to track popular items during product promotions and merchandising campaigns to make sure that each store is supplied adequately.

Contextual Insight for Managers and Executives

Next Paradies Shops used WebFOCUS to produce three dashboards and about a dozen operational reports. Color-coded checkmarks in green, yellow, and red highlight stores that are above, below, or adhering to sales expectations. With a couple of clicks, key members of the merchandising and operations teams can drill down to this information to study the performance numbers by region, store, category, and product. “Rather than looking for the needle in the haystack, we present the needle to them in the dashboard,” says Dudek.

For example, one popular report tracks sales-to-budget and inventory positions through a Google Maps interface, with color-coded pins indicating each store’s performance. Hovering the cursor over a pin displays a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Clicking on an ad hoc reporting tab lets them select their own columns, viewpoints, timeframes, and comparison criteria, and then generate completely custom reports in a matter of seconds. Users can even save the configurations so they can run the same reports on a regular basis. Many people also use WebFOCUS Active Technologies to e-mail specific reports to colleagues. These interactive PDF files include a payload of data pre-selected for the purpose at hand that can be sorted, summarized, and filtered as each user sees fit, with results displayed in charts and graphs.

Paradies plans to use WebFOCUS Mobile to render these reports and dashboards for smartphones and tablets – a particularly crucial benefit for the company’s geographically dispersed footprints, where stores may be scattered throughout an airport concourse.

“A portion of our business reflects local flavor, so it is helpful to select a portion of a report and e-mail it to a regional buyer,” says Dudek. “Being able to select and share certain portions of the dataset in a portable analytic app is transformative for our business.”

The Benefits of BI in the Cloud

While many organizations set up their BI reporting servers on-premise and manage the infrastructure themselves, Dudek’s approach is to minimize capital expenses and offload IT maintenance activities to third parties. “We want to invest in moving the business forward, not maintaining it,” he said. “For us it makes no sense to build more infrastructure. By moving our IT assets into the cloud, we achieve a high availability environment at a cost-effective rate.”

First Rate hosts the majority of Paradies Shops’ IT assets, including the data warehouse, the merchandising system, a virtual server farm, and other technology currently under development. As an expert in Information Builders products with more than 200 BI installations in the cloud, this trusted third-party ensures that the servers are online and always available. Its managed-services offering includes the hardware, operating system, network connectivity, and security infrastructure, in addition to all BI and database assets.

Paradies Shops enjoys the same rich WebFOCUS functionality through this cloud offering that the company would if the IT team had installed these systems on-premise. Paradies also has the flexibility to expand the technology footprint quickly as the demand for the BI applications grows, or to contract it in order to conserve resources and cut costs.

“It’s a nimble and cost-effective way to manage cloud services,” explains Bo McWilliams, director and general manager of hosting and managed cloud services for First Rate. “You don’t have to over-buy at the outset. Instead, you can take your time, figure out your company’s needs, and scale your BI applications as necessary.”

Rapid Deployment, Long-Term Payback

Dudek foresees a rapid payback on his firm’s BI investments on many levels, including a 90 percent reduction in the time that merchandising buyers spent gathering and massaging data. “In addition, their reports will be more accurate, which should improve the performance of the company overall,” he notes.

His team plans to create a sales dashboard to display up-to-the-minute metrics in the company’s head office. The staff will be able to see sales changing throughout the day and adjust their marketing and merchandising strategies to fit the ebb and flow of consumer demand.

“All of our business intelligence initiatives are designed to help us streamline operations so we can gain a precise, real-time view of the business,” concludes Dudek. “Once we delve into Information Builders’ Predictive Analytics technology, we’ll be able to do much more trending and forecasting as well. Thanks to our BI initiatives, we are becoming a very proactive company.”