Wax lyrical

Company: XcelleNetCustomer: Wax LyricalSubmitted by: MCC InternationalDate: September 1999Information is the lifeblood of the retailer. Whether it’s customer data, daily sales figures or supply chain statistics, it’s the key to competitive edge. Without access to up-to-the-minute information, no retailer great or small can expect to remain responsive to the subtlest shift in customer demand or change in market conditions.

Wax Lyrical is a fast growing retail chain which has recently upgraded its communications infrastructure to accommodate the need for an instantaneous picture of sales throughout its network of stores. The company specialises in candles and related accessories and has 47 outlets across the UK and Ireland. With headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex, Wax Lyrical has become one of the leading names in the home gift market, noted not just for its range of candles but also for its fragrance products and ornaments. Wax Lyrical’s communications strategy is the backbone of the transfer of financial and stock management information between its branches and head office. Two years ago, after consultation with reseller Retail Business Solutions (RBS), the company decided to implement a new communications system based on XcelleNet’s RemoteWare systems management solution. There was one overriding requirement.

The new system had to be reliable enough to provide a regular, nightly polling service which would deliver sales figures to head office in time for the next business day. Previously, Wax Lyrical employed a third party services company to run its data communications system. But as the number of shops increased, this proved to be increasingly unreliable and the retailer decided to take ownership of the entire process.” We have a three-strong IT department and we are responsible for all the company’s communication links,” says assistant IT manager Chris Lifford. “ The most important of those links is between head office and our shops. We extract data overnight which includes all the day’s transactions for central processing, so that the following morning our directors have a very clear picture of the previous day’s sales.

“ Under the old system, this process entailed dialling in and collecting the information store by store. But according to Lifford, the polling process had become too hit or miss and didn’t match the company’s need for high levels of accuracy and the timely delivery of information.” We saw a demonstration of RemoteWare and soon realised it was just what we were looking for,” says Lifford. “ We were also reassured by the experience of staff at RBS who had actually used the product themselves in a live environment with other retailers.” RemoteWare was piloted in two Wax Lyrical shops in September 1997 and almost immediately, the company was confident enough to begin an aggressive roll-out which brought the remaining stores on-line in under three weeks. The incentive for completing the project was the imminent Christmas period which, for a specialist retailer like Wax Lyrical, is the most important time of the year.

“ We realised that in order to immediately get the best value and use from the system, we should have it up and running before Christmas,” recalls Lifford. A small degree of customisation was necessary in order to accommodate the company’s existing till system and shop managers had to make minor adjustments to their end of day procedures so that the data could be compressed into single files for transmission. But, 18 months later, Lifford says the business benefits of faster, reliable transmission of information are almost taken for granted.” During that time, RemoteWare has been superb,” he says. “ Before, we typically achieved a polling success rate of 78-80%.

That was not good enough because our order system is driven by sales information. So if we were two days behind with sales figures, there would be an immediate impact on turnover. Reliability is crucial. Over the last 18 months, we’ve achieved an average success rate of 97-98%.” In the past, the IT team would come in every morning knowing that a certain number of shop connections would have failed overnight. According to Lifford, the constant hassle and strain of compensating for this inconsistency was dispiriting.

Apart from the lack of management information, it also meant that the IT department was spending precious time on tasks which should have been fully automated rather than planning and supporting the company’s IT infrastructure.” Now, if something is missing, we know it’s because of a telephone line failure or a shop hasn’t completed its end of day process,” he says. “ Usually, though, it’s just a question of coming in and checking that we’ve got a complete set of results. It’s really reduced the amount of time we have to spend chasing information.” RemoteWare has also eased Wax Lyrical’s ability to centrally track company performance and be confident that it is ordering stock based on accurate information. “ The order/accounting cycle is more accurate,” adds Lifford.

“ We don’t need to make allowances for data which hasn’t been retrieved.” While RemoteWare manages the nightly polling of sales information, Wax Lyrical is also using it to distribute information to its branches. Once a week, for example, a new product file is sent out to each store. For the IT department, this is a simple process of creating the new file and leaving the rest to RemoteWare. The system automatically picks the file up and distributes according to the time scheduled.

Over the next year, the system is likely to play an even more active role in the company’s IT strategy. Wax Lyrical will upgrade its EPOS (electronic point of sale) store systems from DOS to Windows NT. RemoteWare will then come into its own as a software distribution medium. The company will derive further time and management benefits from the electronic distribution of information and more intuitive systems management.” In the meantime, the system has made two major differences for the company’s staff and our customers,” explains Lifford. “ The reliability of the information means we can replenish shops with stock more quickly.

And that, in turn, means we can provide our customers with a better range of stock on a more reliable basis. That reflects on our managers who feel even better about their jobs if they can provide that level of service.” The litmus test of the system’s success, though, is probably its transparency to the end users and the IT department. “ Overall, we’re very pleased,” says Lifford. “ RemoteWare sits in the corner and quietly gets on with handling our data communications, which is what we expected it to do.

We’re almost blasé about it.”