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Virgin Entertainment Group: Getting Schedules in Sync with Customers

By putting products and personnel where customers need them, sales get a boost

By Jennifer McAdams
September 18, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When Nick Mason of the legendary '70s rock group Pink Floyd showed up for a signing at Virgin Entertainment Group Inc.'s Megastore on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, store managers fed the famed drummer updated sales figures for his latest book every 15 minutes by extracting data from the company's business intelligence system. That's just one example of a major change at Virgin made possible by BI. Specifically, Sunset Strip employees can use instantly available BI data to make on-the-spot decisions -- for example, strategically shifting stacks of Mason's books and CDs and quickly placing orders for dwindling supplies.

Virgin Entertainment

Retail stores sell music CDs, DVDs, games and books. Annual revenue is approximately $200 million.

•  Project champions: Robert Fort, IT director; Alan Flaesgarten, senior manager of applications and development; Manish Shah, business analyst
•  IT department: 15 employees
•  Payback: Investment was recouped in 15 weeks.
Local store managers are able to make tactical decisions like that because BI data is streamed continuously to Virgin stores across the country. The data goes far beyond statistics on customer traffic. Included in each store's near-real-time analysis is trending information, including current and historical sales and inventory figures.

Corporate executives at the entertainment giant were looking for more than a mere BI dashboard to serve up analyses on revenue and generate other data points to feed quarterly reports. Instead, they gave Virgin's IT staff the green light to design Crescendo, a system named for its ability to track dynamic waves in sales and identify other operational trends.

Marching orders, however, called for a BI workhorse tool that would provide analytical data that Virgin store managers could use in real situations. For instance, Crescendo often drives the physical placement of hot CDs or T-shirts in local stores. The system also churns out analyses of sales data that store managers use to schedule associates who walk the floors. Sometimes, BI even dictates when these workers should take their lunch breaks.

Robert Fort, IT director at Virgin Entertainment
Robert Fort, IT director at Virgin Entertainment
Image Credit: Joe Toreno
"We started with distinct store profiles that indicated heavy customer-traffic times so that stores could adjust their schedules accordingly," says Robert Fort, IT director at Los Angeles-based Virgin. "I remember that our store in Vancouver historically and consistently saw a blip around six o'clock each night, as people headed for the train station. Extra sales associates were scheduled to work at this time.

"However, traffic data doesn't mean anything at all on its own," Fort says. The company quickly moved from using BI just to compose snapshots of traffic patterns and began shoveling more trending data continuously to those directly in charge of each store.

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