Resourceful Retail

Hickory Farms improves productivity by building a Web-based application and datastore.

Hickory Farms improves productivity by building a Web-based application and datastore.

During busy holiday periods, the company employs temporary workers who are overseen by full-time district supervisors and regional managers. The latter two groups of employees are charged with a number of tasks, including, according to Burnette, "any permits that are needed, pre-opening inspections, and setting up the utilities, including phone, electric and - if needed for a kitchen operation - water and garbage disposal. They also have to work with mall management to arrange for leases. That's a lot of work to do, considering we're talking about 700 stores."

In the past, field management worked "off of napkins and out of shoeboxes," as Burnette characterizes it, meaning that all of the pertinent information needed to open and operate the kiosks was located at regional and district offices - and in the minds of the company's field representatives. In essence, the company was operating the kiosks out of discrete silos, with the information not necessarily being shared with the corporate headquarters. Lease information, for example, wasn't always making its way back to Maumee, which meant that Hickory Farms management didn't always have a handle on the details.

Of course, this system worked for what it was, allowing the company to continue growing its business. But as it did grow, it became apparent that a new, streamlined communications and data-sharing network was needed. With that thought in mind, the company decided to leverage the capabilities of its IBM* iSeries* 720 running i5/OS* V5R2, which is Hickory Farms' mission-critical server, and the Internet. (The 720 also hosts SSA's BPCS ERP application.)

To that end, the company decided to build a Web-based application, KMS, which would allow its district supervisors and regional managers to more easily share data with the Hickory Farms headquarters. This would enable the company to better track its holiday operations, including which malls were profitable, which mall locations were better than others, if the electricity was sufficient, if the coolers were operating properly, and which bank might be best to use. "All that information helps us make decisions on whether we want to have a store in the same location again," Burnette adds. The new system would also allow the company to more easily keep track of licenses, permits and health inspections.

"Our goal was to get everything off the napkins and out of the shoeboxes and put that information into a single place where everyone could access it," Burnette recalls. "By doing this, we could free people up from looking for the right shoebox to do more important things, such as hiring the right temporary employees and designing better ways to move the product. In short, it would allow them to concentrate on the revenue side of the business rather than just getting stuff together."

Another key motivator for the creation of the KMS was an increased ability to communicate with individual kiosks and regional and district offices. This was important because Hickory Farms' field managers are often on the road - overseeing 10 to 12 store operations each, training employees and making sure the product displays are set up properly - and sometimes not readily available via traditional forms of communication.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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