Tony Romo and the rest of the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys may only be average on the football field so far this year. But off the field, especially in the merchandising arena, they remain America's team.
Last year, the Cowboys sold half a million of their young quarterback's No. 9 jersey, estimated Forbes magazine, making it the most popular sports jersey in the country.
This year, the Cowboys expect to sell more than $100 million worth of Romo jerseys and other Cowboys-branded gear, according to Bill Priakos, chief operating officer of Dallas Cowboy Merchandising.
"Nobody gives out their exact numbers, but we feel comfortable we are in the upper echelon" along with Manchester United and the Chicago Bulls, said Priakos, a veteran of Dillard's department stores who joined the Cowboys organization in 1996 to help start up its retail and merchandising division.
Whereas the rest of the NFL's 31 teams outsource everything to Reebok, the Cowboys chose in 2002 to take the higher risk/reward path of controlling all manufacturing, sales and distribution of their branded merchandise.
Managing this eight-figure business requires strong business intelligence and analytics, which the Cowboys pretty much lacked until two years ago, Priakos said.
At that time, the team made the decision to invest in four ostensibly integrated apps: ILS (Integrated Logistics Solutions) from Manhattan Associates for managing its manufacturing and distribution; Ignify for its e-commerce Web site, Microsoft Corp.'s RMS (Retail Management System) software to manage the cash registers at the 35 Dallas Cowboys retail stores, and crowning all of that, Microsoft's Dynamics AX 4.0 software for overall ERP (enterprise resource planning) managing the overall finances and sales planning.
Priakos chose them over picking separate, best-of-breed products, he said, because Microsoft promised that by going this route, he not only would get integrated financial reports, but "one throat to choke" for technical support.
The problem was that no matter how hard he squeezed, Microsoft couldn't deliver on its promise of integrated reporting, Priakos said.
"As we were going through the installation, they kept telling me, 'the BI piece is coming.' That turned out to be French for them not really knowing what they were going to do," Priakos said. The unwanted siloing left Priakos feeling like he was "running four different companies."
The savior turned out to be BI visualization software maker Tableau Software Inc. In six weeks this spring, the vendor built a dashboard for Priakos and his employees that combined data from all sources. (Check out some examples of Tableau's dashboards here.)
"It has taken a somewhat disappointing software installation on which we had spent multiple millions of dollars, and just by layering this software piece, [Tableau] made it run better, and let us find answers instantly," Priakos said.
Answers to questions like "How are Internet sales of our jerseys doing?" which formerly took 30 minutes to find out, now can be gleaned instantly through Tableau, Priakos said.
Or "Where do our jerseys sell well outside of Texas?" Counterintuitively, those turned out to be cities that were home to the Cowboys' biggest traditional rivals -- New York City (Giants), Washington (Redskins) and Philadelphia (Eagles).
Priakos can now come in every morning, scan the real-time data for about 15 minutes, and then create a to-do list for the daily manager's meeting that tackles every aspect of the business.
Priakos also credits Tableau with helping the team tighten its shipping.
"Now we ship 50% of our orders on the same day they were ordered," he said, while improving the overall on-time ship rate to the high 90% from the 70-something percent. Faster shipping leads to better sales at its retail partners.
Priakos is so confident about his logistics backend today that the team is expanding this in a big way.
The team is building a 400,000 square-foot headquarters for its merchandising arm near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that is expected to open early next year. That will replace and double the 180,000-square-foot warehousing space that is scattered over three buildings.
The expansion is needed to accommodate both growing sales of Cowboys' merchandise, as well as new product lines. It already handles merchandising, manufacturing and sales for three leading universities -- Texas A&M, the Univerity of Oklahoma and the Univeristy of Arkansas -- and is in talks with four other schools, Priakos said. It is also starting a mainstream young mens' clothing line that won't have any Cowboys branding on it.