Shirt maker Thomas Pink has taken its sales and merchandising data and transformed it into genuine knowledge to help drive its global expansion plans, writes business intelligence company Tahola in this company case study.

A dramatic improvement in the quality of information has allowed shirtmaker Thomas Pink to recoup a £60,000 investment in data mining software in just three months. Business intelligence specialists Tahola have provided Thomas Pink with the business information it needs to support a worldwide expansion programme. This includes branching into womenswear and growing its mail order and Internet business.

"What we needed was information. It's only when you can organise your data into a format where you've got information you can actually understand that it becomes knowledge. And when you start using that knowledge to drive the business forward it becomes power," said Martin Seymour, Thomas Pink's IT manager.

Sales information, in particular from airport stores coupled with flight data, has been used to help Thomas Pink identify new markets. Results have highlighted the Far East as a potential for new stores, as well as quickly identifying £40,000 in unclaimed tax refunds from an analysis of data in Thomas Pink's duty-free airport shops.

Customer Profile
Thomas Pink started out as a Mayfair tailor in the latter part of the 18th century and has grown successfully through the 1990s to include stores throughout the UK as well as overseas. In September 1999, French luxury goods group LVMH bought a two-third stake in the business, bringing the now world-renowned retailer into a stable of exclusive brands.

Thomas Pink now has more than 20 stores throughout the UK and Ireland, including tax-free airport stores, three in the USA. It opened its first mainland European outlet in Brussels in the summer of 1999. April 2000 saw the first womenswear-only Thomas Pink store opened in Sloane Square, London. The company also operates a successful mail order business, which now embraces e-commerce through the Thomas Pink website.

Business Challenge
Although Thomas Pink's existing IT systems collected data from a wide range of sources (including in-store EPoS, the mail order business, and the financial system), there was no easy way to collate it into reports and to analyse it. Head office was spending hours each week putting data into spreadsheets and the results were out of date before they were completed.

"It was apparent that Thomas Pink had all the information the business required to make its decisions - somewhere - but we just weren't able to get at it," said Martin Seymour.

The Solution
Geoff McClure, who worked on the operations side in both the grocery and pub retail sectors prior to establishing Tahola, said: "Thomas Pink's situation was a pretty common one among retailers: the business was generating truckloads of data, all of which was trying to tell them stories, but no one was able to listen."

As a starting point, McClure interviewed a range of Thomas Pink personnel, including board members and area managers, about the type of information they felt would be useful to them. "The consultation went from the top down and then back up again. It's actually very difficult to say to people: 'what information do you want?' because they may not know. To get the answers, we demonstrated the range of information we could provide. Based on that 'menu,' the Thomas Pink senior management selected what it felt would be most useful in moving the business forward," he said.

Tahola then came up with a bespoke software package for Thomas Pink that could work with the data generated by the existing IT systems and from that, create a weekly package of up-to-date information about how the business was performing.

This included obvious information such as sales figures, with the ability to discover how a particular range, or even particular collar size, was performing. Other useful information, such as how well a particular store, or product, performed at specific times of the day or week, was also readily available.

The final solution used a Microsoft SQL Server 7 database and Cognos PowerPlay analysis tools. Every night, data is extracted into the SQL Server database from the EPOS system, from which pre-built reports are automatically updated, making them ready for staff to use the next day. Because of the on-screen simplicity of PowerPlay, staff can easily customise the reports to drill down, filter, perform calculations, and thereby answer their own queries without being dependant upon the IT Department.

For a company with a growing womenswear business, information on the rate of returns and customer profile is particularly important too. With an international expansion programme under way, data from the airport stores about the destination of the purchaser - tax-free shoppers have to show their ticket - is also very relevant. In a classic coals-to-Newcastle style, it transpires that Thomas Pink is selling a significant amount of shirts to travellers to Hong King and other Far Eastern destinations.

All this information, and much more, was previously floating around the business in data format, but was effectively inaccessible. Now, the weekly report generated by the Tahola software is available on screen to those with access to the local area network at Thomas Pink's head office and manufacturing complex in south London. This can be shared globally by area managers through the Internet, and in stores through PC tills linked to head office by ISDN. The information is presented in an easy-to-understand graphic format, and selected users are able to drill down into the data to get more detailed information.

Operational tool
Seymour said: "The people who are using this information are all reasonably computer literate; if they can use a spreadsheet, they can use our information. For example, we have a manager who tells us he wants 'a cube of information before breakfast' so he can go into a store and say 'this happened in your store yesterday. Why?' Equally, the operations director, or the finance director, can look at the data on a Monday morning, and take the information straight into meetings. The system is an operational tool on which we are going to base decisions."

With new shops planned for Paris and other European capitals this year, as well as further US expansion, the knowledge provided by the Tahola system is essential as the business grows and develops.

The feedback to Microsoft on the success of the Tahola package is much welcomed by Stephen McBride, customer relationship management (CRM) industry marketing manager of Microsoft UK. "Thomas Pink has addressed an unfortunately all too common retail problem," he said. "Customers are continually talking to retailers - the key issue is whether the retailers choose to listen to what the customer is saying. Through what they do, their purchasing patterns, and the amount of money they spend, they are providing valuable information that can help the retailer form a judgement on its current service and offering, and plan for the future. In too many businesses, that information is lost in the data."

Thomas Pink is keen to develop a truly multi-channel retailing strategy and the information already provided by business intelligence has steered it towards new horizons. The sales and merchandising reporting system will be rolled out to all stores before the end of the year, with an added facility to involve the entire supply chain at a later date. Thomas Pink hopes to eventually develop an international e-business system to seamlessly handle stock, accountancy, and currency within all its stores, together with mail order and Internet sales channels.

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